Getting Back Into Training

We’ve all been there before; training is going fine then ‘life’ strikes and circumstances change. A lifter’s entire day-to-day routine may change and training is the last thing on your mind for a while. This article will cover a safe and productive way to restart training after a layoff, considering the following issues:

  • Conditioning
  • Injury Prevention
  • Progression
  • Diet
  • Psychological factors

After a layoff the body’s ability to produce force, have balance across the muscle groups, cope with an hour or more of intense exercise is diminished, how far this is diminished is a result of many factors including the length of layoff, activity level during the layoff and the individual lifter. Prior to the layoff with memory being the fantastic thing it is you will probably remember yourself as a mix between the sheer mass of Arnold combined with the work ethic of a lumberjack. Now you may well be left wondering whether you will ever reach those dizzying heights of greatness you once had. An immediate return to prior training seems the simple solution but putting the body through an intense routine before it’s ready for it may well lead to injury, a disruption in new priorities and an inability to perform the workload required down the road. What is needed is a return to foundational training. Foundational training is the topic for an entire article; however what we are interested in for today is the practicalities and how they relate to coming back from a layoff.

Any decent routine should take into account conditioning. At this stage you do not want to perform a minimalist routine, volume should be high and relative weight used should be low. This will allow you to increase your body’s work capacity without overly taxing the body. Some moderate stretching to support the exercises done at the end of the workout will help this as will some moderate cardiovascular training.

Closely connected to conditioning is injury prevention. After a layoff it will be highly likely that some muscle groups will have responded to inactivity by decreasing in their ability to generate force, their elasticity will be greatly reduced and are ripe for muscle pulls should they be asked to do too much.  What we want to avoid is the high stress/high intensity style of routine which we may have prospered on before. Opting instead to do a more moderate intensity but make up for this with volume. The added volume at this stage will help the muscle build itself without having to perform high intensity work which could lead to injury as a result of imbalanced muscle groups from the layoff.

Progression should be just as important as ever, the quicker you progress at this stage the quicker you can get back to your old routine and goals. However it cannot be placed above the need to build work capacity and remain injury free.

Successful lifters are generally good at eating to support the work they do in the gym. Odds are diet would have let slip during the layoff. As such a slow return to a good diet is optimal. However it is vital to consider some key issues here. Nutrition should be approached moderately, as we’re not posing a massive amount of stress just yet, the high protein/forced calorie approach is entirely unnecessary at this point. Decide on a moderate calorie intake around maintenance level and adopt a protein intake of 1g/1lb of lean body weight. Once there is a return to previous training methods then the previous diet can be adopted to support that, otherwise it may well lead to unnecessary fat gains.

To tie all this together requires a look at the mind-set of a lifter. Prior to a layoff training and diet would have been entrenched in a lifters life. Since that time other priorities may have taken precedent. This article has stressed all along a slow reintroduction of diet and training into the day-to-day life of a lifter for the variety of reasons mentioned.  We all lead busy lives and it may be that a lifters life now is completely different to their life before; perhaps there is a new member of the family present, a new job or various new commitments. It would be unreasonable for a lifter to make a large scale change to accommodate the reintroduction of training and specialised diet into the day-to-day routine however with the addition of small changes it is much more likely that this reintroduction could work alongside a lifters new priorities leaving them with the best of both worlds.

Reintroduction to training summary:

This is a sample foundational routine to be used after a layoff. It satisfies the criteria mentioned throughout the article to aid conditioning and prevent injuries.

  • Overhead Press
  • Squat
  • Chins
  • Bench Press
  • SLDL alternated with Bent Row as recovery allows.

To be done three times a week for 3 sets of 10 reps each, time between sets should be limited to two minutes at the most. There should be an emphasis on quality of movement and reps. At that rate workouts should take no longer than 45 minutes.

Once recovery is problematic adopt a Heavy/Light/Medium schedule (H/L/M) on any single exercise which is getting too difficult. My interpretation of H/L/M is the topic of another article; however an explanation can be accessed with a search on this site.

  • Moderate stretching to support the exercises done during the session.
  • Moderate cardiovascular training could be done to aid the lifting sessions.

Reintroduction to diet summary:

  • Maintenance calories
  • 1g of protein per 1lb of lean muscle mass.

While I would recommend anyone to follow these guidelines after a layoff the amount of time required to follow these guidelines will vary on the person and length of layoff. Once a base of conditioning and strength has been rebuilt and the diet and training has been reintroduced into the day-to-day life of a lifter a slow reintroduction to the lifters previous lifting and goals can be started.

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