How to safely return to intense strength training

Before you took a break from working out, you were lifting heavy weights and on a roll. Then all the gyms closed and it put a stop to the momentum that you had gathered. But now it’s time to get back to doing what you love. Don’t be too hasty, however. There are some things we need to consider before we get back to intense strength training to help us avoid injuries.

One of the easiest ways to get injured is to return to exercise too quickly, without gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts. Doing this can lead to overuse injuries, including tendonitis, or even pulls and sprains.

The good news is, it doesn’t take a long time for your body to return to its trained state. This is because you have what’s called ‘muscle memory’. There is, however, a fine line between too much and too little, so you may want to consider employing a personal trainer to help you get the balance right. If you decide to go it alone, pay attention to any signs of working too hard, such as pain or discomfort.

So, what are the main points we need to consider when returning to intense strength training?

1. Where to start

Current guidelines recommend that adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week. This can be a good starting point to get back into your normal routine. Adults should engage in strength training that targets all the muscle groups twice weekly. This is a great place to start.

But what counts as moderate? We must remember that everyone is different. As a rule, you should feel your heart rate increase, breathe more quickly, but still being able to hold a conversation. After several weeks of this level, you can up the duration and intensity of your workout. You can include exercises that get you more out of breath and make it difficult to have a proper conversation.

2. Don’t neglect the diversity of your body

There are many smaller parts to the body that go into stabilising and supporting the major muscle groups. It’s important you remember to strengthen and stretch these areas. This will help avoid injury or imbalance. For example, if you’re getting back to weightlifting, remember to train the external rotators of the shoulders, not just the larger muscles surrounding the joint. If you’re a runner, then keeping the glutes strong through lifting weights. Stretching the calves and hamstrings is also absolutely vital.

If you are participating in a particular sport, it’s important to strengthen and stretch the muscles being used and the muscles that are the opposite movers to the primary ones required. For example, tennis players must be careful to stretch the chest muscles and strengthen the muscles attached to the shoulder blades to compliment the sport.

3. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts

Even if you’re used to lifting heavy weights, it’s important to start with lighter or bodyweight exercises for a couple of weeks before attempting to get back to properly intense strength training. Start with higher repetition ranges to give your body a chance to adapt and increase blood flow, enhancing recovery. With this in mind, it’s always important make a record of your workouts using an app or notebook, so the progression can be made steadily and accurately.