Returning to StrengthTraining Post Covid

With many gyms in England opening back up and Scotland hopefully not too far away, many will be wondering how to approach their training upon returning. Studying the research you will struggle to find how to return to training following a flu epidemic! However, we can use available research on periods of detraining to estimate how long until we can expect to see pre lockdown results.

Research would suggest that a reasonable estimate to return back to our pre-lockdown levels is about 50% of the time spent detraining. So if you have not been able to train for 20 weeks because of lockdown you could expect to return to your previous strength and power levels in about 10 weeks. This research was done in the elderly population so we could perhaps hope to return faster for younger individuals. Using this estimate can be useful for setting realistic expectations of what we will be returning to once we get back into the gym! This goes off the assumption that there has been no training done whatsoever, so if you have been able to keep ticking over with some lighter resistance training and some plyometric and speed work then you can expect to be back to normal even quicker!

With a slightly prolonged period before you are back throwing big weights around in the gym, it would be sensible to take a phased return back into your lifting routine. I have recommended to the athletes which I get to work with to slowly ease themselves back into their previous training regime. Again we can use 50% as a guideline, this can be for both volume and intensity. Let's say you were lifting 100kg for 5 sets of 5 reps back when life was good and you could shake hands with everyone you meet. A sensible return target would be 2/3 sets of 5 reps with 50kg. Mladen Jovanovic states that "undershooting a lot is still safer than overshooting a little". The meaning of this is that it is much better and less likely to cause adverse effects by leaving the gym feeling like you could of done a little bit more than to feel like you have done too much.

Another approach you could use is Reps in Reserve (RIR), this is an approach where the lifter will pick a weight which they can lift whilst still having the designated RIR or reps left in the tank. So if we want to leave 5 RIR then you want to feel like you could do another 5 reps upon completion of the set. If the program prescribes 3x5 w/ 5 RIR then you pick a weight you can do 5 reps of but still feel like you can do another 5 reps. Another way to think of this is pick a weight you could maximally do 10 reps of but only lift it 5 times.

Sample Program

Week 1 Week 2

Back Squat 3x5 w/5 RIR Back Squat 3x5 w/3 RIR

Bench Press 3x5 w/5 RIR Bench Press 3x5 w/3 RIR

Bent Over Row 3x5 w/5 RIR Bent Over Row 3x5 w/3 RIR

Front Plank 3x30s Front Plank 3x40s

This program could be used to ease yourself back into resistance training before starting to increase the volume (reps) or intensity (weight).

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Jovanovic, M. (2020) 'Strength Training Manual: The Agile Periodization Approach'

Lee, M., Lim, T., Lee, J., Kim, K. and Yoon, B. (2017) 'Optimal retraining time for regaining functional fitness using multicomponent training after long-term detraining in older adults', Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, vol. 73, pp. 227-233.

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Psilander, N., Efestol, E., Cumming, K., Juvkam, I., Ekblom, M., and Sunding, K. (2019) 'Effects of training, detraining and retraining on strength, hypertrophy andmyonuclear number in human skeletal muscle.', Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 126, no. 6, pp. 1636-1645.

Sakugawa, R., Moura, B., Orssatto, L., Bezerra, E., Cadore, E. and Diefenthaeler, F. (2018) 'Effects of resistance training, detraining and retraining on strength and functional capacity in elderly' Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 31-39.

Taaffe, D., Henwood, T., Nalls, M., Walker, D., Lang, T. and Harris, T. (2008) ' Alterations in Muscle Attenuation following Detraining and Retraining in Resistance-Trained Older Adults', Gernotology, vol. 55, no. 2, pp. 217-223.