As gyms reopen tomorrow and lockdown eases – PTs share 10 top tips to maximise your workout

GYMS will open on Monday after more than four months to the delight of those desperate to get back into shape.

But before you hit the treadmill running, experts say it's safest to ease your body back into moving more.

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Failing to do this, you could end up with an injury or an aching body, hindering your ability to workout again.

Even those who have carried on with exercise from home, the gym's machines may be daunting.

Follow these tips for a smooth transition into exercise from April 12 (and don’t miss the perfect workout at the end):

1. Activate the muscles 

Before jumping into the hardcore stuff, you need to wake the muscles up, called “activation”. 

Ben Camara, London-based personal trainer and founder of Remote Coach, told The Sun: “One of the most underestimated parts of coming back into the gym is ensuring your body is ready for the workout ahead. 

“Take time to focus on warming up properly.

“Ensure your powerhouse muscles such as glutes and hamstrings are firing – a great way to do so is grabbing some mini-bands and getting your activation phase nailed before lifting and shifting weights.”

2. Focus on form

Ben said form – making sure you are doing an exercise move correctly – is the most important thing during those first few workouts. 

He said: “If you've had an extended break from lifting weight your first intention may be to lift as much as you can and squeeze out all those reps.

“Focus on form through your early sessions back in the gym, and if the form is starting to fail then stop, reset, reduce the load and finish your set. 

“Never compromise on form, especially when you've not worked out for a long time as when fatigue kicks in this is when you'll potentially get injured."

3. Prioritise the posterior

The posterior chain is the chain of muscles that run down the back of your body, including the back muscles, glutes and hamstrings.

Ben said: “A good structure program should always be balanced, but balanced in the correct way. Focus on your posterior chain muscles to ensure you get the best bang for your buck of working the large muscle groups to get that muscular change, whilst not overloading your anterior (front of the body) muscles that are more prone to injury. 

“A good rule of thumb when coming back in is a 3:1 ratio, so for every 10 reps you've hit the chest, hit the back with three times more.”

4. Familiarise yourself with new measures

When you head back to the gym, it’s likely it’s not going to look the same, with hand sanitiser pumps, cleaning stations and social distancing marks on the floor.

Luke Hughes, personal trainer and manager director at OriGym, said: “Various new measures will have been put in place to keep customers and staff members safe amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so take some time to familiarise yourself with your surroundings and your gyms social distancing policy. 

“Is there a one way system? Are there hand sanitising stations? Will you need to change at home?”

How might gyms be different?

IT is likely gyms will have to operate with Covid-secure guidelines.

While operating before the latest lockdown, gyms had to follow coronavirus-safe guidance from industry association, UK Active.

David Lloyd published the following Covid restrictions for the last lockdown:

  • Reduced capacity in gyms, while increasing space between equipment to 2m, as well as adding a one-way system.
  • Provided additional gym space, with individual workout areas of 3m x 3m.
  • Limited bookings for group exercise classes to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
  • Reduced the number of swimmers in pools – where people swim at 5m intervals.
  • Fewer members are allowed in certain areas at any one time to ensure everyone can practice social distancing.
  • Plastic screens introduced to reception desks to protect members and staff.
  • Signage and clear floor markings help members to remain a safe distance apart, with staff available to provide support.

UK Active also advises:

  • Rigorous cleaning and disinfection procedures to minimise risk of contact transmission.
  • Hand wipes/sanitisers on offer at reception.
  • Customers should arrive swim or gym ready, to avoid using showers.
  • Users should not be working out face-to-face.

5. Plan your workout in advance

With a huge rush to the gym, it's possible that Covid measures will make it harder for you to get the space and time you need to work out efficiently. 

Luke said: “When gyms reopen, it’s likely that many will have strict time limits to adhere to. Given that you may not be permitted as much time as you would have typically spent before lockdown, it may be a good idea to plan your workout in advance so you can take advantage of the time you do have. 

“One thing to bear in mind is when the gym is most/least likely to be busy, you may want to plan alternative exercises that meet the same end goal so you're not waiting around for equipment.”

6. Start with flexibility

Why be the hare, when you can be the tortoise?

Luke said: “Pushing yourself too hard when you first start back could set your fitness levels back by having to take time off again.

“An extended period of inactivity can affect your physical performance, so during your first few sessions, it may be a good idea to focus on flexibility exercises –  increasing blood flow, range of motion and joint mobility. 

“Always be sure to warm up and cool down before and after exercising!”

7. Bring a bottle of water

Luke said: “Water stations are likely to be out of use at the gym for the time being, so be sure to take your own drink or water bottle with you when you go to gym.”

He added that you will need to increase how much water you’re drinking to compensate for the upgrade in exercise levels. 

“After months of working from home drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee, or wine on the weekend, heading back to the gym may require more hydration than usual.”

8. Gradually build intensity

Alex Crockford, a fitness model and personal trainer, said: “It’s been a tough time for everyone, so please don’t hit the gym to punish yourself for time off. 

“Going too hard too soon will at best leave you with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), or at worst, injury and mental burnout. 

“I recommend not lifting to failure for the first couple of weeks (i.e. using the heaviest weights you can), but instead to slow it all down and enjoy going through the motions. 

“Go into your usual exercises at about 50-60 per cent of your pre-pandemic weights, gradually increasing over 4-8 weeks.”

When using the treadmill, Alex told The Sun: "You could begin with just walking, or incline walking, or jogging intervals for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You can increase the intensity as you settle back into your gym routine – there’s no rush."

9. Mix it up 

Changing your exercise method – weights, cycling, or the treadmill – will ensure you are not overworking one part of the body.

Alex said: “You may love spinning or lifting heavy weights, but be careful of just sticking to your favourite routine that only works one area of the body. 

“Repetitive focus on the same muscles overworks and tires them, which will lead to an injury. Make sure you’re giving your whole body a workout to ensure you’re strong, balanced and healthy.”

10. Work on recovery

Recovering properly from a workout will make it easier for you to go back the next time.

Alex, an ambassador for sports and active nutrition brand bulk, said: “Gym workouts are going to be a new challenge for the body – so make sure you’re supporting it wherever you can. 

“A solid sleep of 7-8 hours a night is essential, so consider supplementing with magnesium if you struggle, such as bulk’s Magnesium Bisglycinate Tablets. 

“When it comes to food, aim for nutritionally dense foods and plenty of protein to aid recovery. I’d recommend aiming for 1g per lb of bodyweight to give yourself the best chance of building muscle. 

“You can weave more protein into your diet with protein shakes.”

First gym workout

Alex has suggested doing this full body workout for the first two or three weeks of your gym routine.

Warm up

3 sets of the following:

Baby cobra: Lying down on your front, place your hands beneath your shoulders, engage your core and gently lift your chest off the mat

Downward dog: From a table top position, push your hips up and back, slowly straightening your legs.

Mountain climbers (10x): In a high plank position, drive your knee towards your midsection and repeat with your other leg.

Star jumps (10x): From a standing position, with your arms at your sides, bend your knees slightly and jump into the air. As you jump, stretch your arms up and over your head and spread your legs to about shoulder’s width apart. 

Main body

Perform 10 reps on each exercise and then rest for 90 seconds.  Do this three times for each exercise.  Once your three sets are completed, move onto the next exercise. 

Kettlebell deadlift: Standing upright with your feet hip width apart and the kettlebell in between your feet. Send your hips back, take hold of the kettlebell and draw your lats down. Drive your hips forward, to standing position and repeat. 

Leg press machine:  Sit on the machine, with your back flat and head supported. Place your feet on the footpads (heels are flat), about shoulder width apart, forming a 90 degree angle at the knees. Then push the weight away, ensuring you don’t lock your knees. Return to starting position.

Barbell chest press: Lying down on a bench, set your hands slightly wider than shoulder width on the barbell. As you breathe in, slowly bring the barbell to your chest and as you breathe out press the bar back up to the starting position.

Lat pull down: Using the lat pull down machine, sit on the stool, adjusting the pads to your thighs. Take a wide grip on the bar and pull the bar down in front of your chest, ensuring you squeeze your lats at the bottom. 

Dumbbell bicep curl: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides. Keeping your elbows pinned into your torso, with your palms facing forward, bend at your elbows and bring the dumbbells towards your shoulders.  Slowly return to the starting position.

Cable rope tricep extension: Using the rope attachment, adjust the cable pulley to the top. Holding the ropes, face away from the cable machine and place your hands at shoulder height. Fully extend your arms and then return to the starting position.

Don’t forget to cool down and stretch afterwards. 

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