Don’t rush a good thing!
With all the recent changes to our lifestyles, there are a lot of people out there who are taking up a new form of exercise for the first time, gym junkies having an enforced break from their second home and waiting (impatiently) for them to re-open or people beginning to exercise for the first time to counteract the few iso kilos that may have appeared out of nowhere! When doing any of
these things, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing too much too quickly – or as I like to call it, the Zero to Hero phenomenon!
Taking up a new form of exercise or a new sport is fraught with danger regardless of how fit you are or how awesome you were at your previous activity! The world’s best swimmer will not necessarily make the world’s best long distance runner – in fact sometimes it’s quite the opposite! Although both activities build cardiovascular health and endurance, they are vastly different in a lot of respects. When swimming, your body is horizontal and buoyed by the water. When running, you are vertical and your body is forced to absorb 2-3x your own body weight. Recent research even suggests that although both swimmers and runners have awesome cardiovascular health, the heart functions differently for each type of athlete – a perfect example of how sensitive our bodies are to different forms of exercise.
It goes similarly for those of us who are currently in quiet mourning for our favourite gym. Even if by some miracle you managed to a) convince your partner to give up a room in the house and b) procure yourself some equipment to fill it with before it all sold out; it’s just not the same. In fact, studies suggest that the results you get are very different depending on whether you’re working out in a gym or busting a gut at home. A gym provides variety, competition and instant motivation based upon the simple fact that you have to pay for it – there’s also not much to do at a gym apart from work out! Whilst working out at home is riddled with little distractions from wondering if the washing machine had sung its little song to signal the end of the cycle to the lure of Netflix. Wait, why are the kids so quiet…….?
And for those of you who are suffering (enjoying??) a period of enforced rest from the gym or taking up exercise for the first time in a long time in response to shrinking clothes (let’s all just agree to blame the dryer), we’ll just bundle you into the same category for simplicity. And to be honest, regardless of how fit you were 3 months ago, if you’ve been fairly sedentary since that time, the principle of reversibility (we’ll come back to this) suggests that you are almost going to be starting from square one anyway. Research suggests that it only takes about two months of inactivity before you lose all the gains you made but you start to lose it in just 2 weeks. In fact, the more fit you are, the faster you lose it in the first few weeks. Starting back into exercise for the first time in a while is probably the hardest one to navigate and the most likely to lead to an injury or pain.
SO, how do you change exercise, start exercise or continue to exercise safely and effectively when exercising under new circumstances? Introducing the Goldilocks Effect – not too little, not too much. There are 5 basic principles to help you achieve this. These are:
- Overload – you need to go a bit above what your body is used to
- Progression – you need to gradually increase your training as your body adapts to the overload. You can progress by changing load, frequency, duration or complexity
- Specificity – you need to make your training specific to what you want to achieve. Exercise is a way of stressing the body and the body adapts to this stress. So, if you are specific in your training, you will be specific in your results
- Variation – variety is the spice of life – and it also decreases the chance of over-use injuries and over-training. It also reduces boredom which in turn keeps you training at high intensity.
- Reversibility – if you stop, you will go backwards! Depending on how long you stop and how hard you were training in the first place, it could take weeks or even months to regain your fitness. It’s better to reduce training if you need a break rather than stop altogether.
And the bottom line is, let your body be the guide. You SHOULD feel some pain/discomfort after exercises – no pain, no gain – but it should settle within one or two days.