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Returning To The Gym

What can we expect after seven months of non-strength training?

by My Finish Line


Now that gyms the length and breadth of the country have reopened, there has been a stampede to get back onto the treadmills, squat racks and glute machines. Months upon months of ‘make-do’ training and following plans with limited equipment has been the plat du jour for most of us.

Which leads to an interesting scenario, borne by necessity and not design.

Most of us have been improvising the best we can. World Champion Athlete and My Finish Line guest blogger Dai Greene posted videos of himself at his farm gym jumping on haybales and squatting on concrete blocks. Some of us have managed to get our hands on small weights discs and dumbbells and been pumping out the reps at home, Joe-Wicks style.

The scenario with this is that by having limited weight, instead of doing sets of (we guess) 6-10 at the gym in the controlled environment of a rack or platform or bench, most of us have been ‘repping-out’ 15s and 20s (and above) with our bands and little dumbbells, to get that fatigued strength pump. It has been a symptom of having to do the best we can under lockdown circumstances.

Which is something we need to be mindful of when returning to the gym. High rep low weight strength training has probably caused in most of us what is called Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – which is the technical musculoskeletal name for a ‘muscle pump’. Whereas strength training of higher weight lower reps (which we normally do in the gym when the weight allows us to do so) causes ‘neural development’ (in other words the brain centrally adapts to cope with higher stress loads and makes us stronger).

Now. Both can create different types of muscle fibers.

Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy (Muscle-Pump) often grows the size of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which can help the cross-sectional area of the muscle as far as size; but is not as effective as type-one fiber development which comes through strength training of higher weight low reps.

Why should this be a problem? Well, very simply, creating too much slow muscle fibre in the gym setting which is slow twitch and then going running (which, even at low speeds is a highly plyometric activity), can lead to issues. You need to develop muscle fibers under the conditions that you are going to use them, or they tend to rebel and tear.

Which is why we should almost immediately try and return to the previous methodologies of training in the gyms once we return. Go lower reps, and slowly build up your strength tolerance as you go. No doubt there will be soreness in doing so, but just be mindful of your gym training supporting your running or cycling as opposed to creating conditions that can possibly hamper it.