How to Get Back to Strength Training After Missing a Year

Posted on 01 Nov 2014 21:35


A lot of people start and stop strength training frequently. One of the hardest things to figure out is how to resume your training after a long lay-off.

Do you start right where you left off? If it's been a year or more, should you treat yourself like a beginner? How should you set the weights back? And what exercises do you need?

Well, it's actually a lot simpler than you would think.

Watch the video below, where I give some solid guidelines to a trainee who was trying to get back into strength training after year of inconsistent training.

Below the video is a text version of the talk, modified for readability!

Today I got a question from Nate, who wants to get back to strength training. He's taken a year's hiatus from strength training. Well, not really a hiatus. His training has been very, very inconsistent. Other things in life have caught up with him, so, he hasn't trained consistently for a whole year.

Now, he wants to get back into training, and the question is how is he going to get back to getting strong again? I've trained Nate in the past. So, before I even begin prescribing a workout routine or a progression scheme for him, I just want to make sure you're aware that, for a lot of people, when they ask me, Ashiem, what training should I do right now, and they give me their numbers, I'm always a bit skeptical about those numbers.

The reason I am skeptical is because I'm not sure whether their form is going to hold up with more maximal end lifting. So, I can understand that maybe their form is OK, for example squatting 225 for reps, but then I'm not sure whether, that form would hold up if I were to have them take 275, or something like that.

However, with Nate, I'm confident in his form, at least at this stage, because he's trained under me in the past. So, having said that, I'll just give you Nate's numbers.

Nate doesn't really know what his bench or overhead press is at right now. He's got shoulder injuries and lower back injuries. So, we have to take that into account with his training. He does back squats with 245 pounds for ten reps and 3 sets. He does deadlifts with 255 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps. Well, actually that is what he has done in the last few months. He can also do a few bodyweight pullups.

So, here's what I suggest. The way I see it, Nate has two options. He can either train four times a week, or three times a week. Because Nate has had issues with being consistent in his training, I don't really recommend him training four times a week right from the get-go. I think he should start with three times a week, because it's easier to get into this slowly. So, he should start with training three times a week and then, if he's able to dedicate more and more time to training; and if his real-life issues make give him room to train, he can always throw in a fourth workout.

So, essentially, the way I think he should train train four big lifts. He should train the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press. Like me, he loves the deadlift! But in any case, these are the four big lifts that I think are important. Given that he's going to train three times a week, I think he should just knock out bench press for now. He should stick to deadlifts, squats - cause he likes back squats, not front squats - and overhead press. So, initially his training should just be the Honeymoon Period.

I know, I love the Honeymoon Period. I think it's one of Eric's best programming articles that he's written. So, basically, he should have one day allocated for each one of these big lifts. And then, maybe four weeks down the line, he throws in a bunch of exercises which are important to getting strong. At the end of the day Nate has to play around with this stuff and see what works for him.

So, if he's doing Honeymoon Period…and I'm gonna make a note on that later, but I'll just get to the other fun stuff that's gonna come first, since initially, for the first four weeks, his training will be very very boring, in the sense that it's just one lift per day, three days a week. In the course of the whole week, he's only doing three lifts, and that's it. I actually look at that as a lot of fun time, but, each to his own.

After four weeks he's going be adding in a bunch of assistance work. A hate using these labels, so it's just to make things simple. He's going to be doing, a unilateral leg exercise. So, I think lunges or step-ups are in order. I personally prefer step-ups. I think he should do one of these after his deadlifts.

On his overhead press day, he should be doing some pullups and also some rows — some heavy dumbbell rows, or cable rows. And then on his squat day, he should do squat and then he should do something for his posterior chain like swiss ball glute-ham raises (supine glute-ham raises) or maybe an actual glute-ham raise which if he has it at his disposal. Or, he can do cable pullthroughs. I love cable pullthroughs, so, I'm gonna give special preference to that.

Initially, a lot of people take Honeymoon Period as a very boring thing, but it's not really boring at all. You're supposed to start with a certain weight, and then you're supposed to slowly slowly work up. So, it's a numbers game, at the end of the day. Let's say that right now Nate has a back squat of 245 for ten reps and three sets. I'm not sure whether Nate can really do this at this very moment, but I know that this is what Nate has done in the recent past. His last squat workout of this year — a few months ago — was 245 pounds for three sets of ten.

Now, I want to make a note of this: no matter how strong you are, if you're training under me, I always say that you should start with the bar first in your warmups, because it tends to make you understand whether or not something is off. You can iron out certain tweaks from the get-go because you're made aware of it. So, you should just to through the motions with the bar. Take it seriously. The bar is…is important. It's the first set of your warmups.

Therefore, he would start working by taking the bar, which is 45 pounds, and doing three or four reps. He may do one or two sets with that. Then he can take 45 on each side, so he's gonna take 135, and do three or four reps. Then take 155..or he can take 145 first then go to 155 for three or four reps. Then 165, 175, 185, 195…he can work up like that. There's flexibility. So he can work up to perhaps 225 for three. And then he can stop, if he feels that he has done enough for the day.

Next week, when he comes back, he can try to beat these numbers. So, it's not really important for him to beat the numbers right from the get-go, but, at the end of his workout if he did 225 for three last time, he can do 225 for four today, or he can do 225 for two sets of three, or he can do 235 for three. Or, he can just do 225 for three, and then 235 for one. All this is fair game. So the option is with him to keep increasing, his numbers.

Don't look at the Honeymoon Period as a way for you to get back to your old strength levels. It's actually a way for you to pass through them. So, you want to finish with whatever numbers you used to hit before. Make them as part of your work sets. And then at a certain point — I think from my expectations it'll probably…probably be between 275 and 300, or maybe even more — when the Honeymoon Period stops working, at that time then you can throw in something like SDT progression or whatever. We can re-evaluate at that stage. Right now, we can't plan so far ahead.

For a few months, at least, the Honeymoon Period will be more than sufficient. And, I just happened to mention that adding ten pounds to the bar every set as an increment, but, you don't have to stick to that. You can waiver it. The Honeymoon Period article has all this information in it.

The idea is that as you do this program and work along these lines, you will start understanding the movement better, and you'll grow into the lift. So, you automatically realize that, oh, OK, so if I'm doing 245 for reps right now, I can do 275 for a single or two, but my goal is that I want work within the 245 to 275 range and really dominate it. So I want to build volume and handle more workload. You can adjust the program to make it fit those lines. And that's the beauty of the Honeymoon Period.

So you should do that for the main lifts with the with the assistance work that I mentioned. For the unilateral leg work you should do two to three sets…maybe even three to four sets. Two to four sets is a good estimate. There's no need to be very very rigid about this. But you do two to four sets of five to ten reps.

Step-ups are cool, you should do a lot of step-ups. They help. And then for pullups it should be five sets to failure. For the dumbbell rows you should do another five sets, varying the rep ranges. You should work both ends of the spectrum. You should be able to do heavy work in less than five reps, and you should be able to crank out thirteen plus reps as well. You shouldn't just get stuck at one end. So, practice on both sides of the rep range.

For the Swiss ball glute-ham raises or the cable pullthroughs do higher reps of more than ten — probably more than twelve. And every week you can try to add a rep, doing three to four sets. And that's about it. It starts off small. Very very few exercises. You add in more as you go along.

Then, at some point in the future when you're switching things up in terms of your progression on your big lifts, since you're a deadlift enthusiast, there's no need to train the deadlift and the squat with the same level of intensity and aggressiveness. Intensity is fine, but there's no need be so aggressive with the volume. So, as you switch things up a bit you can rearrange it. Maybe in the future you can you can do your heavy deadlifts and then you can do light front squats or back squats after that. And then on your squat day you can do your squats and afterwards can throw in a little bit of a deadlift variation. So all these options open up. This is just to get you started and get you good at the lifts, for now.

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