So all around the country gyms are opening their doors to the public again. I’m sure you’re eager to get back into your normal routine after what was probably nearly 2 months away from the weight room, your favorite cardio machines, and the smoothie bar! Well slow down a bit, because it may not be so easy to just hop right back into it.
What do I mean? Well first is the fact that you’ll want to gradually ease yourself back into your old workout regimen after that much time off. 2 months isn’t enough to knock you completely out of shape if you were consistently active, but it is enough for your strength and endurance to dip enough that you’ll want to spend at least a month catching back up. But what I’m really talking about is the fact that any public gym or studio space right now will still have restrictions in place. Most likely some building capacity limitations, social distancing rules, and most importantly requirements for masks or other facewear.
Why is this important to your training? Well think about your regular routines. You’re in decent shape and dedicated to working out, so you go at a minimum of a moderate pace when either lifting or doing your preferred cardio. As such, you’ll notice during more intense sets of exercise or just with higher rep sets, or on the cardio machines, that hour heart rate increases and your breathing will become heavier or more rapid. If you know how to properly engage your diaphragm and core while working out your breathing will always consist of deep inhales and forceful exhales anyway. Now imagine breathing that way, while wearing a mask. In fact, grab your preferred mask, and give some deep forceful breathing a try. That was pretty rough wasn’t it?
So how can you get back to your usual training methods while wearing a covering that restricts your breathing? Well the simple answer is you can’t. You’re going to have to modify your training methods around this restriction. But that doesn’t mean you can’t train efficiently, you just want to make sure you’re training safely!
What Mask Should I Wear to Train?
First things first, what kind of face covering are you wearing? Myself, for regular purposes, I like my reusable and washable cloth mask. Some people have the painters masks or even filtered masks. Others wear a scarf or bandana or other covering. Anything is acceptable for going to the store. But for training I really recommend the lightest material you can find. Simple disposable paper masks are a good choice since they don’t restrict breathing as much as heavier cloth will.
How Often Should I Rest?
The next thing you’re going to want to watch out for, whether you’re weight training or doing any kind of cardio conditioning, is any sign of lightheadedness. If you’re feeling light headed or dizzy, STOP AND REST! That sounds obvious but I know people like us can get caught up in our focus on our goals when training and sometimes ignore discomfort for the sake of pushing ourselves. Now is not the time for that attitude however (really it’s never a good time for that attitude if you want to be safe).
Don’t Forget to Breath!
So let’s go over some things to consider for weight training. Firstly, no matter what, I recommend that during any kind of resistance training that you have a full breath of air before performing a repetition. If you can master inhaling on the eccentric and exhaling on the concentric of any movement, you’ll be better able to keep a rhythm with your exercises no matter what pace you’re going at or what weight and rep range you’re training with. You’ll also have more power with each rep this way as you’ll engage your core more effectively.
But with the mask on you want to really take your time to ensure you have that FULL breath. So slow your normal pace down just a bit, especially if your workouts are more circuit oriented. You’ll still get a good cardio effect if you design your workout to keep you staying in motion with shorter rest periods.
What About Long Duration Cardio?
But what about actual cardio equipment? Doing steady state cardio conditioning requires constant motion and constant breathing right? It does, but again depending on how acclimated you are to returning to your routine and how restrictive your mask may be, the best idea here is just going to be to take a rest at certain intervals. Let’s say you like to do 40 minutes of cardio. You can still do 40 minutes of cardio, but maybe fit in three to five 2 minute breaks to catch your breath. It really won’t kill the pace of your workout that much and will allow you to make sure you’re keeping a healthy oxygen flow to your body.
Another strategy for cardio conditioning could be to implement more interval training techniques instead of steady state cardio. Interval training is already a better technique if your ultimate goal is to stay lean while building muscle. But for the case of training with our masks on, you can use interval training techniques to work in periods of slow down where you can catch your breath and rest a bit. For example try 1-2 minutes of sprinting with a full minute of slow walking to rest and catch your breath. Take longer if you need it, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Staying safe is far more important right now than the perception of pushing yourself through this restriction.
Start Simple and Work Up
The last tip I can give is to just keep your workouts simple. Equipment at your gym may be limited anyway for a while so don’t feel like now is the time you need to get back into your all kettlebell circuit, or Olympic barbell training, or suspension trainer full body program. If these are available to you, go for it, if not, it’s OK to just get back to the basics or even just focus on some machine work for a bit. While I’m not a proponent of overusing machines in strength training programs, it’s not like they have no place or purpose at all. Especially if you’re just getting back into the gym, it could be good to reacclimate your body to loading these movement patterns against resistance.
Now I know it seems like I may be making a big deal out of all of this but it really can have a big impact on your training. I’ve already worked with a returning client myself who was caught off guard by how quickly he ran out of breath doing a simple exercise he had done many times before without any weight. There is no doubt in my mind it came from him not being able to take in the same amount of oxygen as usual with each breath while wearing his mask. The importance of breathing techniques cannot be understated in safe and effective training. The biggest thing you’re trying to avoid is holding your breath and essentially getting to the point where you’ll faint. It sounds like something that would never happen, but it does. This only gets trickier with a face covering. So try these methods to make sure you get back to workouts that feel challenging and effective while keeping yourself as safe as possible.
Adam Davis, originally published in the OrthoCore site blog.
Adam develops personalized training programs that are focused on functional strength training, as well as helping people stay stronger, leaner, and healthier. Adam assesses clients with a Functional Movement Screen, which enables him to tailor the performance development program to the individual’s mobility, stability, body mechanic or strength training needs.