Back to the Barbell: A short guide to getting back to the gym after some time away.
If we are training for the long haul, life will throw us curveballs from time to time. Sometimes these curves are controllable factors, sometimes they are not. Nonetheless, its only natural to have mixed feelings & questions about how to conquer these obstacles. Its okay. Its normal. This brief guide will help you get back to the gym with a realistic, positive mindset, and can shed a little light on what to expect when you grip that beautiful knurling once again.
First off, take a deep breath and look at your progress and long-term adherence to training. You have been consistent for a year.... you just had 3 months away.... A simple math equation shows that you have still been "on" for 80% of that 15 month period. That's a pretty good start. Lets say you were consistent for 2 years and then had 3 months off.... You have been crushing it for almost 90% of the time. See what I mean? If we are in the game for the long haul, a short time away here and there is not the end of world. The longer we're in the game, the less impactful that off period actually is. The key to success is long term consistency, and that will never change. Training and life are about the big picture. Be an optimist and view the glass as half-full, or in these examples the glass as 80-90% full. Almost everyone would say that's a great job!
In Exercise Science we refer to this "time on" as one's Training Age. The bigger your training age, the higher your "percentage on" is, therefore, the smaller and less impacted you will be by the period away from the gym.
The aspect of chronological age is also factored into things. Your chronological age is your actual age, from birth until now. If you're younger in age, you will also be less impacted by the time off than if you are older in age. This truth isn't ideal for most of us who are not 18 years old, but it should be known as it is a real variable as well.
So in all, a portion of how we will be impacted by this time off is influenced by the combination of our training & chronological ages, in addition to one other factor: what did we do during our time away from the gym.
Remember, the game rewards consistency. With the above recognized factors of our progress, we know that we have been mostly successful with our time on, but that time will impact us all a little differently on our climb back up. Yes, no matter the age factors, our peak performances will take a small step back due to this layoff and that's okay.
If you stayed generally active doing online training, fitness classes, and general physical activity & did not remain completely sedentary during this time, the negative effects of the time off are decreased. If you maintained good sleep habits, solid nutrition and hydration, the effects of the time off are also decreased. We may not be making large progress this way, but healthy habits and general physical activity can help us combat losing progress and leave us much more prepared for our return to our normal training regimens.
This more general exercise conditioning regime is one version of something commonly referred to as GPP, or General Physical Preparedness. GPP is an idea made famous by Louie Simmons of the iconic Westside Barbell. In short, GPP, is general conditioning/exercise that can prepare people to complete the tasks of their craft, their sport, etc. It's like a Gen-Ed or Intro course to the Core course work. If you maintained more of a base, you can expect a quicker road of getting your groove back. If you weren't as diligent during the time off, that's okay too, just expect things to take a little longer.
Most research would point to it taking a little bit longer than the time off to get back to where you were, but not nearly the amount of time it took you to get there in the first place. None of us will be starting over, but we can assume it will take ~ baseline of 3 months to get our peaks back, with the additional variables of our training age, chronological age, and our GPP and healthy habits factored into the equation.
Since we now have some general ideas of how we will be impacted by some time away, we fully understand that:
A: The world is not coming to an end, we have done a good job overall, and we should remain thankful for the work we've put in. It will continue to benefit us.
B: We do need to expect an uphill climb of making gains, and though the hill is definitely climbable for all of us, that road is influenced by some individual variables, therefore, is a little different for all of us.
C: Its part of the journey and without some losses, we wouldn't truly know the special feelings of victories. Remember, our goal is training for the long haul and 3 months is minimal in the big scheme of things.
For some specific things to consider when re-entering training with
DS Coaches or on your own:
-Spend some extra time warming up and maybe work in some extra warm up sets. For example, if you're working up to 100 kilos on a squat, and you'd typically hit a bar set, then go 60, 80, 100, maybe hit your bar set with some tempo or paused reps (or a combination), then maybe hit 40, 60, 75, 90, 100. Take smaller steps to climb the ladder and let your body gain a more gradual feel of the loads.
-Put extra emphasis into movement quality. Of course, we are always focused technique and form, but in having time away from the specific barbell lifts, its even more vital to establish the fundamentals such solid squat depth, hinge patterns, shoulder stability, among other details that effect various lifts. There is no point in moving big weight unless the moving itself proves to be worthy.
-Let volume (total amount of work you're doing) gradually build over time, and allow heavier loads to slowly appear once that work capacity is sustainable. Think of it as adopting a "Couch to 5K" running program, which is awesome. Day 1, Week 1 of that program would not be 3 kilometers, you'd adopt distance gradually, then allow speed to build after that base is established.
-Prioritize your habits around your training. This should always be the case, just like the focus on technique, but its even more important now. You cannot show up to a training session without having any food, specifically depleted on carbs, and expect to perform well. You cannot show up on no sleep and expect to perform well. After your training, make sure you consume a mix of protein and carbs to spark the recovery process and make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day.
-Put some focus into unilateral (single arm/single leg) work, or use some tools such as dumbbells that allow both limbs to support loads & move more independently. We can all assume our dominate side will have a head start in control and coordination and it will maintain those attributes more than our non-dominate side during time away. This is a great way to promote control and coordination in the non-dominate side while getting back into the swing of things.
-Use pause and tempo repetitions when necessary, especially if you're feeling a certain part of a movement to be a challenge. These ideas are a little more specific in need, but again, they promote body control. The better we control our bodies when we slow things down and think about it, the more we can expect them to do what we want them to in an autonomous or more naturally athletic situation, when we don't have time to think about it.
-Expect a little more muscle soreness than typical. Again, muscle soreness comes from the eccentric (stretching/lowering) phase of exercise and its largely correlated with movements the body hasn't done in a while. That is why soreness is always most extreme when we start out, then the body gets used to the stress and all is well. Again, there is NO scientific evidence on soreness correlating with an effective workout or progress in any way. It's merely an inflammatory state the body responds with when stress is new. Train to get an effect, do not train to try to find ways to get sore. It means absolutely nothing in the big scheme of things, no matter which gimmicky program boasts it.
-Enjoy the ride and embrace the journey. Listen to your body. Take your time. Remember, consistency is key and the big picture is what's important. 4 months of easing into something is a very small percentage of your long term adherence, and its nothing compared to doing too much too fast and putting yourself out of commission for a year or more.
In Strength, Safety, & Love,
Can't believe I'm saying this, but I will see you all this week!