[Original post date for my newsletter subscribers: November 20, 2020. This is one of the first posts where I outline the essentials of getting active again without breaking off bits of yourself — pbk]
We’re just a few weeks away from what passes around here for the dead of winter.
Everyone is hunkering down, and starting to redirect focus inward. That’s not just because of COVID, it’s what naturally happens this time of year as the days get short and the nights get long and cold. But COVID is certainly forcing a re-examination of what it means to safely and effectively work out.
If you’re coming back to training, please consider the following to keep your return smooth.
1. This can be an opportunity but it can also hurt you
It hasn’t statistically been the riskiest endeavor, but with what we’ve learned about viral transmission mostly coming from indoor gatherings with others minus masks, working out in gyms or a crowded class setting could land you and yours a big lump of COVID for Christmas.
But if you’re treating this as an opportunity to finally get serious about exercising, it’s still possible to get hurt in a conventional way: pulling or tearing something from going too intense too early.
2. Put off the high intensity for a while
If you’re just starting back, skip anything that takes you to redline for the foreseeable future. Until your body has re-adapted to sudden, high stress moves, doing a 9+ on a 10 scale of intensity puts you at major risk for tearing tendons, muscles, or ligaments.
How long does this re-adaptation take? It depends where you’re starting from, but I’ve never heard a gym owner recommend more than a few weeks of “taking it easy,” which if you’re over 40 and have done nothing more challenging than feeding yourself and driving your car, is a ridiculously insufficient time to adapt. I recommend a minimum of 3 months at a low idle before you even consider going all out — your connective tissues take that long to firm up, and 6 months would be a safer figure.
3. Avoid the uncontrolled
This goes double for random situations, like sparring or playing a tennis match, particularly if you have some background in the sport. If your body has “muscle memory” of how to play at a high level, your brain can fire off the movement pattern signal to your muscles, but your connective tissue may still be couch potato soft. In an unguarded moment, it’s easy to suddenly lunge or spazz or freeze, and that’s when your brain says “Put out 110%.” And just starting back into your activity of choice, your body isn’t ready to handle 110% of anything.
When I joined an old school kendo club, all that they let us beginners do for three months was one step forward and cut, and one step back and cut. All class long for 45 minutes. After 3 months, they let us join the rest of the club doing basic drills facing off against one another — not yet sparring, just doing preset drills. This let the beginners’ bodies condition and prep for the literal screaming and all-out slashing and bashing to come.
4. There is no one magic thing
I’ve tried a few workout regimens with the premise that this ONE THING would prepare me for getting back into all-out martial arts. I should have known better: the best prep for all-out anything is a combination of smart planning, hard work, and patience.
A lot of what you need to do for preparation depends on what you’re preparing for. The more specific, repetitive, uncontrolled, and high intensity the activity, the more comprehensive and careful your prep needs to be — again, especially when starting from couch potato-hood. That can mean getting coached on technique, doing gradually increasing strength work, mobility, and graded cardio. “Short cuts make long delays,” as the Hobbits say.
5. Keep it brief with lots of recovery days
If like me you’re pushing the sunny side of your 6th decade, your body will absolutely adapt and strengthen to an exercise stimulus, but it needs more recovery days between workouts to come back to its original strength plus that little extra that’s the whole point of the workout. If you eventually end up working out hard, you may only need two, or possibly even just one training session per week, with the other days being devoted to technique, mobility, flexibility, or simply taking a day off.
6. Swap the enthusiasm for consistency
You’re gonna DO THIS, bro. And it’s SO EXCITING, YES! HELLS YES, this feels awesome!
The rush feels wonderful, and may be what got you back to XYZ in the first place. But developing high levels of skill requires an accumulation of experience, and that means consistency: showing up, learning what works and what doesn’t, polishing, improving, and building on what you learned. It’s that iterative, repetitious building on what you’ve built, that leads to exponential growth.
Being enthusiastic is great, but not if it prompts you to go too fast, too hard, too soon. Consistency usually means a more moderate output of effort that you can sustain regularly, and thankfully that’s where the improvement happens.
If you’re taking the pandemic and its restrictions as a stimulus to getting back into exercise, hit Reply and let me know how it’s going.