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).

Step 3—Execution!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Practical Recommendations:

  1. 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.
  2. Buy an agenda and use it. What gets measured gets managed.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. Joaquim on December 28, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Can’t really exercise my legs due to a knee problem (chondromacia patella). Contrary to popular belief my doctor said it can heal, it’s just that it takes a really long time and exercises that won’t stress my joint (ever heard anything about that?)

    So no squat, no deadlift, no legpress, etc.

    All I could really do is Abductor and Adductor, calf and isometric to quads and posterior.

    DO you think it is worth to train in such conditions?

    I wonder if goin hard on the top side and easy on the legs could cause me any problems or unbalances, I wonder if it is worth….

    What do you think?

    I jus’t want to be buff, i don’t want to be skinny anymore 🙁

    • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Hey Joaquim, you’re going to love Marco’s next article even more than this one, and it launches on January 1st 🙂

      But to answer your question now, yes, it’s absolutely 100% without a doubt still a good idea to train in the meantime. May as well develop the rest of your body as best you can while waiting for your legs to heal. You’ll look better, feel better, and it’s good for you.

      Your question about imbalances is a wise one, though, and you can get imbalances if you disproportionately develop muscles that have antagonistic relationships with one another. So if your chest is much stronger than your back, you may have your arms pulled forward into a weird spot in your shoulder joint. Looks funny, it can be uncomfortable, and it makes you more prone to injury. But your upper and lower body don’t work that way, whether you’re a professional hockey player with jacked legs and a small upper body, or an olympic gymnast with a jacked upper body and smaller legs 🙂

      So definitely get buff now. Catch your legs up later 🙂

      • Joaquim on December 28, 2016 at 3:40 pm

        Really appreciate the answer, Shane. Thanks a bunch!

    • Marco on January 6, 2017 at 12:09 am

      Hey Joaquim, not sure if you’ve read my article on working with chronic pain / injuries.

      And I would definitely tune into the next article I write, which will be about warming up. I’m sure you’ll find some gems in there that you can apply to your training!

  2. Henrick on December 31, 2016 at 7:09 am

    Hi guys!
    If i was sick for the last 1 week and lost a lot of mass (8-10 pounds), just right after i finished a 5 week bulking phase, will i gain it back immediately after i start training again? Is muscle memory works this way too or only, if this mass was there for a long time?

    • Shane Duquette on December 31, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Most of the weight you lost was fluid, not fat or muscle. Of the muscle you lost, which is only a couple pounds at most, yes, it will rebound within a couple weeks so long as you eat enough to gain that weight back 🙂

  3. Vincent on October 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I don’t know if this article (great article btw!) is the right place for my question.
    But I broke my hand this week (boxer’s fracture). The doctor estimated it will take about 4-6 weeks in a plaster cast to fully heal. This means no weight training for this period and I guess several weeks after that too because my hand and wrist will be very weak in the beginning 🙁

    I’ve been training consistently for the past 2-3 years now. I started at 115lbs, and have been up to about 152lbs this june. During summer I quit taking creatine (I read more and more things about creatine causing hair loss, which scared me a bit) and I started eating by just following my appetite, so my weight went back down to 145-147lbs. That’s pretty normal from what I read in other articles from you guys.

    In september I decided to switch from a phase of maintenance to bulking again and was stoked about putting on new muscle mass and strength and finally reach the ‘strong’ physique.

    But now with my hand being broken, I can’t train my upperbody and I’m afraid of losing a lot of hard earned muscle and strength there. I plan on keeping to train my legs hard with machines, twice a week. So I think I can keep my muscle there. But is there anything I could do to decrease the amount of atrophy in my upperbody?

    For my diet I was thinking of keeping my protein high and go back to maintenance or maybe a slight surplus?

    I know I can gain the muscle back pretty fast, but it still concerns me and I heard that it takes longer for the strength to come back than the muscle. My strength was pretty decent for my weight (Bench: 210lbs, Squat: 290lbs and deadlift 365lbs).

    Maybe you guys have experience with injuries like this, or can give me some advice on minimizing the damage in the next few weeks/months 😉

    • Marco on October 12, 2017 at 12:55 am

      You can definitely keep your strength and most of your muscle. There will obviously be some deconditioning that will take place and you will have to go through some growing pains once you take the cast off.
      Great idea on training your legs!

      Here are some suggestions:
      – Train your off hand normally. Yes this may lead to a slightly asymmetrical physique for the short term but your brain is weird and this will actually help keep the strength in your broken hand even though it will decrease in size. When you get out of your cast just do 1-2 more sets on your broken hand until you’re even again. This would include 1-arm Rows, 1-arm DB Bench Presses, Curls, Pressdowns, Shoulder Presses, etc.
      -Do contractions on your broken hand side for all your upper body muscles. This will help keep strength as well as get blood to your hand that needs to heal. Lateral raises, presses, rows can all be done with your ‘cast’ as resistance. You can work in really high reps here, this can also be done throughout the day. You can increase the intensity of the contractions as your hand starts to feel better.

      Your dietary strategies seem well thought out. Assess every few weeks to see if it matches up with your goals. All the best!

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      115 up to 152?! Amazing job, man—that’s gnarly!

      Settling back down at a slightly lower weight of 145–147 is pretty normal, yeah 🙂

      Creatine doesn’t cause hair loss in everyone, only in people who are already experiencing hair loss. So if you’re already balding, creatine will speed up that process. If you aren’t already balding, creatine won’t have any effect on your hair.

      I hope your hand heals up well! Good luck!

    • Vincent on October 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Thank you so much for both of your responses! I really appreciate it!

      I’ve been following Marco’s tips and have been training my legs and my left side like I normally do (the looks on everyone their faces in the gym are fantastic to see 😀 ).
      And I’m doing tons of contractions on my right side each day.

      If the healing goes as planned, the cast gets removed in less than 3 weeks. So I’m about halfway now. And because it might be interesting to know, I’ll give you guys an update the moment I’m back to my old strength and have regained the lost muscle mass 😉

      • Shane Duquette on October 24, 2017 at 1:08 pm

        Ahaha that’s great. I bet!

        Let us know how things go when the cast comes off! It’ll definitely be interesting to hear how quickly your other side catches back up 🙂

  4. Nick on March 30, 2018 at 1:40 pm


    Love the website. I have a question about recovering lost muscle. I used to be around 140 pounds, had a small amount of muscle just from playing sports/growing. Had never really lifted at this point. Then I became lazy for 4 or so months and put on 8/9 pounds of extra weight. I decided to get back to playing sports and starting running, alongside trying to eat a better diet so I could get fit again. I lost a couple of stone over the space of a year or so. I feel like I probably lost some muscle during this time, especially as I wasn’t lifting at all. Is it possible for this kind of muscle to be re-built?

    • Marco on March 31, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      Yes, very possible. For muscle to be built, you need to give the body a reason to build muscle (the stimulus) then you need to give it the building blocks to create the muscle (protein, extra calories, nutrients, etc.) then you put it in the oven (sleeping) and voila! Muscle is built.

      Sports can be an excellent stimulus for building muscle, especially sports that involve sprinting or intense movement. However, it’s not as tangible or simple to build muscle with sports as it is with weightlifting.

      Keep in mind if you are trying to build muscle you’ll want to create these environments:

      – around 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight – so 140g of protein if you weight 140lbs
      – a caloric surplus – so if your maintenance intake for calories (what you need to stay the same weight) is 2000, you’ll want to be eating around 2250 or 2500 calories to have enough energy to build new muscle.
      – lots of sleep. At least 7 but over 8 hours a night if you can.
      – some sort of muscle building stimulus that gets harder as you get stronger. The simplest way is weightlifting since it’s easy to say “I squatted 100lbs last week for 3 sets of 8 reps, this week I’ll do 100lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps.”

      Whereas with sports, it’s more difficult to say, I did 5 sprints to the goal last game at 65% effort, this week I’ll do 6. Not impossible, but harder to keep track of.

      Let us know if you have any more questions!

      • Nick on April 1, 2018 at 12:13 pm

        Thanks. I think I was a little unclear. I am now 130lbs, but used to be around 140lbs, but couple years ago I went up to about 148 when I stopped exercising for a while, then down to 120 as I became active again. Now around 130 after lifting weights for around a year or so. But I feel like I am less muscular than in my legs and shoulders when I was 140ish (just muscle I built playing sports really). So was just a question whether this muscle could back quite easily as I continue lifting, as with muscle that people get back after a spell out of the gym. Thanks again.

        • Marco Walker-Ng on April 2, 2018 at 2:40 pm

          Yes, I believe you could build that muscle back quickly, however, you’d still most likely need to eat a bit more in general (caloric surplus), sleep enough and get enough protein. You’d also want to make sure you’re lifting the right amount each week. At least 10-12 sets/muscle group/ week at a high enough intensity.

          For example.If you’re trying to beef up the shoulders and legs:

          Squat 4 x 8-10 leaving 1-2 reps in the tank (if you did 1 or 2 more reps your technique would start faltering)
          DB Shoulder Press 4 x 8-10 leaving 1-2 reps in the tank

          You’d want to do a workout of that similar volume and intensity 3 times a week. Feel free to start with less and work up to more, take measurements to gauge your progress and know what is working for you.

  5. Nick on April 2, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks, this is really useful information

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