Have you ever missed a training session or two? Maybe you’ve missed a few sessions or you’ve slacked off for a couple of weeks, or even months. Well, if you’ve been training for a while, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll take a break at some point. Sometimes it’s planned, like when you go on holiday. Sometimes not, like when you fall sick, or work gets in the way.
And sometimes, the situation is just not within your control. Right now, strength gyms in Singapore are being forced to close from 8th May until 20th June. No prizes for guessing why. But what this means for you, my fellow lifter, is that you probably won’t be training. Because you can’t, during this period.
Gyms are closed. Can I set up a home gym to train?
Yes, of course – home gyms can be a great idea. You save time on commuting, you don’t have to wait or share equipment and you can blast whatever music you like or wear whatever you want while training! Sounds like a pretty awesome deal.
The issue is that about 95% of people in Singapore live in apartments, and in general these apartments are pretty small. You may not have the space to spare.
Still, there will be some dedicated lifters who decide to carve out some space in their apartment to set up their home gyms. But then there are other obstacles. You’ll need to drop a chunk of cash to get proper equipment, and even then, there might be a long waitlist or a long delivery time. And that means once again that you’re going to be out of action for a while.
So realistically, the home gym probably isn’t an option for most. So you’re back to square one – not being able to train.
Don’t freak out. It’s okay to stop training for a while.
So if you don’t lift barbells for a few weeks, what’s going to happen? Will you lose all your gains? Will you be a weak puddle of mush when you finally get back under the barbell?
Well, we won’t pretend that you’ll stay the same without training. Yeah, we know it sucks when you want to train, but can’t. It’s a huge bummer, but there’s nothing much you can do about it.
What you can do is read on, to understand how to get ready for when you return to the gym.
The bad news: when you stop training, you lose gains
The truth is, yes, you will lose some strength and muscle when you stop training. Here’s why.
The process of training elicits a stress response from your body. With the right amount of stress and recovery, an adaptation happens and your body builds muscle and gets stronger. This is known as the Stress-Recovery-Adaptation cycle, and this is why training consistency is important – you shouldn’t have long gaps between training sessions.
But if you stop training, you won’t be exposed to a training stress. So no adaptation occur happen to drive progress. And if you don’t have access to proper equipment, you likely won’t be able to generate enough stress to even maintain your current strength and muscle mass. So guess what? You’ll lose strength and muscle.
Can you do bodyweight exercises or running, to create training stress to hold on to your strength and muscle? Well, yes and no. Bodyweight exercises and running does expose your body to training stress. However, the resulting adaptation will not be what you’re after, which is to maintain your strength and muscle. Adaptations are specific to the training stress imposed. So if you’re training to increase your strength (which presumably you are because you’re reading this and made it this far), then the stress needs to be specific for strength, like barbell training. Bodyweight exercises and running just won’t cut it.
The good news: strength is resilient
Don’t worry, you won’t be starting from scratch. Unlike cardiovascular adaptations, strength is a very resilient physical attribute.
Yes, you’ll detrain and lose gains if you stop for a few weeks. But barring huge weight loss, extreme cardiovascular activities or major illnesses, you should be able to hang on to the majority of your strength and muscle.
That’s the value of strength training—you’ll always be stronger than when you started on Day 1, even if you haven’t picked up a barbell in a while.
Taking a little break also allows your accumulated fatigue time to dissipate. Do you remember the last time you got back to the gym after a break and ran the Novice Linear Progression again, were you surprised that you blasted through your previous PRs?
You’re finally back in the gym. How should you resume training?
Do you gently work up to it? Do you just carry on from where you left off? Are there any things you should or shouldn’t do?
This depends on how long you’ve stopped training.
You’ve missed 1-2 sessions
If your training has been consistent up till now, then missing 1-2 sessions isn’t that big of a deal. You can just carry on from the last session that you did. It might feel a bit more challenging than expected, but it shouldn’t be by much.
Of course, we’re assuming that this break wasn’t due to illness. If it was, and depending on the severity of your illness, you might want to restart from the 2nd or even 3rd last training session that you did prior to your break.
You’ve missed 1-2 weeks
When you come back from a longer break, you should reduce the weight on the bar. Take about 10% off from your last session. After your first working set, ask yourself, how did the bar move? Did the bar move really fast while feeling easy or did it move slowly and feel much tougher than expected?
Use that feedback as a gauge to either increase or decrease the percentage for your next working sets. If you not sure how to gauge by feel, it’s a good idea to video yourself and review the footage thereafter.
What you’re aiming for is a weight that’s just a little lighter than your last session – not too heavy to the point that every rep is a grind or too light that it feels super easy.
You’ve missed 1-2 months or more
Things get different here, because not only have you lost gains, but your body also gets less familiar with the technique of the big lifts due to lack of practice. Here are some guidelines to ease you back into training after a long break:
Start light and easy on your first day back. Find your working weight as if you are a novice training for the first time. Start with the empty bar, keep doing sets of 5 and gradually increase the weight till the bar speed starts to slow down while still being able to maintain proper technique. The weight at which the bar speed starts to slow will be taken as your first working set. It’s better to underestimate the weight and make bigger jumps on the subsequent sessions to make up than overestimate and have to grind out reps on your first day back
When you resume training after a long break, soreness is inevitable. But you want to manage it and not let yourself get so sore that it interferes with your daily activities. The way to manage this is by only doing 1 working set on your first day back instead the usual 3 that the Novice Linear Progression calls for.
Because you had trained in the past, your baseline level of strength will be higher when compared to the time before you ever lifted weights. As a result, the working weight used on your return will be much higher than the working weight on your first workout with barbells. If you do 3 working sets of 5 on the first day back after a long break, you’ll be so exquisitely sore that the next few days will be really uncomfortable for you.
At your next session 2 days later, add a little bit of weight from your first session and do 2 sets of 5 at your working weight. On the subsequent session, add a little bit of weight from the second session and then it’s back to business as usual with 3 sets of 5.
Review your technique After a few months, your technique probably needs work. For some people, it might feel like starting afresh, because your body is no longer familiar with the movements and performance of the lifts. If your form is rusty, it’s time to get coaching. Fix your form, set a new baseline, and start adding weight.
Be conservative – Lower your expectations, and look ahead. Weights that you once considered light may feel quite heavy. And that’s ok. It’s only your first session back after a long break; you’ll only see meaningful progress over many consistent sessions. Brooding over what you were able to lift before doesn’t do anything for you. Don’t be that guy that keeps harping on about “being able to bench 140kgs for reps back in the day”. Let it slide and focus on getting in a good training session in, to re-establish your foundation and work your way back up.
Other factors to consider when returning to training after a break
While the duration of your training break is an important factor, here’s some other things to consider:
Why did you stop training?
Did you fall sick? Or were you fine, but just couldn’t get to the gym? If you were sick (and the severity of your illness, your programming will need a larger reset than if you weren’t. Also, pay attention to other factors like your stress levels, diet, sleep and general activity levels. Depending on the individual, any of these can affect how much of a reset you’ll need.
How old are you?
Age does make a difference and programming needs to account for that. At our gym, we found that in general, older lifters tend to require a slightly bigger reset than younger lifters. Again, this can vary, so check in with us.
Are you a novice or advanced lifter?
In general, advanced lifters will retain more of their strength than novice lifters. They might have a larger reset, but can take large jumps to get back their previous numbers. More advanced lifters will also refamiliarise themselves with the lifting technique faster, as they would have had much more practice with it in the past.
A novice who’s still adding weight to the bar every session tend to lose their gains faster and would have to take smaller increments back to their previous numbers.
We want you back in the gym
It’s easy to fall off the wagon. For some, there can be a lot of inertia coming back to training. But don’t put it off, or you’ll get even weaker. No matter how out of shape or weak you feel, just come back and get it done. The sooner you restart your training, the less gains you’ll have lost.
For some, it’s the opposite problem. You’re raring to train and can’t wait to get back into the gym and under the barbell. It’s awesome that you’re enthusiastic about training but do practice some restraint. Be more conservative than aggressive. You can make bigger jumps over the next few sessions if you’re too conservative rather than suffer the consequences of being too aggressive. Trust me – limping around, moaning and groaning from dilapidating soreness isn’t fun nor is it a good thing.
If you’ve missed training for a while, it’s time to get your ass back in the gym as soon as you can. If you’d like to get back in shape and your gains back in the fastest and most effective way, we’re there to work with you. Contact us here to find out more.