In my last article, I discussed returning to training from an infection control perspective. With the immediate threat to life reduced, I wanted to run through another potential danger, absolutely wrecking yourself during your first couple of sessions back. We will cover the return to the gym, common pitfalls and suggested methods of easing yourself back onto the gain train.
Training Within Your Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV)
Maximum recoverable volume (MRV) can be defined as the “maximal volume load an individual can accumulate, recover from and respond to positively”. Volume can be manipulated by controlling the weight, repetitions, set and frequency. MRV was coined by Dr. Mike Israetel, and you can read more about it in the Scientific Principles of Strength Training. In essence, you shouldn’t be training very close to your MRV if you want to train frequently, and optimise your recovery from training.
It is highly likely your MRV will be lower than it was pre-lockdown, particularly if you haven’t had access to a gym like most of us. Sadly, our 15-20 rep banded glute kickbacks haven’t prepared us for heavy sets of hip thrusts on day one of return to the gym. As MRV is based on your capacity for recovery, you won’t know if you have exceeded your MRV after your first session. You won’t know that until you train the same session again, and can’t (or can) hit the same numbers. For example, if you were benching 40kg for 3 sets of 10 reps, and then next session you can only get 8 reps, you have exceeded your MRV.
Just because you don’t know your MRV, doesn’t mean you can be an idiot about your training design. It would be extremely unwise to train balls to the wall for your first couple of sessions, if you like not being injured and intend on being able to train consistently for the next couple of years.
OK, so what can I do here?
- Record all your exercises, sets and weights from each session. I use the Strong app to track this.
- Be cognizant of the fact you haven’t trained for a few months, and ease yourself back into training.
Program Design: Homeostasis
It is highly unlikely that you will be crushing PRs in your first week back, and it would be remiss of me to advise you to chase same. I think for most of us, who haven’t trained with heavy weights in a long time, we are just aiming to get back into the realm of decent numbers with some semblance of good form. It is obviously tempting to get in and start repping out sets for the sake of it, but long-term it’s a no bueno. For myself, I have laid out my return to the gym programme to be a 4 day split: push, legs, pull and legs again. My goals are to get my compound movements back to their pre-lockdown level. So, I have chosen one compound to be the focus of each of my sessions: bench press, deadlift, pull-ups (well, assisted, as team weak AF) and hip thrusts.
I have structured this training cycle into a four week block, which is laid out as follows:
Week 1: Ease In (light weight, see how it feels, ease back into movement patterns)
Week 2: Push On (increase weight by approx. 20%, one more set for most exercises)
Week 3: REALLY Push On (further increase weight by 10-15%)
Week 4: Test Your RM, Set Goals for Next Phase
New Stimulus, Who Dis?
Nothing like a novel stimulus to hit your central nervous system hard. For most of us, weight training will hit different. It has been 84 years since we wrapped our hands around a barbell. Unsurprisingly, our body has unlearned the movement patterns of response to lifting some heavy ass weights. As a result, you may sign yourself up for some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS are common when athletes are returning to training after a period of reduced activity, or introducing a new activity.
What does that mean for the lowly gym girlos returning to training?
If you haven’t trained in a while, you will be sore after regardless. If you’re taking up a new activity, like weight training, for the first time, you will also be sore as your body grapples with this new sensation. Expect it, and make sure you have a recovery strategy!
Dom Corleone: The Godfather of Hampered Performance
I make no apologies for the incredible pun above. My incredible wit aside, DOMS will be prevalent for all trainees, new or seasoned following our absence from le gym. Muscle soreness is particularly common after resistance training. Soreness tends to peak within 48 hours of exercise, and fades within 96 grim hours. The symptoms of DOMS are varied and can include loss of range of movement, pain, swelling and stiffness. They can affect the individual uniquely to varying degrees. Anyone who has done a recent leg day will report difficulty sitting down on the jacks, walking, standing or generally being alive.
There has been a rake of studies done on methods of reducing DOMS, and each has varying results. One study tested the effectiveness of stretching, NSAID (anti-inflammatory drugs) and massage on the affected area in reducing DOMS, and found none of the methods to notably reduce DOMS. Horrifying. Another study examined the impact of massage on DOMS and found it effective at reducing the intensity, but not duration. In essence, there is no magic cure for DOMS that we know of at present.
Therefore, all we can do whilst we wait for the burning pain of being the pinnacle of human health to subside is implement good recovery practises.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Keep your protein intake high, to facilitate repair and recovery from tearing some muscle fibres.
- Drink your water sis. Get the fluid around your body.
- Take a rest day if you need to. Ease yourself into training, we’re playing the long game here.
- Smart program design. Leave out a set or drop the weight for your first couple of sessions until your body is equipped to handle it.
- Castelli, P.C. (2017) ‘Determining the Maximal Recoverable Volume of Resistance Training in Tonnage During A Strength Phase’. Available at: https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1619&context=wwuet
- Cheung, K., Hume, P.A., Maxwell, L. (2003) ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: Treatment Strategies and Performance Factors’, Sports Medicine. Available at: http://www.trilliumfitness.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Chung-2003-DOMS.pdf.
- Connolly, D.A., Sayers, S.P., McHugh, M.P. (2003) ‘Treatment and Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Available at: http://blisterprevpdfs.s3.amazonaws.com/Treatment+and+Prevention+of+Delayed+Onset+Muscle+Soreness.pdf.
- Gulick, D.T., Kimura, I.F., Sitler, M., Paolone, A., Kelly, J.D. (1996) ‘Various Treatment Techniques on Signs and Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’, Journal of Athletic Training. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1318445/
- Hilbert, J.E., Sforzo, G.A., Swensen, T. (2003) ‘The effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness’, British Medical Journal. Available at: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/37/1/72.short.