Gyms across America are opening back up. What a strange thing to be writing, and who would have ever thought that this would happen? Still, I am thrilled to hear this because I know many gym owners, and there are so many lifters jonesing to lift some weight. On the flip side, I cannot help but wonder how many lifters will refuse to recognize and accept some of the lessons that this quarantine has taught. I wonder how many will jump right back into their old ways as though nothing ever happened.
As I contemplate this reopening of gyms and how it will affect lifters, I am reminded of many of the experiences that I have had in my own life. It would be hard not to chuckle at some of the massive hard-headed mistakes that I have made while going through similar situations. The absolute biggest ones would be how I came back from minor layoffs of the gym. I have trained very consistently throughout my life, but there have been instances where I had to take time away from training. One of the longest was when I moved from St. Louis to Reno right after high school. I spent a few weeks hanging out with friends and then drove out here to start working. I think it ended up being a month or so without lifting. That time was actually pretty amazing for my body and allowed me to heal to the point where I felt damn good.
As you can imagine, or as you may soon experience, it is hard to control yourself under these circumstances—an extended time away from lifting and now feeling really good in a gym. As I live at either blast or dust, I decided that my first day back should be a squat day. I went balls out in the gym and had an outstanding session. So incredible was that session that I could not walk normally for almost two weeks. My superintendent thought that I had gotten hurt on the job, as I was walking so badly and could hardly get up while on the sub-floor. I have not had many times where I took off from lifting in my life, but until recently, I did this same exact thing every single time. As much as I can laugh at this now, it was completely stupid every time I did it. I pissed away a great opportunity to start fresh with a healed and rested body by jumping right back in and emptying both barrels.
I implore all lifters out there reading this to take your time with getting back into your heavy-lifting programs. I know for a fact that the number of beat up, injured, and sore lifters is high. Lifters are over-trained and are dealing with many nagging issues that never seem to go away. Many of you are forced to lift light at home or not at all. Trust me when I say I understand that this was very difficult, but it was also a huge gift from the lifting gods. So many of you would have kept on going for years and years without ever taking any time off, or until injury forced you to do so.
Stop for a second and think about how you’re feeling after all of this time away from heavy lifting.
Do you still have all of those nagging injuries, or are they feeling pretty good? How are you sleeping, and how is your general attitude lately? How is your flexibility, mobility, and general ability to move? My guess is that you’re actually feeling pretty damn good and pretty damn healthy if you can look past your mental block of feeling like you’re weak. Trust that this is a gift—and one you should not waste. After so much time off, what is just two or three weeks more to build back slowly? In the long run, it will pay off in big dividends.
Maintaining control during the first few weeks back is undoubtedly going to be tough. The weights may feel a bit heavy, but everything else will most likely feel pretty good. There will also be a very overwhelming drive to test your strength right away. I know that for many, the fear of losing hard-earned strength is intense. Trust me, though—if you come back in control and build up from there, you will be right back at your former strength quickly. More importantly, you will be at your old strength level but much healthier, which will allow for faster new gains to come. It is a fact that quality strength gains come slowly and that injuries will be your biggest setbacks. It is a fact that the human body needs to move in many different ways to stay healthy, and doing the same stuff over and over is bad. This whole situation that we are still going through has been tough on everyone, but it is a personal choice to decide if we will take something positive away from it.
During this time of gym closures, I saw many athletes doing different things to maintain their strength. I saw people going to parks with weighted vests doing push-ups and pull-ups. I saw people dragging sleds and other implements. People were getting out and walking, hiking, or riding. Lifters were training at home with much lighter weights and were finding ways to make those exercises harder. These people would do higher reps, add bands, do unilateral work, etc. I saw people being creative and mixing their training up. These are all great ideas, and I hope that this kind of spirit stays around now that gyms are opening. In most gym settings, we tend to become creatures of habit, doing the same exercise, or using the same equipment all of the time. This is generally not the best for the body. This is especially true when people don’t get out and move beyond what they do in the gym. Our joints are at their healthiest when we use a greater range of motion in exercise. In the gym, there are many people who get wrapped up in heavy bilateral movements, and over time, they actually get weak at anything unilateral. This is because many of the stabilizers and smaller muscle groups are not being used. I know many who do powerlifting training end up in bad cardio shape because they won’t even do high-rep work. To stay healthy and keep injuries at bay, we need to train many areas. These areas will be balanced depending on our chosen specialties.
I saw many lifters who had to expand the scope of their training during this time of closed gyms. They began to hit areas they where neglecting. When it comes to strength, we need three basic types. We need max-effort strength, dynamic strength, and rep strength. I can dig deeper and further include unilateral and bilateral strength. We also need flexibility and mobility to keep our joints happy. We must also understand that recovery and rest are every bit as important as training is. Feeling beat up and exhausted is part of the strength game, but still, it should not happen all of the time. I want lifters to look back over this time away from the gym so that they can learn from it and be better when going back to the gym.
We always have a choice, and we can learn from every situation we experience. I understand the struggles that come from having your gym close down. I understand that insane hunger of wanting to get back to where you were on the first day. My 35-plus years of experience, combined with being one of the top strength athletes in the world, have taught me that these FEELINGS are not to be followed. We must use our logic and proceed with intelligence. We should be evaluating everything we do, especially when it comes to training. This ordeal could be one of the greatest things to happen to a lot of lifters if they will just look back and consider everything that has gone on. Yes, I want people to get back in the gym and get back to those heavy weights. I just do not want them to rush in and end up in the same spots they were in before. I hope they realize how great they feel and how many of their nagging injuries have healed. I hope they realize how much getting extra sleep helped them. I hope they are able to now see the benefits of lighter lifting, stretching, and mobility. I hope they understand the importance of GPP work. Mostly, I hope lifters will now or at least begin to realize that strength training is way more than just pounding weights in the gym. Yes, that is the best and most fun part of strength training, but it is just a small portion of it.
So, if you’re not back in the gym, please give this article some serious thought. If you are already back and going full bore, I still hope you will give it some thought. There is still time to pull back on the reins. If you think about it, this is a chance to start over with more knowledge and a smarter point of view. That isn’t something we always get in life, and we owe it to ourselves to take it. Strength training is about getting stronger, and sometimes that means you have to drop the hammer to go full bore. Mastery is knowing when you need to back down and when to rev up. The goal should be to become a master!