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“”The Gym is open!!!” One physio’s lockdown experience: Part 2″

Thanks again to Jo who has found time to put fingers to keyboard….

So…it’s Saturday 25th July, day 2 of my 4 day shift, I’m still working down in Birmingham at the NHS PPE call centre- I can’t say getting up at 5.30am 4 days a week has been particularly easy- but I feel like I’m doing “my bit” and has been extremely beneficial- not just financially, but also working with a great bunch of folk.

The weekends are relatively subdued, with very few calls to take- but today there is some excited discussions revolving around the fact that gyms are opening today for the first time since the lock-down. So who’s going? Is it safe? What are people looking forward to getting back into? Classes? Weights? Yoga/ pilates?

My ears prick up, not only because I’m a regular gym user myself, but with my physio hat on, I wonder (perhaps rather pessimistically) if we will see some sports-type injuries in clinic?

“But exercise is GOOD for us right?!”

The positive effects of exercise are well documented, but like anything, too much of a good thing can cause us problems- or more specifically, in respect to exercise; too much of a good thing TOO QUICKLY causes problems.

The reason for this is revealed when we understand what happens to the human body and all it’s varied tissues (bone, muscles, tendons…) when we STOP doing an exercise or sport that we do regularly- and lock-down has provided this rather unwelcome and unique period of rest.

The human body is the most incredible organism- without any input from us, it can change and adapt almost on a daily basis! In terms of the musculoskeletal system, the stimulus to adapt comes from our environment and what we do in it. Some studies that have looked at this in professional athletes- showing that in as little as 2 weeks of rest, muscles start to get weaker and tendons contain a little less collagen (the protein that makes the tendon “stiff.”)

“But I’m not Usain Bolt!” I hear you say…

Well, this “de-training affect” as it is known, has also been shown in “normal” people. A research study carried out in 2000 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11127215/)   looked at bone mineral density and muscle strength around the hip joints of a group of pre-menopausal women who participated in a 12 month programme of impact training, along with lower body strengthening and resistance training. They measured these parameters at the beginning and end of the 12 month training period, but also at the end of a further 6 month period of rest. The researchers found that there were measurable increases (3.2%) in bone density around the neck of the femur (thigh bone) and also on average, a 15% increase in muscle strength- at the end of the 12 month training period. But these increases had disappeared by the end of the 6 month rest and returned to the baseline measures.

I see the affects of this in my work with the student athletes at the University of Derby. There are pronounced “spikes” of injuries which occur just after periods of rest- especially on returning after the longer summer break and also from the Christmas holiday.

The “partner in crime” with the de-training affect is the speed and intensity of training following this rest period. “They’ve just had 3 months off, they need to train EVEN HARDER than normal!” is a common phrase I hear from coaches. At this point, athletes often enter periods of very high intensity training, or perhaps training twice a day for the first week or so- which can be a recipe for disaster for some students.

The principle is the same for you- you might be thinking about returning to the gym as they open today- and planning to do more sessions in the first few weeks, or an extra spin class straight after your normal session/ or adding an extra 10kg on to the bar/ attempting new exercises not tried before…in an attempt to make up for lost time and try and address the lockdown bulge! 

We would call these “training errors” and they will all increase your risk of getting injured. Another piece of very interesting research that has guided the sports medicine fraternity, is that of Australian Physiotherapist Tim Gabbett (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/5/273). He concluded that  “Excessive and rapid increases in training loads are likely responsible for a large proportion of non-contact, soft-tissue injuries.” In addition, he also concluded that an “appropriately graded” medium to high intensity exercise may actually protect against injury.

So- what does that mean for you? It’s not easy to give specific advice, but firstly, make a plan, based on what your pre-lockdown schedule looked like- did you train 3-4 times a week? Then start with 2. Don’t train on consecutive days- give your body a day off at least between sessions- this is when the muscles and other tissues adapt (get stronger)! Start with low-medium intensity workouts. If you like working with weights, start with weights that are a little lighter than you would’ve lifted pre-lockdown. This will allow you to focus on your technique- poor technique can also be another factor that can increase your risk of picking up an injury. Build up your session intensity/ weights SLOWLY aim to be back to your pre-lockdown level within an absolute minimum of 4 weeks.

This may all sound like common sense- but you’d be surprised how many injuries we see in clinic that are related to simple training errors like these! If you do pick up an injury or you’re not sure where to start, then book yourself in and we’ll be able to give you some more specific advice.

I hop you enjoy a safe gym-return folks!

Please get in contact if we can help at all: enquiries@impactphysio.co.uk / 0115 9721319

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