By now, most of you have resumed your regular training, but there are still a few of you missing! This article is aimed at you, and those of you who might be reading, and trying to figure out how to get back into your groove after the holiday break. This article will be aimed at two groups: those of you who took less than or a little more than a week off, and for those that have taken close to (or maybe a little over) a month off. In this text, I’ll briefly discuss three major issues you need to know about to get back at it. With introductions out of the way, let’s begin.
1) Getting Back Into the Groove
If you’ve taken a significant amount of time off, then, getting back into serious training can feel daunting. The most common reason for this is that people have unrealistic expectations. They think: “Oh, there’s no way I can do what I did before,” with an attitude of “why bother?” following shortly. Well, you’re absolutely right. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to do what you did just before taking a break, and even if you can, you probably shouldn’t (I’ll explain shortly). The key is to not pressure yourself about performance. In fact, the only performance goal you need to have is actually picking up a bar again. If you’re going to give yourself a goal, make it the most immediately pressing one: getting back into the gym. We can worry about displaying the best of your abilities later on. The most crucial point is returning to a consistent pattern of training attendance. If you can do that I guarantee you’ll be back to your best faster than you probably think.
Ideally, you remember (and read) a bit of what I suggested in my last post about resolutions. Don’t think “gee, I really should train three times next week.” Think “I need to go to the gym today.” Getting that first workout in is always the hardest part thus it is your first priority. Everything gets easier after that. This is where we come to step two. You’ve made it to the gym. Now what?
2) What to expect in your training after coming back from time off.
When it comes to the actual training part you have a few things to consider, the most significant being the actual amount of time you took off. If you took less than a week off, then, it might only take a handful of workouts to be back to where you were. If were talking over a week you can expect some detraining to have occurred. Give yourself at least a week to get back to where you were. If we’re talking close to a month (e.g. >2.5 weeks), then, the detraining effect will have been much more profound, and it can take just as long, possibly longer, to return to your previous level of performance. How long this process takes can be, and usually is, influenced by factors such as training experience, injury status, age, and your recovery strategies.
In your first workout back remember this: it pays dividends to be cautious. From a coach’s perspective, I’d rather see you get some practice with something challenging multiple times than going all out trying to hit your old numbers. Quality reps are what count. The reason being is that there’s less risk of injury, and more opportunities to get back into your “groove” (especially if you’re a weightlifter). This approach will readily serve to wake your nervous system back up, while stressing your body’s structural components (i.e. muscles, connective tissue, etc.) just enough to ensure you’re adequately prepared to train hard again.
3) What to expect in your recovery from these first few sessions.
Recovery, in this context, can be considered in two ways. Firstly, how your body responds to the immediate training stress you apply, and secondly, what you actively do to recover.
Regarding the former, it’s important to remember that recovery, just as with your ability in the gym, is a process that can be improved through training, so the opposite is also true: your recovery ability can become detrained. Immediately noticeable things such as soreness from training will often correlate with just how much time you took off. The best remedy for this is to train as often as you would otherwise, but in the context of what you’re currently capable of (i.e. don’t get overzealous and injure yourself). This is why I mentioned being cautious in your first workout, and I’m going to say now that the same is true for the next few as well. Soreness can interfere with technique, so if you’re feeling particularly beaten up it’s important to be aware of how you feel affects your training ability in terms of technique and the loads you can handle. This is a particularly easy time to pick-up bad habits because you feel too sore or stiff to do something correctly. Using loads that allow you to, as comfortably as possible, move with a full range of motion will help you recovery by keeping loads in line with how you’re recovering. The other important reason for doing this is to also reinforce, and ensure you heal with maximal mobility.
As far as what you can actively do to improve your recovery the first thing to consider is resuming quality eating habits. Now, because diet and nutrition are such a vast topic to discuss, I won’t spend any real time broaching that here. What I will say is: the best thing you can do at this stage is to simply focus on food quality. The majority of your calories should come from high-quality meat, vegetables, and fruits. Following this, make it a point to get ample sleep. I know life can get in the way of both of these pursuits, but the better you are about them, the better your recovery will be. The more adamantly you follow this the quicker you’ll return to repeating (and beating) your best performances in the gym.
4) Putting It All Together
The easiest way to put this all together is to resume a schedule that makes training a regular part of your life. Second to this, making the time to eat well, and sleep enough. Be humble in your expectations when you train; remember that your goal is to efficiently return to where you were before, not eclipse it (yet). Finally, remember why you trained before: because it’s fun, challenging, and immensely rewarding.