How to Come Back, Safely (Note: this post has nothing to do with hand washing or social distancing)

Tomorrow is the day! We get to go back to our beloved barbell and rig! The GHD and rowing! The Assault bike! Just kidding, nobody is excited about getting on the Assault bike. But, before you run through the gym doors and find a new 1rm, or bust through some max rep pull-up attempts, there are things you need to understand.

Let me start with explaining to you that it has been over 2 months since I’ve used a barbell or been on the rig. I haven’t done a pull-up since March 9th. (I’ve had some members ask why I wasn’t working out in the gym, you can read more about that here: And I will be methodically getting back to my workouts.

I learned a good lesson a couple years ago about trying to jump back into the swing of things after an extended time away from my normal workout routine to study for my CrossFit Level 3 Certified Trainer exam.

I thought I had taken it gradually enough as I returned to my normal workout routine exactly 2 years ago. After 2 weeks, it was Memorial Day. Time for Murph! I figured I was fine- it had been a couple of weeks, and I’d done Murph several times in the past. Well, it was not fine. I chose to do Murph the way I had done it the time before- Run, all 100 pull-ups, then 200 push-ups, then 300 air squats, run. With a vest. That was one of the dumbest workout related things I’ve done. I had barely worked out the 2 months prior because I was consumed with studying for a big test. I thought the 2 weeks since the test was enough time to ramp up my intensity. I may have been ok to do it without the vest and partitioned, because that would have clearly brought the intensity (and amount of work done) down. But of course, I thought “I’ve done it before, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t. The next day I was extremely sore. But that was just the beginning. The following night, I had trouble sleeping because my arms were hurting. The next morning (2 days after) I noticed my arms were swollen. They stayed that way for a couple more days. I couldn’t fully straighten them for a week. I was in pain, I was exhausted, and I felt awful. I did my best to hydrate and take in electrolytes. Thankfully it never got to the point of needing to go the the hospital ( if I would’ve had the symptom of dark brown urine- the telltale sign of rhabdo, I would have gone). But, after just 2 weeks back into working out, I was now out for another 2 weeks while my body recovered.

About a month later, I was finally able to do a pull-up again. You see, in addition to all that soreness and swelling, I also lost the strength to do even one pull-up due to the muscles being so damaged and needed excessive time to repair. Let’s not forget- the reason I was in this predicament was because I was able to do 100 pull-ups, with a 14.8# vest (yes, that .8 matters 😂). And now I could not do 1. It took my upper body over a month to start to feel normal again. And then guess what? I had to start all over with re-acclimating my body to exercise. This time I was sure to take it more gradually!

Anyway, the point of this story is not to brag about how I, a Level 3 coach, almost gave my self full-on rhabdo. It’s to caution you to learn from my mistakes! We have not been doing many of the usual things- pull-ups, toes-to-bar, muscle-ups, heavier lifting, etc. It will require us dialing it back a few notches from where we were 2 months ago, and gradually building back up.

We will be adjusting the workouts accordingly, but please keep in mind that you still need to scale appropriately. A good rule of thumb is to go about 50-60% intensity the first 5 sessions back, 65-70% for sessions 6-12, 75-80% until you’ve hit 20 sessions.

What do I mean when I say “intensity”? Well, that applies to all of the following: volume (total number of reps), weight ( how much weight is on the bar relative to your pre-covid max or weight you’d typically feel comfortable throwing around for reps), skill complexity/difficulty, and level of exertion.

Most often, people only think about the last item when I discuss intensity. But all of the others need to be considered as well. As I said earlier, had I not worn the vest (reduced weight) or had I broken up the reps (still same volume overall, but less exertion by keeping the reps manageable without going to failure), I may not have had such an extreme reaction.

Also keep in mind that it’s different than when you first started. You have learned technique! Usually this is to your advantage. But sometimes that will allow you to do things your muscles would say no to. And that is actually dangerous. That’s how I got through all those pull-ups with a vest- I am a really efficient kipper. So despite my muscles being completely fatigued, I was able to continue on.

Learn from my mistake. Listen to your coaches when we make recommendations. If it still feels like it might be a bit much, listen to your gut and communicate that. The last thing I want for any of you right now is to end up back at home for a few weeks, or worse- in the hospital. If you didn’t typically RX the workouts, this isn’t the time to start! They will look a bit more doable for a reason- to acclimate those that were used to RXing. As always, we will work with everyone to find the best version of the workout for them on any given day!

Now, let’s crush this week! In a responsible way, of course 😉



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