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7 Tips for Returning to the Weight Room

Admit it. You’re thinking about going back to the gym, right? It’s just a matter of when. Well, that and what you can expect when you get there. Here are some tips based on fixing people after they’ve overdone it – too fast and too much – and hurt themselves. Oh, and from 20 years of helping people find the right workout.

A Little History

Did you know I have a long history of training others or of being a gym-rat myself? It started in my teens, asking my sister to sit on my back while I did push-ups. That progressed to concrete-filled plastic weights. Eventually, I moved on to a life of long evenings at the gym. And once I had a clear program for success, I started training people and investing in my own equipment.

“Before” my Forties Restart

The Forties Restart

However, I stopped for a while and had to do a re-start – in my forties. There are lessons to be learned from that. And I learned them. First, I did some homework. I was starting at 243 lbs. with 28% body fat. At fourteen weeks, I was surprised that I still weighed 243 lbs. but I was now at 16% body fat. I applied this “homework” approach to my training clients at the time as well. Many more lessons were observed there. By the way, here’s a “Before” photo of this point in my workout career. The “After” is at the end.

The Pandemic Restart

This time around, the pandemic shut down the gym and forced another long rest period. Unfortunately, I had sold almost all my equipment when I got married. When the gym re-opened early, my wife said I’d have to quarantine if I went. So, I avoided the gym.

Eventually, my workout partner from before called, and we worked out an alternative gym. The elliptical machine, yoga mat, and kettlebells I had put together for my wife and daughter were not going to cut it for our needs. So, I relegated my car to the outdoors, and we cobbled together a gym on my side of the garage.

building stability on the trail

Tip #1: Be Safe, or Be Sorry

Many workout systems are “innovative” and have amazing glory stories. Be careful of some new piece of equipment, a new supplement, or a quick fix system.

HIIT (high-intensity interval training), for instance, is a quick and effective way to drop weight. On the other hand, it produces a high rate of injury after 13-16 weeks. Often, it is also tough on joints.

Be Stable

Free weights, boot camps, outdoor jogging, and rock climbing build “synergists” much better than machines, treadmills, and stair climbers. Synergists are muscles that assist and stabilize the movement. The balancing aspects of these approaches keep you from getting stuck in a movement pattern that only uses a few major muscles. Synergists protect joints during the activities of daily living and heavy exertion.

COVID at the gym

By the way, gyms have people who breathe hard. That means there will be germs and vapors. Many people are not masked. Nor are they wiping down their sweat after they finish with a machine. Those people are comfortable with that. If you’re not, maybe you need a home or outdoor program.

My Safe Restart

When I restarted back in my 40s, I looked for an approach that implemented traditional training more effectively. I spent a month planning my workouts, getting equipment, and planning meals.

I liked the Body-for-Life system of weight training. It offered great warm-up sets, used proven exercises, and could be done in my spare bedroom.

On the other hand, I was cautioned against the HIIT they used on cardio days. Instead, I implemented a low-level cardio system that was safer and less injurious for my 40-something body.

Forties Restart – My workout form for a 45 minute upper body workout

Tip #2: Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

First, figure out what you want for your body. Then, pick an approach that matches. You’re not going to get a body-builder physique with circuit training.

  • Boot camp programs have higher resistance, very little rest, elevated heart rate. These tend to produce lean, muscular bodies, like that of a soldier.
  • Circuit training, which is a lot like boot camp training, also produces fit bodies that are not bulky.
  • Weight training with rests of about one minute and pyramid sets produces muscular, fitness model bodies.
  • Weight training with long rests between heavy sets produces the thick bodies of powerlifters.

There is too much to write here about specific approaches. The 5×5 workout is proven, effective, and discussed in almost all major workout sites, from bodybuilding.com to menshealth.com. It is a reliable choice if you don’t have a trainer and aren’t a research person.

Pandemic Restart – My workout from this morning

My Approach

After all my weight training years, I started planning and recording my workouts in my Forties Restart.
BEST. RESULTS. EVER. I’m not too fond of the tedious process of writing workouts. However, it creates a specific focus that makes every minute of the workout more effective.

In my Forties Restart, I weight trained three days a week using the Body for Life approach. I love the gym and spent many years working out there. Also, I ran for low-level cardio three days a week on the street to build stabilizers, improve my cardiovascular performance and burn fat.

My Pandemic Restart is similar, but I am more focused on maintaining muscle, I went to supersets but with lower weight.

My current exercise room ion the garage

Tip #3: The Right Tool for the Job

I know a lot of people who bought a Soloflex, Total-Gym, or Bowflex. They seemed like a great idea but turned out to be boring and, after a while, expensive clothes drying racks.

By the way, I have owned three Total Gyms and love them. They’re inexpensive, perfect for some exercises, and are a great way to decompress your back through inversion. Some people need something more engaging. My family needs a big screen TV in front of the treadmill.

Many of the home solutions, like Peleton, have hybrid systems where you can work out alone, with a recorded class, or with a live class. Many of those systems have combined resistance training with cardio and included upper body training for a complete approach.

My Current Training Room

In my Forties Restart, I weight trained three days a week. I did it in a spare bedroom with less equipment than this current home set-up. After some years, I transitioned to the gym and spent many years working out there. Also, trained with a heart monitor 3 days a week for 50 minutes at 65-70% of max heart rate.

My Pandemic Restart adapted that home system to be in my garage. As my body ages, I superset my workout with lighter weights. It maintains muscular development. Meanwhile, I get to laugh and solve the world’s problems with my workout partner.

*Pyramid sets imply that there are several sets of the same exercise. The weight increases as the repetitions decrease over several sets. Then, the weight decreases as the reps increase over a few sets.

Tip #4: Don’t be Sore

There are several approaches to avoid the soreness that really work.

Be consistent

One way to avoid soreness is to work out daily, especially for the first 3 weeks. Split your workout into 2 sections, upper body one day, lower body the next. Stay moderate in your intensity for the first three weeks.

Don’t Be So Negative

Soreness is a response to “eccentric contraction.” It’s not lactic acid or bogged down toxins. Eccentric contraction happens when you contract while the muscle is lengthening. In other words, it’s when you are trying to control and slow down the movement.

Soreness is a neurological response. So, the next section will show you how to get rid of it in a few minutes. Yes, that leg-buckling, can’t-walk-down-steps, fall-onto-the-seat soreness after leg day can be dramatically reduced in a few minutes.

Use Ice-and-Stretch to Reduce Soreness

Soreness is almost always the trigger point pattern of the muscle that is recovering. Use ice-and-stretch. If you stretch the right muscle effectively, you can dramatically reduce or get rid of soreness. IcyHot does something very similar.

My Reduced Soreness Restart

In our Pandemic Restart, neither of us wanted to be really sore. We did about half our normal weight and worked out 5 days a week. Just getting back to training made us both feel better during our daily activities in the first week. After about 3 weeks, we both felt like doing more weight.

Now, the only significant soreness that we experience is when we add a new exercise with a little extra gusto. Instead, we add it with moderate weight and have mild soreness. Whenever I’m more than a little sore, I use Ice-and-Stretch to reduce the discomfort.

!0 weeks after the “Before” picture

Tip #5: Too Much of a Good Thing

There are several problems with overtraining. It can lead to weight gain, digestive issues, fatigue, and excessive soreness, injury, and more.

How Do I Know if I’m Over-training?

Get a smartwatch that measures your heart rate, like a Fitbit or Apple Watch. Watch your resting heart rate or your lowest heart rate when you’re sleeping. If you’re overtraining, it’ll go up about 10%.

By the way, your resting heart rate also goes up when you’re sick or injured. If you have a good cardiovascular program, it should slowly drop over the months. If you’re tired and your resting rate is not dropping, you’re not recovering from your workout. Capillary beds, mitochondria, vascular response, and other factors improve. With consistent work, there are notable jumps at 6 and 12 weeks. Give it time.

My Monitoring of Over-training

Here’s a picture 10 weeks after the first one. I worked out less than an hour a day, six days a week.

I wear a Fitbit and keep an eye on my resting heart rate. I have learned a great deal about how my body works harder when I’m sick, injured, or overworked. As I’ve aged, I’ve also learned that my body doesn’t rebuild as quickly as it used to. I’m respectful of that to reduce injury while maximizing my results.

It also shows me that cardio creates real differences in my body’s ability to recover by focusing blood where I need it most.

The security camera catches us leaving our 5:30 am workout

Tip #6: Get a Support Team.

Many self-improvement systems work because of social interaction. Systems like Orange Theory and Boot Camps create interaction between people that encourage them to do better.

As a personal trainer, I was clear that many people paid to have someone make sure they did it right and kept changing their game. Personal trainers are well worth it when you’d like a professional to manage your goals. They save time so that you get better results with less time and effort.

My Support System

Even as an introvert, I realize that the right people motivate me to be a better person. So, I started my Forties Restart with 3 friends. Yeah, well, they all quit. Fortunately, another friend wanted to work out with me, and 18 years later, he still shows up at my garage every morning at 5:30. It’s one of the best things in my life.

Week 14 of the Forties Restart

Tip #7: Evaluate and Reward Yourself

Daily evaluation keeps your focus. It tells you when you stray and how it really affects you. If you’re goal-oriented, this is real gold.

People are motivated differently. Some by numbers. Other people need reward systems like new clothes or desserts. Some need social interaction that supports them or cheers them on. Find daily goals like how many steps you take. Set bigger goals, like fat percentage or new clothing that show off your fitness.

Get a Fitness Monitor

If I recommend one piece of fitness equipment, it would be a fitness/heart monitor. Heart monitors help you maintain the right intensity during your workout. They evaluate your progress and keep you on track. Heart monitors also tell you if your sleep is restful. And, they are encouragement when you’ve reached your daily goals.

And bigger goals. Get some.

My Evaluation

I’m an introvert and like data. I do three things.

First, I create a chart that measures my fat percentage each day. That daily entry makes me focus on everything that I eat and how it changes the chart. But that’s nutrition, and we’re talking about workouts.

So second, I wear a heart monitor during cardio. I can see the impacts of missed sleep, drinking alcohol, and other factors during my morning cardio. Also, I can see that my resting heart rate is dropping, and how my heart rate returns to the 70s more quickly each week. A heart monitor can be one of the best pieces of fitness equipment available to you.

Here’s a picture 14 weeks after the first one.

Third, I take three pictures every day after my workout. I can see when I eat something that bloated me. Compare this picture to the last one. I noticed that I needed to focus on my shoulders and made a nice change. These pictures were very motivating whenever I want to eat another helping or take a day off.

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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