Van Winkle #2: Training After A Layoff!

I note several key points throughout the article and discuss other layoffs and returns to training as well. In addition, I'll discuss some nutritional considerations and supplementation.

In Part I, I looked at the changes that I've noticed in bodybuilding and weight training over the past ten years. I assessed and applied some of the knowledge from many of those changes when I fine-tuned my training program. I'll relate what I've learned and what I think worked well as I became a serious weight trainer after a long layoff.

I note several key points throughout the article and discuss other layoffs and returns to training as well. In addition, I'll discuss some nutritional considerations and supplementation.

The Lengthy Layoff

I'll start with a very common layoff, the lengthy one. I consider anything over six months a lengthy layoff and the one I experienced when I came back to the gym. My muscles had significantly atrophied after this length of time so there was plenty of work and growth needed. It was by my own choice to both not lift for nearly 7 years as well as lift seriously again.

The first thing I had to do was figure out how I would fit training into my schedule. Looking at my schedule, I knew that I would only have 4 days available to hit the gym, Monday through Thursday. On those days, the best time of the day was either going to be before work in the morning, during lunch if possible, or after work.

  • One thing you should consider is when you are most comfortable working out. Generally, I'm a morning person, but as I aged, my body became more of an afternoon/evening performer. It is harder for me to properly stretch and warm-up in the morning than it was years ago. So, consider the risk of injury when selecting a workout time.
  • Selecting a time that best fits your schedule and one you prefer most promotes staying with the program.

I opted for the lunchtime workout, when possible, and afternoon workout if needed. Initially I sought to hit the gym three times during the four-day window. On most days I had sufficient time at lunch to fit in a 30-minute workout. When I was unable to do a lunchtime workout, I trained after work.

The next questions I considered were when to get started and how much time I needed to gear my body up for heavy work. After years off, simply jumping right into heavy training is not a wise decision.

  • If it has been a few years since you last lifted or if it's your first time lifting, a physical examination should be taken.
  • Consider a complete blood screen (liver, thyroid, testosterone) to examine hormonal system status and establish a baseline for future comparison.

Having had a recent physical, that included a blood screen, I was clear to perform any activity. I waited a few weeks after I started working because I wanted to get a feel of the demands of the job and get my routines established.

I started pretty slowly in the gym because I didn't realize the magnitude of change over the years. There were still my old friends of barbells and dumbbells, universal machines and cable crossovers; however, there was a plethora of new equipment. Equipment from Hammer Strength, Pyramid, Nebula, Body Masters, Cybex, Paramount, etc., provided me new ways and angles for exercising. Suffice it to say it was all slightly different than equipment I was use to using in the past.

  • Take the time to experiment with all the equipment available in your gym. You may find some new equipment that meets your needs and works your muscles well.
  • When using new equipment, take the time to find the pivot points on the machines and the best seating arrangements for proper and optimum use.

My routine for the first month was rather simple. I started working out three days a week. I wasn't concerned about bodyparts, splits or anything else. I stopped at the point of failure for my exercises and I was limiting the number of sets for any exercise to two.

Also, I tried not to repeat an exercise two-days in a row. Even with a time limit of roughly 30 minutes, I had more than enough variety for each day's workout. I tried days where I only used barbell exercises. I went through the machine circuit on other days and even did a day of dumbbells. The point I'm making is there can be a lot of variety in your training. And, if you took a lengthy break, you're going to need an interesting and vibrant training program.

During the month I was able to get on all the equipment at the gym and establish a feel for each machine's strong and weak points. This is very important if you have endured any injuries in the past. Machines, with their set range of motion, can either eliminate or exasperate pain associated with injuries. I also noted whether or not I liked a machine, where I can position equipment for supersets and roughly how long it took to get around the facility when other members were there.

Two areas that I should have placed additional emphasis on was stretching and cardiovascular activities. I did very little of both of these activities during the first nine months back and feel I limited my growth by not doing more of each. Limited time to accomplish these two activities is one of the drawbacks of a lunchtime workout.

  • A month of general exercise, after a lengthy layoff, appears an adequate amount of time before embarking on more advanced routines.
  • A set exercise schedule, to start with, doesn't appear necessary. Keep the workouts interesting by keeping them informal.
  • Include stretching in your training program.
  • Include some cardiovascular training in your program.

I had gotten to the point where my body was acclimatized to lifting weights and working out. I was ready to move to the next stage, building muscle. To do this, I needed to increase the intensity of my workouts, develop the split I would use for training and recovery, and consider some supplementation.

Since I was still acclimatizing and knew recovery would be paramount, I didn't feel it necessary to lift more than three days a week. Additionally, three days a week was about the amount of time I could afford. With that in mind, doing each bodypart once a week was selected. Remember the goal, building muscle.

My split was as follows:

      Day 1: Chest and triceps
      Day 2: Legs and delts
    Day 3: Back and Biceps

I'm not an advocate of the whole-body workout due to age (40+), previous experience and recovery time needed. Beginners may consider the use of whole-body workouts as an option. There are several articles that provide recommendations on the exercises to use. For those with experience, use a training split that you are comfortable with, hitting each bodypart no more than twice a week.

I'm not sure what my routine would be classified as. The program is not Volume training, nor is it High Intensity Training, nor Max OT, etc. it merely is what it is. I generally super-set two exercises and usually do 2 working sets with declining weight. Per body part, I would do about 2 or 3 separate supersets. I usually included a major compound exercise, like squats, on my first superset and then did a variety of different exercises that changed week to week.

  • I recommend that you use whatever system your comfortable with. There is no universal training method that is best for everyone. Use your previous experience and experiment as necessary.
  • For those weight training for the first time, I recommend some form of volume training before embarking on higher intensity training. Higher intensity should be slowly introduced if never done previously.

I did throw some changes into the split on occasion. I did a few weeks of a chest/back, legs, and arms/delts split. Additionally, the exercises, intensity and workout pace varied from workout to workout.

I wish I had kept a log of my exercises and weights, but only kept track of what bodyparts I did on what days. This routine lasted roughly nine months.

  • Keep a training log. It is an invaluable tool for evaluating your progress.

Supplements and nutrition during this phase of training was rather simple. For the first three months I didn't do anything special with my diet and took only a multi-vitamin. It wasn't until the fourth month that I included a protein drink in my diet. Looking back, there are a few things I would do differently and I include them as key points.

  • A multi-vitamin and multi-mineral are essential for anyone lifting weights.
  • Building muscle requires protein. Ensure you get a minimum of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, but more may be needed for growth.
  • As your program advances, add pre- and post-workout nutrition strategies.

How long it takes to get back to the muscularity and strength of your youth varies greatly. It depends on your current and past physical condition, how long of a layoff taken, injuries suffered, etc. I was training seriously for a good nine months before I felt and looked like I did when I was younger.

Supplementation, including the use of prohormones, may bring your muscularity back more quickly. Read and experiment to see what sounds interesting and may work for you. Do the same with the different training regimes that are frequently discussed.

The Short Layoff

I consider this the week away from the weight room, 7-10 days is the general time frame. These layoffs are good at re-energizing your body and spirit. The time off does wonders for your central nervous system as well as your joints and tendons. Points to consider and my assessment are included.

  • Supplements - Don't need to be taken as long as nutrition is adequate. Multi's may be all that is needed.
  • Diet - Doesn't need to be perfect, unless you are in contest preparation. Enjoy the time off but don't get too extreme in either direction.
  • Cardio - Continue to perform cardio if part of your program, but it can be scaled back for more complete recovery.

The Intermediate Layoff

This layoff is anywhere from 10 days to six months. There are some differences from both the short and lengthy layoff that need to be considered.

  • Supplements - Will generally not been taken during the layoff. Since there is a greater understanding of your body's need, supplementation can and should start from your first day back.
  • Diet - Can be started at any time during the layoff, both cutting as well as bulking.
  • Hands - Your hands will lose some of the good calluses that you had when actively lifting. It will take 2-3 weeks to get the hands reconditioned and this will limit the amount of weight used.
  • Stretching - Greatly enhances recovery as well as preparation for returning to the weight room. Incorporating stretching prior to commencing the weight training is advised.

The Injury Layoff

If you are injured, follow the advice of your doctor. If you don't see a doctor, take some time off and evaluate your injury.

Some general guidance:

  • Back and neck injuries, no training will usually be the call.
  • Ankle or knee injury should not prevent you from continuing upper body training. Practice caution in stabilizing yourself during exercises.
  • Shoulder injuries should be given time to recover because of involvement in most upper body exercises. There are a few alternative exercises/machines that minimize shoulder involvement and can be used until the joint heals
  • Hand injuries significantly limit workout options and force you to use machine exercises to a greater extent.
  • Internal injuries and unexplained pains or swelling should be examined by a doctor.

What It Takes For A Successful Comeback

Coming back after a layoff takes some dedication and a plan. Many reasons can be given for time away from the weights; however, a plan for your comeback increases the likelihood of success. I outlined some of my ideas for returning after common types of layoffs. Incorporate those ideas into your return.

An area I didn't cover was goals. Goals should be incorporated into your specific training regime. My goal was to regain the muscle I had in my youth. Your goal may be different requiring a different approach. You may be an older trainer, lifting for the first time since high school. Adapt the principals of the lengthy layoff, set your goal and go about achieving them.

My success after several years off was accomplished haphazardly. My hope with this article is to help you avoid some of the shortcoming that I experienced along the way. And have some fun along the way getting to where you want to be.