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What Is The Best Workout To Get Back In Shape?

Looking to get back in the lifting game after some time away? Try this three-day split over 12 weeks, and get ready to surprise yourself with what you can achieve!

Exercise can be truly addicting. Once you start, it's a hard habit to break. People dedicate years of their life to strict dieting, hardcore training, and the entire fitness and bodybuilding lifestyle.

But just as often, the habit gets broken. Injury or health problems, hectic schedules, a necessary change in life, work or family problems, loss of motivation, and stress can all send your fitness lifestyle off the rails. It's nobody's fault. It just happens.

When it does, it's your choice whether or not you want to get back in the game. Your muscles aren't going to like it at first. They clearly aren't going to be the same as they once were. They need a solid routine to help trigger muscle memory.

This workout from one of our Bodybuilding.com BodySpace members, BurningHeart, is great for getting back in shape!

How Do I Get Back in Shape?

If you have any history of lifting weights, I've got good news: You have a long backlog of muscle memory to pull from!

Simply put, muscle memory is your body's ability to activate muscle fibers quickly and efficiently due to having done it so many times in the past. It may take a few sessions to "feel" your squat and bench press like you used to, but you're at a great advantage over someone starting from scratch.

There's another great aspect to muscle memory, too. If you once had a significant amount of muscle mass, your muscles actually hold onto the extra fibers, even when you fall out of shape.

That means it's easier for you to add muscular weight back on![1] This benefit can be felt months, even years, after the peak of your fitness.

What's the Best Comeback Routine?

This basic routine is designed to help someone who used to be fairly serious about lifting get back in the game. It consists of three stages, each four weeks long.

The first stage is all about getting your body back into shape. It includes easier exercises at high reps in order to increase muscle size by taking advantage of muscle memory.

The second stage includes harder exercises at moderate reps. You'll be doing plenty of compound exercises, such as pull-ups and dips, in order to increase muscle strength and prepare your body for heavy loaded exercises.

Finally, the third stage consists of more advanced exercises, such as weighted pull-ups and dips. They are done at low reps in order to be able to use high weight, which is perfect for strength gains.

Workout Tips:

  • While on this routine, use the maximum weight possible for the rep ranges called for. If it says 12-15 reps, you should be able to do 12 clean reps, but 15 should be a real struggle. It's OK if it takes a few workouts to find the sweet spot.
  • Rest between sets should be about 90 seconds. Rest between exercises should be about 3 minutes. This way, a day's workout shouldn't last longer than an hour.
  • Each exercise should be done with proper form coming before added weight.

A Bodybuilder's Comeback Workout: 3-Day Split

Weeks 1-4

Day 1: Back, Shoulders
1

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

2

Seated Cable Rows

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Seated Cable Rows Seated Cable Rows

3

Front Dumbbell Raise

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Front Dumbbell Raise Front Dumbbell Raise

4

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Side Lateral Raise Side Lateral Raise

5

Dumbbell Rear Delt Row

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Rear Delt Row Dumbbell Rear Delt Row


Day 2: Triceps, Legs
1

Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

2

Triceps Extension

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Seated Triceps Press Seated Triceps Press

3

Front Barbell Squat

3 sets of 12-15 reps (alternate: goblet squat)
Front Barbell Squat Front Barbell Squat

4

Calf Raises

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Standing Calf Raises Standing Calf Raises

5

Lying Leg Curls

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Lying Leg Curls Lying Leg Curls


Day 3: Biceps, Traps, Chest
1

EZ-Bar Preacher Curl

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Preacher Curl Preacher Curl

2

Dumbbell Hammer Curls

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Hammer Curls Hammer Curls

3

Barbell Shrug

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Barbell Shrug Barbell Shrug

4

Barbell Incline Bench Press

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip Barbell Incline Bench Press Medium-Grip

5

Dumbbell Fly

3 sets of 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Flyes Dumbbell Flyes


Weeks 5-8

Day 1: Back, Shoulders
1

Pull-ups

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Pullups Pullups

2

Bent-Over Barbell Row

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row

3

Seated Dumbbell Press

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Dumbbell Press Seated Dumbbell Press

4

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Side Lateral Raise Side Lateral Raise

5

Cable Rear Delt Fly

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Cable Rear Delt Fly Cable Rear Delt Fly


Day 2: Triceps, Legs
1

Bench Dips

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Bench Dips Bench Dips

2

Triceps Pushdown

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Triceps Pushdown Triceps Pushdown

3

Barbell Reverse Lunge

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Barbell Reverse Lunge Barbell Reverse Lunge

4

Standing Barbell Calf Raise

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Standing Barbell Calf Raise Standing Barbell Calf Raise

5

Standing Leg Curl

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps (alternate: seated leg curl)
Standing Leg Curl Standing Leg Curl


Day 3: Biceps, Traps, Chest
1

Chin-Up

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Chin-Up Chin-Up

2

Concentration Curls

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Concentration Curls Concentration Curls

3

Dumbbell Shrug

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Shrug Dumbbell Shrug

4

Dips - Chest Version

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dips - Chest Version Dips - Chest Version

5

Dumbbell Fly

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Flyes Dumbbell Flyes


Weeks 9-12

Day 1: Back, Shoulders
1

Weighted Pull Ups

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Weighted Pull Ups Weighted Pull Ups

2

Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row Bent Over Two-Dumbbell Row

3

Standing Military Press

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press

4

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Side Lateral Raise Side Lateral Raise

5

Barbell Rear Delt Row

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Barbell Rear Delt Row Barbell Rear Delt Row


Day 2: Triceps, Legs
1

Dips - Triceps Version

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Dips - Triceps Version Dips - Triceps Version

2

Lying Triceps Press

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Lying Triceps Press Lying Triceps Press

3

Barbell Squat

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat

4

Seated Calf Raise

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Calf Raise Seated Calf Raise

5

Romanian Deadlift

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Romanian Deadlift Romanian Deadlift


Day 3: Biceps, Traps, Chest
1

Barbell Curl

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Barbell Curl Barbell Curl

2

Hammer Curls

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Hammer Curls Hammer Curls

3

Dumbbell Shrug

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Shrug Dumbbell Shrug

4

Weighted Dips - Chest Version

3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Dips - Chest Version Dips - Chest Version

5

Dumbbell Fly

3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Flyes Dumbbell Flyes


How Long Will It Take to Build Back My Muscle?

The time it takes to build back the muscle you once had depends on a number of factors, including how much muscle mass was achieved in the past, how you're eating, and, of course, how you're training.

If someone only worked out for a month and achieved little added muscle mass, they would only have muscle memory spanning to that previous point. However, if they worked out for two years or more before stopping, their muscle memory would span a greater time, and their potential would be that much greater.

Whatever the amount of time you may have worked out in the past, it will help you get back to that level faster than the average person. This alone gives you an excellent reason to get back into weightlifting. Now go do it!

References
  1. Bruusgaard, J. C., Johansen, I. B., Egner, I. M., Rana, Z. A., & Gundersen, K. (2010). Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(34), 15111–15116.