With many of us starting to venture back to the gym, we are doing so with a mix of trepidation and excitement. For professional athletes, being able to restart gym routines and widen out training programmes comes as a relief.
We talk with two athletes about getting back into a gym routine, common mistakes gym-goers make in the 'comeback phase' and the importance of recovery.
FINDING YOUR GROOVE
“It hasn't been easy to get back into the flow of things, but feels so great to be back lifting again,” said professional bobsledder and former international sprinter Tremayne Gilling. “I have been doing months of bodyweight exercises, but no lifting. When I went back to the gym, I noticed that my body had [fortunately] stayed conditioned, and it didn't take too long to get back to lifting the same sort of weight.”
As a brakeman on the GB bobsleigh team, Gilling is no stranger to the gym. Lifting weights is integral to his sport and being race fit. “A bobsleigh can weigh around 210kg”, explains Gilling “so strength is vital to be able to push that sled fast. We have to be able to lift heavy in the gym, but also lifting or pulling weight at speed is key.”
For 800m athlete and Commonwealth Games finalist Alex Bell, re-starting her gym sessions hasn’t been so straightforward: “I am not back at my normal gym yet because it is connected to Leeds Beckett University and hasn’t been able to re-open. I have started going to my strength and conditioning coach’s garage gym set up once a week now though. And continue to do as much as I can at home.”
Bell also has the challenge of never being a natural when it comes to gym work: “I honestly hated gym work at first and it seemed such an intimidating place for me at times. I would see people lifting heavy weights, and there would be me in a corner with little dumbbells."
"Overtime I have learnt that it’s not specifically the weight that even matters, it’s all about the technique.”
She is now eager to get back to her gym and work with her ‘excellent’ strength and conditioning coach, Dane Mitchell. “Gym work is now highly important to me and since incorporating it into my weekly programme” she explains, “I have reaped the rewards and benefits in my performance, becoming faster year on year.”
EASE INTO IT
For professional athletes, the jump back into the gym isn’t perhaps as daunting as it might be for more casual sportspeople, or those looking to keep fit. For anyone going back to a proper gym routine again, Gilling warns of the risk of doing too much too quickly:
“When you go back to the gym for the first few sessions, I would say take your time and ease your way into things. It's highly likely that if you haven't been able to do a lot during lockdown, you will have to build yourself back up again. So whether you've been able to do things at home or not; be smart, don't get too excited and try not to be frustrated with the outcome.”
Bell also advises people not to get too ‘giddy’ or carried away the first time they step back into a gym:
“You’re suddenly surrounded by a ‘playground’ of equipment and in essence, the gym is your oyster again. There’s been many people who I’ve spoken to recently who have put themselves in ‘a hole’ and crippled their bodies after just one session.”
“It is important not to try and start back at the level where you left off in terms of weight or repetition”, Bell warns.
“If you have been maintaining your fitness at home, you can be a little less cautious in terms of load and repetitions, but on the other hand, if you have done no load over the lockdown period, be kind to yourself. Enjoy the building, work week-on-week and be excited for the journey and progression over time.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF RECOVERY
Both athletes are conscious of not overdoing things and how important recovery is. Bell suggests people should go back to the gym with “a programme and a clear list of what you want to achieve in that specific session, no matter how big or small you think your goals/weights/reps are.”
With a hefty training programme which involves not just gym work, but sprinting and ‘push’ work (replicating pushing the bobsleigh), Gilling explains how important recovery is to his overall training programme:
“Before and after a training session I go through a foam rolling and stretching routine, always incorporating my NuroKor device to boost the speed of my muscle recovery. This really helps me prepare for the next day, or I find it even more useful if it is a double session training day.”
For any track and field athlete, a balanced training regime is vital, with nutrition and recovery as important as every workout. Bell can’t emphasise enough how important her routine is after a training session: “Post-gym, it’s so important to refuel very quickly afterwards, otherwise the muscles won’t get the nourishment or recovery they need and the session could actually be wasted if you don’t look after yourself correctly.
She also has a ‘holy-grail’ bedtime routine to aid her recovery:
“I keep my NuroKor devices in my bedside draw and I use them each evening, just before I go to sleep. This is when I’m in my most relaxed state and feel like the NuroKor will be most effective for recovery.”
WHAT IS NEXT?
Training in such uncertain times is hard, with both athletes unclear of what their competitive seasons hold. But both remain as determined as ever, and getting back in the gym is a step towards a more normal training regime for both of them.
With Bell working hard towards selection for the Tokyo Olympics next year and Gilling eyeing up a spot at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, both are aiming to be ‘race fit’ ahead of the winter and as Gilling doggedly states: “I aim to be sharp and competition fit for the end of October just like normal. Then, whatever happens, I will be ready.”
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