First of all let me start by congratulating you for your plan to get back into the gym. You are on the right path.
We all have our ups and downs and it is OK to slide off the wagon once in a while. Just don’t forget to jump right back on as fast as possible. Anyways, so you have been working out hard and for some random reason you skipped your workouts for quite some time, right?
Now you finally came to your senses and you are about to start hitting the weights again. I’ve been there a few times myself and I can tell you it sucks. Getting back to working out after a break longer than a couple of months really sucks.
It seems like your strength is not there anymore, you probably gained some extra body fat, everything feels super-heavy and the motivation is just not here. (Watch This: How to Stay Motivated)
Let see how to overcome these obstacles and how to start working out again the smart way.
How Much Time Does it Take to Get Out of Shape?
Well, this depends on your fitness level, on your age and on your genetics. Generally speaking any break longer than 1 month will probably affect your gym performance regardless of the above mentioned characteristics.
Breaks longer than 3 months are very likely to cause significant muscle and strength loss, according to a research about muscle memory which was conducted in 2010.
So there you have it. Try to limit your time away from the gym to a couple of months at most.
If you are in for some extra anecdotal evidence, yours truly took a break of almost 2 full months from the gym and when I got back to lifting weights I could definitely tell I’m a little bit out of shape.
Even though the strength was pretty much there, I struggled a little bit with my overall conditioning and cardiovascular training, but I was able to get back to my initial form in about 2-3 weeks of proper training, dieting and sleeping. So, yeah, I long break will probably set you back with a couple of weeks if not one month.
Start Off Easy
A couple of months off are enough to make your weaker. I know it’s frustrating and you want to use the 100s dumbbells instead of the 70s, but hold your horses. At least for now.
It is normal to lose both strength and muscle mass if you don’t train for longer periods of time. So prepare yourself psychically to use moderate weights and have lower volume workouts when you come back to the gym.
Be patient and increase the training intensity gradually in the first weeks of training. This will prevent injuries while you will make steady progress towards your initial form.
A strong body starts off with a strong mind. You need to have a strong mindset in order to build a stronger physique. Don’t get all depressed and de-motivated because you are not as strong or as big as you once were.
Work with what you have and enjoy the small steps you are making towards your goals. Having a winning type of mentality is very helpful, it will keep you motivated and working hard in the gym, even though you will often encounter difficulties.
Progress takes time and you need to be patient. Fortunately for us, muscle memory is real and it will enable you to get back to your initial form faster than you first did.
Don’t compare yourself with other people around you. Focus on becoming better that you were yesterday, stick to your patch and enjoy the journey.
Re-Training is Easier
Remember the study cited above about muscle memory? Well it turns out that the new nuclei which is added to the muscles when you train are never lost. Yes, the muscle will start to lose some of its size and strength. But the nuclei will still be there.
What’s the difference you may ask. I want to be strong and big, I don’t care about the nuclei being there or not. Well, I couldn’t agree more, but here is the interesting part.
The nuclei, which is never lost, will make the muscle go back to its initial size and strength much faster than initially. Here’s how this works.
When you first train, your body has to create the new nuclei, then in has to synthesis proteins and form new muscle fibers inside these new nuclei. This process happens over longer periods of time in which you need to properly train and eat.
Once you stop training, the protein degradation rates surpass the synthesis rates and you start to lose strength and muscle. The nuclei acquired when you first started training will be preserved though.
When you get back in the gym and start training and eating right again, the first step of creating the nuclei is skipped (because the nuclei is already there), and our body starts to synthesize the protein already. This will result in faster growth in size and strength.
Workout Like a Beginner
As an intermediate to advanced lifter you most probably followed a strict workout routine which was focused on 1-2 specific group of muscles each day.
This is no longer optimal when you re-start training. The muscles will not need that much volume at first and you will be better off with full body workouts or upper / lower body splits.
This way you will be able to train each muscles more frequently and the protein synthesis will be heighten for longer periods of time. Once you gain your strength and size you can switch back to a more appropriate training split that which will allow you to get in the right intensity and volume for each muscle group.
To start with, train 3 days a week, use weights that allow you to do 10 reps relatively easy (stay 2-3 reps short of failure). Your resting periods should not exceed 1.5 minutes.
Include many compound exercises in your routine such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull-ups, chin-ups, rows and so on. This will help you recover faster than isolation movements.
When Will I Get Back to My Initial Form?
When you stop training for whatever reason for a long period of time, the first thing that you will lose is your cardiovascular conditioning. It is not going to be as good as before. This means your heart will not be able to produce as much volume per beat as before in order to reach all the muscles and organs.
That is why when you go back to training you will fatigue faster, you will not be able to get in as many reps as before and you will feel a lot weaker. However the cardiovascular fitness will come back quite fast, which is excellent news. This means you will be able to get back to your initial form faster.
The second thing that you lose is your nervous system ability to recognize your workout routine. All the internal connections built over time start to fade away slowly. But this is where the so called muscle memory kicks in.
Bottom line, your body has the ability to get back to your initial form way faster than it took to get there in the first place. For example, if you’ve been taking 3 months off, chances are that you can go back to your initial form in just 3 weeks. Just be patient about it.
How to Avoid Long Breaks from Training
Lastly but not least, if I can give you one final piece of advice, that would be to avoid taking more the two weeks off from the gym. During my experience of almost 6 years in the gym I found out that you can avoid taking longer breaks by doing a couple of very simple things.
The first one is no go light weight from time to time. Yes, I know muscle building happens when you constantly lift heavier and heavier, but you got to listen to your body and ease off a little bit from time to time.
It is more effectively to have 1 or 2 weeks of lighter workouts and build up you energy levels rather than skipping your workouts.
The second method you can apply is to take shorter breaks relatively often. Taking 4 or 5 days off every 2-3 months can help your body recover, thus you will be less stressed out and less likely to take longer breaks.
Most of the time getting back in shape is more a mental thing rather than physical. People often get demotivated, have to deal with difficult situations, both inside and outside the gym. But once you overcome that and drag yourself in the gym again it will totally worth the effort.
The body, the physical part, has the ability to return to its initial form a lot faster that many would think. Just train smart and have a little bit of patience along the way. It all starts with the will power to do it.
Brian Ward is the content editor at Kick-Ass Home Gym, a website providing helpful articles that inspire you to stay fit and healthy at home - on your own time, in your own space. As busy people, we know health is important. A great morning workout can change an entire day for the better, and at the same time getting sick can throw off a whole week. So it’s important to take care of our bodies even if you don’t really have that much time to spare.