You’re at a dinner party and you’ve just finished telling your uncle how you started going to the gym, got all kinds of sick gains, and then how you lost them all when school intensified and you just couldn’t keep it up.
He retorts, “Max, you just need to get back on the horse.” Uncle, this is actually sound advice and we will listen, but there are some things you need to know. Not everyone gets back on the horse the same way. Heroin overdoses tend to happen more frequently in users who are newly clean because they forget that their body does not have the same tolerance anymore. If you haven’t lifted weights in a while and you attempt the same workouts you once bullied in the gym, you may find yourself on the wrong side of the bullying.
You may also be surprised at how little it takes to rebuild muscle, or how quickly you can do it.
Inside this article we’ll be discussing a quick and safe way to return to the gym and the skillset needed to make you a landmark in your own fitness world.
Lifting is Like Riding A Bicycle… Right?
I recently jumped on a skateboard—something I haven’t done in 14 years—and was surprised I could still do a kickflip. Granted, it was the only trick I could do, but I still had it.
Returning to the gym isn’t so unlike riding a skateboard (or a bicycle). This phenomenon called muscle memory means that if you take the time and effort to learn a new skill, even if you heartlessly abandon that skill for for 14 years, your body, like Lassie, will always remember how to get back home.
However, while the memories are there, what you lack will be the things that consistency provides, namely; coordination, cardiovascular fitness, adequate ligament and tendon strength, muscle strength, and conditioning.
So, while I could muster up a kickflip on the ground, if I were to ride into a normal skate session that included 1-3 hours of jumping down stairs, there is a good chance I would be riding home in an ambulance instead of on my skateboard. To get back to my previous level of radicalness, I would have to slowly build up the aforementioned qualities that would allow a skate session of said intensity to benefit me instead of destroying me.
Rest easy knowing that your strength and muscles will return much faster than when you first gained them, but keep in mind that you still desperately need to go through a reintroduction period.
Getting Back To The Gym After An Injury
Injuries are a part of life. They are great lessons that teach us how to change tactics to get what we want. As wonderful as your injury may have been for your character and intellectual growth, though, they are often not so kind on our muscles. After a serious injury, there are a lot of things you can’t do, and it takes a great deal of courage and discipline to put that aside and focus on what you can do.
A long period of inactivity following an injury can make returning to the gym riskier than normal. You have a kink in your armour, and you need to take that into consideration with every lift you do. Fortunately, these kinks can usually be repaired, and getting back to the gym is often a great way to do that.
The main points to consider if you are coming back from an injury are these:
- Go see a physiotherapist. It will be well worth it.
- Make sure you are fully cleared to exercise, then exercise (asap). Training in an unsafe way too soon will just lengthen your recovery process, achieving the exact opposite outcome of what you were trying for.
- Once you area cleared, don’t avoid the troublesome areas. Make sure your routine has something in it designed to strengthen the area you hurt, and also any weak areas that may have led to the injury. For example, if weak, malaligned hips caused your knee injury, you need to strengthen your hips and get used to using your knees again.
Planning the Big Return to the Gym
Step 1—Assessment and Goal Setting
- If you are coming off of an injury, make sure you are cleared to be able to lift again.
- Know what caused your injury so that you can proactively address the issue in your workouts.
- Set a realistic goal. For example, regaining 10 pounds of muscle over the course of a couple months.
- Make sure your plan is effective for accomplishing that goal. For example, going to the gym twice a week for 30 min each workout might be enough to regain 10 pounds of muscle within that timeframe. But it may not be enough to gain another 10 pounds of new muscle after that.
- Progress your goals as you accomplish them.
Step 2—Planning the Workouts
- I normally recommend using between and 40-60% of the weight you’d normally use during your first time back, but if you know that even climbing the stairs to the gym is going to be rough, maybe you want to squat 40–60% of the weight that you would normally curl. Increase the intensity of your lifting week by week until you’re hitting new PRs. Remember, when you are regaining lost muscle, even lower intensity will do the trick.
- Do plenty of warmup sets, but start with just 1 set per exercise. Increase volume week by week until you can handle even more than before. While lower volume workouts aren’t the best for building new muscle, keep in mind that they are enough to rebuild old muscle.
- If you are coming back from an injury, include a warm-up exercise aimed at fixing your weakness, and choose a lift to strengthen the muscles associated with your injury. For example, doing exercises for your core after a back injury. (Different plank variations are good choices here, focusing on long, slow exhales).
This is the fun part. Go forth and prosper. If you follow my advice of easing back in, it will be a relaxed cruise back to fit muscularity and beyond. The trick is to start slow, succeed, and build momentum out of those successes. Because if you start full force, boy will your body ever demand a break. This is one of those tortoise beats the hare situations.
How to Make Sure You Don’t Ruin Everything Again
There are a plethora of reasons people stop going to the gym. Some of the common ones we hear about in the Beastly community are:
- Overwhelming busyness
- Stressful life events
- Poor results (many of our members buy our program after having tried to build muscle many times before)
Some guys will even get injured, either through lifting or through regular life.
While life is inevitable and unpredictable, a strong skill set of life habits can keep you on track regardless of a hectic schedule, injuries, and emergencies.
Of all the habits needed to gain muscle, exercising is actually the most tangible and easiest to do. Once you’re in the gym, you do your best to follow your workout plan, and you try to get stronger and more skilled at the movements.
The problem is often organizational. Planning the time needed for travel, grocery shopping, meal preparation, etc., are skills in and of themselves, and we need to consider the time and effort required to become competent in these skills if you are going to have any hope of successfully building muscle.
If you’ve never cooked before, learning to cook can be extremely daunting. Imagine for a second what it would be like to try and write a poem in a language you find completely incomprehensible. You would be at a loss for words.
Skills take time to learn and must be learned one word at a time. As the old saying goes, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. (Benjamin Franklin.)
Principles to ‘lock down’ your life habits:
- Know Yourself: a huge part of habit development (and lifting) is knowing your current level. To have consistent progress, you need don’t need to be going way outside of your comfort zone. You can instead work to expand your comfort zone. You’ll get to the same place in the end, but you’ll be less likely to fail or get injured. to be working to expand your comfort zone. Besides, even if you get lucky, working constantly above your level will burn you out and leave you sapped of motivation.
- Time Management: know how much time you have allocated for your goals. Include gym time and also the time needed for complementary skills like; grocery shopping, meal prep, traveling to the gym, life. Guess what? A lot of people bite off more than they can chew and figuratively choke to death.
- Support System: feeling lost, weak, and insecure are all a part of trying something new. While it is important to be independent, it is also important to realize that you don’t know everything. We are a social race for a reason. Having a professional on hand to guide you after you’ve given it your all and failed can save you serious time and frustration. The lone wolf thing looks cool in movies, but the most successful people in every field have advisors, coaches and consultants. Knowledge of how to accomplish what you want to accomplish is an often overlooked step in attempting to reach goals. It also raises the stakes and makes you more accountable for your actions.
- Discipline: To me, discipline is staying on task regardless of fatigue or temptation. In those moments of weakness, when your habits and willpower have failed, sometimes you will fail too. And that’s okay. Yet, the more you can go back to why you are doing this—the more you can think about the goals you are trying to achieve—the easier it will be to stay committed and consistent. Discipline is also a muscle that can be built, and one of the most beneficial rewards of succeeding in a plan like this one, so the more you practice discipline, the easier it gets to stay disciplined.
- Figure out where you stand. What skills are you good at? Some people are great at cooking but have no idea how to prepare meals for an entire week. Try to figure out the things you still need to learn.
- Buy an agenda and use it. What gets measured gets managed.
- Find a professional, or someone who has achieved what you long for, and become their student. Be a really good, proactive student. You’d be surprised at all the gems people will give you.
- Be disciplined.
Example from a client:
Richard works in the film industry, is constantly travelling, is pretty fit because of his job, but has a hard time keeping consistent with his muscle-building routine.
He’s committed to building muscle, but understands the difficulty of his schedule. Therefore, we are going to start small, with shorter at-home workouts that he can do anywhere, and then gym workouts in person with me when he is in town. It’s been a while since he’s been to a gym, so his workout will look very similar to the one posted below, yet it’s tailored uniquely to him.
I should mention that you never have to “get back in the habit” if you never lose the habit in the first place. If you have a body, you can train a muscle. I’ve been fortunate enough to train athletes who crutched around the gym after an ankle sprain. Even one man who was recovering from a heart attack. Sometimes you have to prioritize other things in your life, but even 10 minutes a few times a week can maintain you enough to avoid having to go through a re-conditioning process.
Fortune favours the bold, and action will always beat idleness.
If you are new to lifting, or just deciding to come back to the gym, our program contains an optional starting point for those who are completely new to weightlifting or who haven’t lifted weights in a long time. Even if you begin there, at the beginning, we’ll help you gain 10 pounds of muscle and get you up to the intermediate level within around 5 weeks. From there we’ll help you gain a full 20 pounds of muscle over the course of 3–5 months. You can find more information at this link here.