Lifestyle Training

Getting Back to the Gym After a Long Layoff

If laziness, busyness or constant distractions have recently wreaked havoc with your fitness routine, you’re not alone. Many people slack off training from time to time, and when they find their strength and six-packs fading away, they often become all too eager to force their bodies back into their pre-hiatus shapes.

It’s only natural to feel that way, but wait: If you’re about to venture into the gym for the first time in weeks, months or maybe even years, there are several things you’d better keep in mind.

First: Consider starting out with a few sessions in personal training. With the passage of time, it’s easy to forget the finer points of proper workout technique. A personal trainer can help you ease back into your earlier comfort level with the weights and machines that you’ll be using.

Second: When it comes to post-workout soreness, don’t be surprised to find yourself nearly back at square one. That’s because your muscles have gotten used to inactivity. Remember: It’s only temporary, so don’t let it discourage you.

Third: Work your way back gradually. Don’t expect to jump right into your previous routine. Instead, play it smart at the outset with lower weights and fewer reps. It won’t be long before you’ve worked back up to your previous level and even gone beyond it.

You’ll probably find that despite the brief interlude, you’ve really lost very little in terms of fitness. In many cases, you may discover that the rest has done you a bit of good, and if so, you’ll be back in the groove in no time.

Dealing with Longer Layoffs

If your letup has lasted for more than two weeks, it’s going to take somewhat longer to return your body to its prior level of expertise. Many trainers recommend that you backpedal for a week or two before ramping up again. At the end of four weeks in all, you will probably find yourself back where you were to begin with.

When your hiatus has stretched out to a month or more, however, you will unavoidably have realized a loss in both muscle mass and neural adaptations. These will increase in direct proportion to the length of time you’ve stayed away from the gym. You may find that your body has returned to newbie status, and that’s when you’ll need to think about the things you shouldn’t do.

Don’t expect to march right into the gym and impress the regulars by bench-pressing 275. You are no longer in your buffest shape, and any attempt to prove otherwise on your first day back could land you in the hospital. Even if you should survive the attempt with only minor injuries, the effort alone could discourage you from ever returning to training.

Instead, play it smart. Start out slowly with lower weights and less intensity. You need to strengthen your body’s connective tissues and slowly increase their work capacity. The conservative approach will give your body time to adjust and adapt to the stresses you’re placing upon it.

The First Two Weeks

During those all-important first days back, work your entire body, either all at once or in an upper-body, lower-body split. Thoughts now should revolve around perfecting your technique and retraining your neural pathways. Start with weights at least 50 percent lower than you used before. You can always adjust this upward as things get easier.

After four to six weeks, your body should be feeling a lot like its former self. This is the point at which you can consider the transition to even heavier weights.

Sets and Repetitions

When returning to an exercise routine, many former bodybuilders and exercise buffs choose to combine lower reps with a greater number of sets while others prefer to get back in the groove through a larger number of reps in just one single set. In all cases, though, start out with weights well below what you used before. This is not the time to be a hero.

Exercise selection is another consideration. To achieve a proper body balance, most personal trainers recommend that beginners as well as returnees start with exercises that combine many movements across a range of body parts. In one area of disagreement, however, some coaches recommend the use of fewer movements and a greater number of sets while others swear by the opposite.

Don’t Punish Your Body

As you return to a body-training routine, you may balk at the idea of starting out at the beginner level. However, you will likely find that progress this time around goes much more quickly than it would if you had never worked out before. Your muscles remember more than you think, and your neural pathways will quickly regain their former level of expertise. You are sure to make better progress now as a returnee than you ever did when training as a rank beginner.

The important thing is that you don’t let the long layoff prevent you from getting back in to the health club!