Gyms can finally reopen their doors on June 8 in Miami Dade, and I for one, am doing burpees with joy. Well, maybe not that happy, but I am excited to get back to the gym and lift some heavy stuff! I can only handle so many backyard training sessions doing lateral raises with gallons of water and front squats with my dog.
I know I’m not alone because I get calls from people every day asking me, “Coach when are we opening up?” And while I am happy everyone is excited as me to get back in the gym, the veteran coach in me sees the danger in this enthusiasm.
At Live Free Crossfit we officially closed our doors on March 12, thinking we would be closed a week or two at the most, but as of today, we have actually been closed almost 12 weeks!
That is 11 weeks longer than I advise people to rest when they finish a training cycle. After one week most people are fully recovered neurologically, mentally, and physically and they can jump right back into lifting heavy. 12 weeks is a long time to be out of the gym, and a lot can change in your body during that time. Even if you stayed active by running, doing calisthenics, and yoga, the rigors of resistance training are very different.
Basically, it’s like you are starting from scratch and as a beginner, your frequency, intensity, training type, and volume must reflect that to avoid injury. Frequency is how often you train, intensity is how hard you train, training type refers to cardio or strength training, and volume or time is the measurement of how much work you are doing for a given movement during a training session. This is better known as the FITT principle.
The type of (T)raining you choose will help determine the other three components of the FIT principle.
FIT for Cardio
When we think of cardio exercises we are referring mostly bodyweight and mono-structural movements like running, rowing, biking, and swimming. There are many other forms of cardio, like boxing, wrestling, and Jiu-Jitsu to name a few, but for the sake of this article, we will stick to these commonly known ones.
Cardio workouts can be done more often than weight training because it doesn’t put as much strain on your nervous system, and you aren’t bearing the load of your full body weight except when running. Running should be done with more caution and less frequency early on because of the amount of strain it can put on your joints. As a beginner or someone who hasn’t done anything over the quarantine period, starting with 3 training sessions a week is good because it gives you a day of rest between workouts. If you have been running often than you can get away with performing cardio workouts 5 to 6 times a week as long as they are at the proper intensity.
Your intensity, in the beginning, should be minimal. If you have been doing nothing at all you can start with walking, a slow jog, or an easy bike ride, row, or swim. As you accumulate volume over the weeks you can begin to increase intensity naturally. Using a heart rate monitor is a good way to monitor your intensity. In the beginning, aim to stay around or under 60% of your max heart rate (220-your age = max heart rate), and after a couple of weeks, you can start to move towards the upper end of your range or 80-90% of max heart rate as long as you monitor your volume.
Time refers to how long your sessions should be. At lower intensities, your sessions can be longer in duration, so in the beginning, if you are walking you can do it for 30 to 40 minutes a day, but if you are doing anything more intense than walking I would suggest 15-20 minutes for a few weeks before increasing to higher time frames or intensities. A good rule of thumb is to increase by 10-15% increments. So if you run for 15 minutes the first week you should shoot for 16-18 minutes in week 2.
Beyond all of that, how often you do cardio will also depend on finding something you enjoy. If you abhor running, maybe just doing the minimum you have to do to stay healthy is what you aim for, but if you find something you love to do, you will do it more often.
FIT for Strength Training
Like cardiovascular training, beginners should only start with about 2-3 days a week. Unlike cardio, lifting weights can put more stress on your nervous system and leave you sore for longer, so you’ll want at least one rest day in between workouts…more if you get very sore. Start with a balanced full-body workout for the first couple of weeks so you don’t overwork any one muscle group and develop connective tissue injuries like tendonitis.
Intensity and Time
Determining intensity and time for weight training is different than cardio because strength training doesn’t affect your heart rate the same as cardio and you don’t spend as much time under tension during your workouts, so the way you measure it will be reflected in weight, sets, and reps.
If you are a beginner or just coming back after a long layoff, you should look to build stability, neuromuscular efficiency, and endurance in the first couple of weeks. Look to use lighter weight with fewer sets and high repetitions: aiming for two or three sets of 12 to 20 reps.
After a couple of weeks of higher rep sets, you can begin to increase to a moderate amount of repetitions at heavier loads. Shoot for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
If your goal is to continually build strength, increase to heavier weights with fewer reps and more sets as you continue to get stronger. Finally reaching 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps. This should be at least 6 weeks after you started if you remained consistent over that time period.
This kind of progression allows your body to adapt over time and will help you avoid overuse injuries and plateaus.
As you can see, the type of training you do will determine the amount of time and intensity you spend doing it. At our gym, we will be alternating the type of training every day between cardio, strength, and skill work allowing our members to slowly build up their nervous system, connective tissues, and stamina. This approach will minimize injuries and allow for faster progress, ultimately leading to our end goal which is a happier, and healthier lifestyle.
You can’t stay healthy if you get injured jumping back in too quickly, so take your time coming back. If you make your goal consistency over intensity, you will see better results and your body will thank you in the long run.