Starting Over Again

by Tom Swift

Editor’s Note: The intention here is to start a Workout Journal. Who will want to read such a Journal is not especially clear. Mostly, the benefit of such a journal is likely to be entirely the author’s, When it comes to fitness, he considers himself a learned Everyman — one who aims to feel good, look good, and foster longevity. Be warned that, like most long-term projects undertaken by the author, the odds are good execution here will be erratic and may, in fact, cease altogether without warning.

I went to the gym this morning. Let me repeat: I went to the gym this morning.

I had mixed feelings when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz amended the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on fitness facilities, allowing for a return to operations with modifications. Suddenly, I had to decide whether I was going to use my membership — i.e., regularly go to the gym and increase my risk of exposure to coronavirus — or cancel my membership. I definitely want to support the place. I am not, I’m afraid, in a financial position to pay for services I don’t use.

One thought: maybe put my membership dues toward additional in-home equipment. An advantage of working out at home, of course, is time — you don’t have to commute to the basement, to the backyard, the garage. I don’t, however, have an ideal place to put a rack and plates, and, well, there is no way to replicate the gym’s intangible. Namely, having a place to do this one certain thing. When you go to a gym, you are there to exercise and so is everyone else you encounter for that hour or whatever. This creates a motivating and energizing energy. The energy of a place is a highly underrated factor in where we spend our time.

I decided I would try — I would see how I felt when I was there. Besides, I had to go at least once: I had a locker full of shoes and gear and shampoo I was not going to leave behind.

This morning’s workout was not my first time back. So I guess that answers how I felt; I was surprised at how good it was to squat with a bar on my back again. I went from March 16 to June 11, so not quite three full months, between gym sessions. I have since been a half-dozen additional times, including this morning‘s session.

While I remained active during the hiatus, trying to take advantage of the greater opportunity for frequency that is possible when you workout out at home, there is no doubt I lost muscle and muscle memory in my months away. I absolutely believe you can get a good workout anywhere with any amount of equipment but, after the early weeks of adjustment, which I made fairly easily, my enthusiasm for progress turned to mere obligation. I simply did not work as hard or as well. Those welcome-back squats felt so good the other day, yet the amount of weight I was moving was much less than I put on the bar three months ago. No doubt, I have regressed.

In many ways, then, it feels like I am starting over.

Rather than deflate me, this fact has, surprisingly, invigorated me.

My gym did not open back up with its previous hours. This has limited my opportunities to go — I can’t go everyday or, really, more than three or four times per week — and when I do make it I can stay for no more than an hour (per policy). Even here these limits have been blessings rather than barriers. They force me to focus while I am there and take much-needed time off to recover when I am not.

I have so far kept my workouts short and moderate. I have planned my visits at times when the gym is not even at the 25-percent allowed maximum capacity. I use a minimal number of bars. I focus on the foundational, compound lifts to get the most bang for my buck.

I love when I come at something I know a lot about with the Beginner’s Mind. The time off forced me to restart my approach and re-evaluate my priorities. I now have the advantage of being able to see positive change without putting forth excessive effort. I can leave several preconceptions behind. I want to think I will be better, smarter, about my workouts.