As gyms open back up after the pandemic there’ll be a mixed bag of people going back into the weight room to finally make use of some added resistance…
Whilst you can’t really doubt the iron therapy is probably something we’ve all missed, there are definitely some differences in what approach people will be taking as they get back into it.
First, there’ll be those that aren’t really sure about getting into training just yet, and proceed with caution doing whatever they can/feel like, with the long-term mindset of getting back into a routine. They probably just don’t know what that looks like yet.
Then there’ll be those who have been training the whole time (like the guys on Team Rugby Muscle) and have actually made progress during quarantine, who will take to the gym easily in stride.
Then there’ll be those who have kinda made do, but now that the gym is open, they’re ready to hit it HARD. They believe that they need to make up for lost time and essentially “kickstart” their gains…
Now whilst I can absolutely empathise with the folks in the last category, I have no doubt in my mind that they are going to run into some issues. I’m trying not to oversell it, because I don’t want it to come across as hype, but trying to make up for lost time and hit it hard is unequivocally a terrible idea. If you’re reading this and that was your plan, I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. There may have never been a mass-going-back-to-the-gym-experiment like this before, but it’s safe to say we know what you should be doing, and more importantly, what you shouldn’t be doing.
And it’s not just one area where it doesn’t make sense – it’s literally every component of your training
Allow me to explain:
If you know my thoughts on motivation, you know that I don’t put a lot of stock into it. This situation demonstrates this perfectly.
Guys who want to hit it as hard as they can right out of the gate do so for 1 reason – they’ve forgotten what hitting it hard actually feels like.
Just like it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, or a back-seat driver and critique someone from a position of comfort, it’s easy to set yourself astronomical goals / training protocols whilst you’re sitting on our ass.
I think we’re all guilty of it too – it’s just human nature.
It’s just so easy to be motivated before the work begins, Present You seems to be perfectly ok with Future You suffering, but when Future You becomes Present You and that suffering is very real, especially with all the real-world problems and life stress that Now-Past-You didn’t even consider. You might need to read that again to wrap your head around it, but it checks out.
Failure is an absolute motivation killer, which will factor in if you stack the deck against Future You with crazy ambitions early on. I’ll go more into this a little bit later but just understand that no-matter how motivated you feel right now, that motivation will drop once the work actually is being done, so prepare yourself accordingly.
Injury / Robustness
If you haven’t been watching the return of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere then you’ve been missing out, it’s been pretty awesome. If you have been watching it, there’s something else you’ll likely have noticed (particularly in the NRL) – injuries!!
As a player, it’s easy to forget the ridiculously brutal nature of the game we play as it has become strangely normalised. But it is large blokes running into each other and colliding as hard as they can – and it’s brutal. Understand that after months off, you need to recondition the body to withstand that.
Any good S&C coach will see their first role in sport as injury management. Put simply, any time you’re injured, you’re held back both from playing (why you train in the first place) and from training to your potential.
And although the unpredictable nature of rugby means that it’s difficult to completely eliminate injuries, the science clearly shows one indicator of injury that stands above the rest.
If I were to ask you to guess what would you say?
Flexibility? Strength? Core stability?
Or would you catch the vibe I’m trying to throw at you in this article and say “a spike in training load”?
I don’t think I need to get too deep into the nitty-gritty here, but it’s important to just wrap your head around the point.
I should clarify that it’s the spike that’s the predictor of injury, not the total volume load itself. So if someone is training 6x a week, 2-3x daily and they’ve slowly built up to that load and can handle it, then they’re in a good place.
However if you’re coming off 1 zoom fitness session a week for 3 months, then suddenly increase it to 4-5x a week gym and rugby training, pushing it hard to make up for lost time then I’d be concerned.
If you’ve been cooped up at home because of this pandemic, the last thing you want to do is coop yourself back up because you’ve been an impatient prat and decided to push it too hard too soon and busted your shoulder or back.
To get the most out of your training, you need to be training, not on the physio table.
Training As A Gauge
One thing guys seem to put a lot of stock into is testing themselves.
Before starting a program they want to test their 1 rep maxes on a few lifts and/or run a yo-yo test “to see where they’re at”. They do this with the idea that after a certain period of time they’ll go back to and run the tests again to see how much they’ve progressed. I believe this whole process is unnecessary – if you’re training properly then you will see the progress manifest in the training itself… you should be seeing improvements in your logbook – so you can rest assured that you’re progressing!
I often get asked what tests I like to run to see if guys are making progress and my answer is pretty much always the same – I don’t really like any. I view “tests” as basically a waste of time that could’ve been spent productively training, which is a whole separate point for another time, so I’ll make it another time.
Just know that if you test your maxes when you’re really detrained, you’re going to be very underprepared, meaning:
- You’re putting yourself at most injury risk without any real training benefit.
- Of course you’re going to suck.
You don’t need to see where you’re at, you know you need to move forward, so just focus on moving forward. As long as you keep track of what you’re doing, you’re able to use the training itself to easily gauge your progress.
Just make sure that you’re using training as a gauge for your progress, and you’re not actually worrying about “testing yourself” every time you step into the gym.
Take The Easy Gains
Another thing I emphasise a lot with is the desire to be advanced. I mean – who wants to be a rookie/novice/noob?! Nobody right?!
If you’re a fuckin’ noob, that just means you suck!
Actually, I personally would love to be a noob.
Why? Because newbies get all the easy gains. All of them. Getting strength, muscle, power, athleticism and all kinds of gains for newbies is like jumping off a boat and hitting water.
Now here’s where the analogy goes one stage further – once you’ve jumped off the boat, it doesn’t matter how high you jump from or how many rotations you do in the air for style points, you can’t hit more water. Just like if you decide to do advanced, highly complex, high volume training you wont get more gains… you’ll just be working harder for the same thing.
What’s even cooler about getting newbie gains is that you can “desensitize” yourself. Some do this purposefully with programmed deloads and time off, some have been running a 3-month long desensitization phase already.
If those easy gains are there for the taking – take them. You’ll make consistent, measurable progress with the least amount of time/effort.
Remember that on the pitch/beach/wherever it matters, you’re judged by what you’ve produced from your training, not how much time/effort you’ve devoted to it
I think this is the very essence of the issue I’m talking about here. It’s a phenomenon that causes a lot of well-meaning guys to end up short of their physique and/or performance goals.
It’s this viscous, ongoing cycle of
- Trying to achieve too much, too soon.
- Being inevitably overwhelmed/injured/caught up in life.
- Giving up, or at least dialing it way back.
- Spending a significant chunk of time either stagnating or regressing.
- Getting to the point where you are so far removed from what you wanted to achieve.
- Deciding that you have to make up for lost time.
- Go back to step 1 and repeat.
I see this.
And it just goes on and on and on.
Hopefully by now I’ve laid out enough points that you can get on board with the idea that this isn’t the path for you. And you need to break the cycle for good.
By starting small, you give yourself the opportunity to finally build some momentum.
You get that momentum because you won’t be overwhelmed, because you won’t need motivation, and because your life won’t get in the way.
Because you’ve removed the fluff and are only focusing on what’s needed (read this article to find out what that looks like for you) you’re still making outstanding progress!
As should be clear by now, training this way means you just don’t need to rely on “motivation”… progressing is always going to help you stay on track.
And at the end of the day.
Staying on the track is by far the most important thing for you and your gains.
Not only does it break that cycle.
But it actually does it, by having you do less.
It’s up to you to make that choice.
Before I Wrap Up
At this point, I’m genuinely unsure as to whether or not you’re on board with me, but I think there’s one more point I should address as part of this whole picture.
Whilst there’s good science behind planned deloads and breaks, both physically and mentally, do not use this as an excuse to procrastinate right now. I don’t want anyone saying “I should just do nothing for the next 3 weeks until gyms open because TJ says that means I can go in and get easy gains”.
There are so many options of quality training that you can get in right now, delaying is just extending the time it’ll take for you to reach your goals. Not only do you push back the start date for no real reason, but you also increase the total amount of work you need to do, putting you at risk to fall back into the cycle laid out above
Side note: I actually had a new athlete start working with me – he originally was going to start at the beginning of lockdown but decided it would be best to only start once he has gym access back. Now he’s got in even worse shape, and even admitted that he regrets that these past 3 months have been a waste of his time. Meanwhile I have 2 other athletes that I’ve been working with who have lost over 10kg each during lockdown! One guy actually went back to pre-season (as a prop) and has been pushing the back-rowers. Quality work can be done in almost all circumstances.
If you’ve gone this far without doing too much outside of the odd run, you would massively benefit from doing a smartly planned, simple bodyweight training until you get into the gym.
Not only will this give you some nice early gains, but it will allow you to build up your work capacity so that your work in the gym will be of that much better quality!
On top of that your injury risk will be massively lowered, your recovery will be better AND you’ll be back in the psychology of training – your routine will be easier to stay on top of.
And don’t worry – even if you’re doing all the best bodyweight work in the world, you’ll still be able to squeeze those simple gains once you start chucking about some iron.
To me this is such a no-brainer.
There are a few analogies I thought of using, but this sponge seems to make the most sense to me.
TJ Analogy Alert
TJ Double Analogy Alert
Imagine if someone offered to pay you to eat at a all-you-can-eat buffet, but they would only pay if you could eat 6 plates. By the time you go to the buffet you’re ravenous, so ravenous that it’s extremely tempted to pile up that first place with all these dense foods, even throwing some of those donuts on there because they look so good.
Obviously this is going to mess up your chances of getting through 6 plates. If you took the time to think about it though (which is annoyingly uncommon with training), a better plan would be to go light on that first place, holding off some of the really tasty food and adding the tastier foods as you work your way through the plates.
Then even if you’re full by the end of plate 4, you’ve still got room for dessert and those donuts that looked great!
Does this sound like I’ve been to too many buffets?! Don’t judge me!
Anyway, remember the goal of training isn’t to work as hard as possible. The goal is to consistently make progress, if you don’t know what that looks like still then I’d suggest diving into this article and this video to figure it out.
Pointlessly working harder doesn’t make up for a lack of focus, and as you should see by now, will only mess you up in the long run.
Get your focus zoned in, and simply execute.
I hope you got something from this article. If you did, feel free to comment in our Free Facebook Group here
Let me know what you’re going to do differently to meet your physique/performance goals.
Oh and before you go
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