For a lot of us the idea of training is simple; show up, go hard, repeat 5 or 6 times a week, get results. Sounds logical and for many of us it’s worked before. Then life happens. You get that promotion at work, you have a baby or go on vacation! More realistically, you’re working overtime or spending all your energy looking for a job, you have to stay home and care for a loved one, or maybe you slipped on the ice and now you’re in a cast. The fact of the matter is that no one can see the future, shit happens and you might have to take some time off from the gym.
So what am I supposed to do, just sit on my ass and watch all my gains go out the window?
Well, yes but only temporarily. (remember we’re training for health and longevity not the olympics). The good news is that if you’re an athlete coming back from an extended absence you’re not starting back at zero. In fact you might be surprised after a couple training sessions just how much your body remembers. In many of cases it’s possible to get back to where you were and more, but as long as you’re willing to train smart.
You are not the athlete you once were, and that’s ok. In the past, you might of been making lots of progress and accumulated lots of Personal Records. However, now if you try to train like you did, using your old or lifetime lifting numbers, you’re setting yourself up for an injury. It’s going to take some time, planning, mindfulness, and recovery to get the ball rolling again.
Ok I’m back, now how much can I train?
Start with something that’s consistent and sustainable. You might have been away for months or years. Trying to train 5 or 6 days a week is asking for trouble. Start with something like twice a week for a few weeks. It might not seem like much at first, but you’re giving your body time to recover from a new stimulus as well as giving yourself time to mentally adapt. Remember that training is a stressor to your body, albeit a good stressor. Dose it wisely, too much stress too quickly can do a number on your tissues, central nervous system, immune system and more. Once you feel comfortable with this, then try 3 weeks of 3 times a week. Then 4 weeks of 4 times a week and so on. Listen to your body, the goal is to build you up, not break you.
What about my diet, should I go full Paleo?
That depends. Adding too many major changes to your life can cause more harm than good. If you already eat “clean” and it’s a matter or adjusting a few things, go for it. However, if you’ve been off the wagon for a while, changing your diet will act as a stressor. Now there’s nothing wrong with removing all the “bad foods” right away, but this brings us back to the concept of stressors and how time can be your friend. If you’ve eaten processed foods and lots of sugary drinks for months on end, removing all these items cold turkey can lead to withdrawal type symptoms or worse, urgent bathroom trips. Instead, try changing or substituting 1 food a week. For example, your first week, try to give up added sugar or if that’s too much, cutting down the number of sugary drinks you consume. The point is that you want to be able to make the changes where they are unnoticeable so it doesn’t stress your body too much mentally or physically. Make small steps that you can sustain.
How hard to I push it?
Your effort or your ability to work to a certain task will be perceived differently after a long break than if you’re still conditioned for that task. It sounds obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen try to pick up right where they left off. You might of been able to do push ups all day long, but now you’re struggling to get one or two. When you’re getting back into training, keep your perceived effort low. Start with 50% effort or if you’re doing multiple reps, use a weight where you could do double the amount you’re doing if you had to. For example, you’re pressing for 5 reps, use a weight where you could press 10 if you had to.
This will feel easy at first, very easy, to the point where you’re wondering if you’re doing any work. Well you are! Your body is adapting to the weights at a physical level and you’re reinforcing good movement patterns, aka technique, at a mental level. This will allow you to build to higher intensity training over time. There’s a host of issues about returning to high intensity work too soon such as; muscle tears from going too heavy too quick, overloading your Central Nervous System which reduces your ability to recover, and the dreaded Uncle Rhabdo (Rhabdomyolysis). The biggest takeaway from this is that we’re trying to improve your quality of life and overtraining will destroy your progress.
Enough talk, let’s go already!
Here’s some guidance to creating our long term training plan. Remember, time is your friend. You’re rebuilding the foundation to what will be your House of Gainz, make sure your foundation is strong and ready before you continue to build, or else it will come crumbling down all over again.
- Set a realistic training schedule.
Example: 2 times a week for 2 weeks, 3 times a week for 3 weeks, 4 times a week for 4 weeks
- Have a benchmark test where you can regularly retest to measure your progress.
Example: 1 mile run/ 2k row/ 3 rep max lift
- Keep your Relative Intensity around 50% for the first 2 to 3 weeks, then slowly increase. In the beginning, training to failure is NOT your friend.
- Regularly add in beneficial foods and remove ones that hinder your progress. Talk with a coach to see what works for you.
- Start your day on the right food. Add a meditation or journaling practice to help with your mental recovery.
- Set up an End of Day routine. Sleep is one of the most important parts for recovery and stress reduction. No electronics/screens 2 hours before bed. Wind down with some stretching or foam rolling.
- Keep your stress levels as low as possible. Even all the healthy stuff we’re doing can initially put a strain on your body and mind. Don’t add too much too quick.
- Drink a protein shake post workout. There’s a lot of products out there. Talk to a coach about what options will work best for you.
- Get an Accountability-buddy. Have someone that will help you along the way keep to your plan.
- Keep it Fun. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” We don’t need to suffer while trying to improve our health. Get yourself in an environment that will keep you motivated and where you get get a good laugh at the same time.