by Don Heatrick @donheatrick

Gyms around the world are either reopening or preparing to reopen very soon. It’s great news, but the reality of just what we’re going back to bears some thought.

In order to reopen safely, gyms must abide by new operating restrictions and safe practice.

The number of people allowed in the gym at one time will be limited to comply with social distancing rules and to ensure shared space and equipment is kept clean and safe.

The reality is that most people won’t be able to return to training just like they did before. So let’s expect this and plan for it.


Here are some practical constraints I believe are likely, and will affect how you plan your training…

  • The number of weekly gym visits, and training session durations may be limited
  • You may have to book and reserve a time slot
  • Every other piece of gym equipment may be deliberately taken out of service to ensure social distancing is practical
  • Hard to clean items may be removed from service – for example dumbbells, weight plates, mats, resistance bands, foam rollers
  • You may be asked to clean your equipment and space before and after use
  • You’ll likely have to remain confined to a specific spot in the gym, rather than moving around freely to different pieces of equipment
  • You may be permitted to use only a limited number of pieces of equipment (dumbbells, barbells, weight plates, racks, benches etc.)

The net result of all this is fewer opportunities to train, less time allowed to train, and less training equipment to train with.

This leads me to two foundation recommendations…

  1. Only train the essentials at the gym – stuff you’re unable to do at home
  2. Set yourself up to handle as much of your training needs at home as possible

Prime considerations for your gym sessions:

Deliberately target Strength training and Power training – basically the heavy stuff. Anything that uses physical weight, racks, or benches etc, that you don’t have available at home.

For example, deadlifts, squats, bench press, shoulder press, rows, chin ups, kettlebell swings, Olympic lifting variants etc.

If you’re really restricted, the best use of your time in the gym would be to target lower body exercises (deadlifts/squats) and pulling exercises (pull-ups/rows). These are the most challenging to train at home without equipment.

Prime considerations for training away from the gym in your own time:

Focus on Mobility and Movement, Endurance, and Speed training at home – anything that uses minimal or no equipment.

For example, foam rolling and soft tissue work, bodyweight mobility exercises, agility, plyometrics, cardio endurance including running, cycling, jumping rope, and any bodyweight strength and stability exercises such as split squats/single leg squats, push ups/single arm push ups etc.

Regardless of location, training must be as efficient as possible.

Focus on the critical few rather than the trivial many, and organise your exercises in the most practical and time efficient manner possible.

Here are some pointers:

  • Use resistance training twice a week
  • Train the whole body each session using exercises that target:

a) lower body (hip or knee dominant) patterns

b) upper body pushing (horizontal or vertical) patterns

c) upper body pulling (horizontal or vertical) patterns, and

d) core (anti-extension or anti-rotation) patterns

  • Superset exercises back to back with little or no rest, using non-competing muscle groups, and based on practical equipment availability
  • Use a common piece of equipment to train multiple movement patterns if possible
  • Superset bodyweight exercises amongst equipment loaded exercises where possible
  • Train cardio endurance at least 3 times a week, outside of the gym if possible
  • Train speed, and mobility and movement in dedicated sessions at home if needed

It’s easy to become preoccupied with only using specific bits of kit to train how you like to…

But the most important thing isn’t the kit you use, it’s how you use it – how you put together your training session, and how you progress it over the weeks.

Your body doesn’t care how you load it. It adapts to movements performed against varying degrees of resistance.

Effective training starts with the foundation movements, and then selects an appropriate way to load these movements given the training purpose and target number of reps.

And this can equally be bodyweight if you know what you’re doing. Don’t become a slave to specific bits of kit.

I’ve recently shared a host of different bodyweight training options as replacements for more regular gym-based exercises on my Instagram profile. Here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing (in the video)…

If you can load the foundation patterns adequately using bodyweight, you are training effectively. And you can mix and match between regular weight training and bodyweight exercises, even in the same session.

In fact, this could be your secret weapon not only in maximising the training you can do outside of the gym, but also in achieving a productive training session within the restrictions implemented at your public gym facility too. 

Stick to the core principles of training and you’ll emerge with great results despite the constraints. Remain motivated, laser in on your purpose and choose exercises that match that purpose.

Example Gym Strength Session Exercise Selection

If you’re looking to hit the gym and maximise your strength session despite some serious restrictions, here’s an example exercise “tri-set” that delivers:

  1. Deadlift (lower body hip dominant pattern)
  2. 1-Arm Push Up (upper body horizontal push, and anterior core anti-rotation patterns)
  3. Bent Over Landmine Row (upper body horizontal pull, and posterior core anti-rotation patterns)

These three exercises hit the whole body using a complete set of functional strength patterns, remains confined to a single spot of allocated floor space, and only demands a barbell and some plates.

Your friendly neighbourhood gym owner will be very pleased with you!

Get in, get it done, and pick up the remainder of your Mobility and Movement, Endurance, and Speed training at home.

Remember, you can be very productive even if you’re solely training at home with little or no equipment at all. Don’t make excuses, make the best of it and make progress instead.

Further Resources

Don Heatrick BSc. (Hons) Level 4 Strength & Conditioning Coach, Muay Thai Coach

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters & coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

Follow Don Heatrick on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donheatrick/

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