Getting back into training after a long lay off.

Depending on how this whole thing pans out we might be a few weeks away from getting back to training in a gym or with weights or we could be a few months away yet.  Who knows, I know I am done trying to predict what is going to happen and where the UK government is going to take our reintroduction into some form of normality.  Never mind what Nicola Sturgeon and her interpretation of the UK governments directives are.  One thing is for certain if you haven’t been able to train with a barbell and weights then you are going to be chomping at the bit to get back into your normal routine.

If you want to return to training and get back into the swing as soon as possible and to put yourself in the best place to be getting on the gain train as quickly as you can.  You are going to need to be able to walk before you crawl.

Chronic work to rest ratio

Tim Gabbet is a strength and conditioning coach and sports science from Australia who has an extensive body of research and coaching in rugby league and sports institutes.  I mention Tim because he is one of the main researchers behind the concept of chronic rest to work ratio which is being used to guide load management in a lot of sports.  Including powerlifting and strength sports.  Chronic acute work load originates from team field sports namely – ozzy rules football, rugby league and rugby union.  It is a gross measure of load normally either taken from RPEs [ Abitrary load = “Activity typetime”, (Rate of Precivied Exertion x time in minuites)] which gives a pretty reasonable estimation of total load being performed.  In more specific cases GPS (global positioning system) has been used and some distinctions have been made between the intensities of efforts (high speed running vs total running distance) and the amount of high speed running performed (which can be classified as a bunch of different speed >5 m/s is a good starting point) and total distance covered have been singled out as being the important metrics.  

When it comes to gross measures of workload RPEs are a really good approximation as they give us a view of the program or the athletes activity as a whole.  Using more accurate measurements such as GPS only gives us the on field variables in the athlete’s training schedule.  

Pre Season Schedule
AMPrehab, Speed and weights – 2-3 hours of trainingPrehab and upperbody wrights – 1-2 hours of trainingMassage and pool recoveryPrehab, Speed and weights – 2-3 hours of trainingPrehab and upperbody wrights – 1-2 hours of trainingMassage and pool recoveryRest
LUNCH1-2 hours1-2 hoursRest1-2 hours1-2 hoursRestRest
PMOnfield session Skills and conditioning – 1 – 2 hoursOnfield session Skills and conditioning – 1 – 2 hoursRestOnfield session Skills and conditioning – 1 – 2 hoursOnfield session Skills and conditioning – 1 – 2 hoursRestRest
ActivityRehabWeightsSpeedOff feet conditioningOn feet conditioningSkillsTotal
Time2 hours4 hours1.5 hours1.5 hours3 hours3 hours15 hours of training

Looking at 15-20 hours of training in a pre-season schedule for an on field athlete when they are training they are training hard.  The only bits of training where they won’t be in zone 3-4 heart rate will be skills or speed.  As a powerlifter or weightlifter if you are at the gym for 10-15 hours in the week you are realistically training for 1-2 hours where you are actually doing exercise (under the barbell or warning up) unless you do conditioning training.  So dragging and dropping a concept from a field sport such as rugby or football isn’t really something you can just adopt wholesale because realistically you aren’t doing that much training.

We can take the concept and adopt it to our training however we shouldn’t be looking to just mindlessly take concepts from other sports and studies and slapping them into our own approach.  The concept we should be looking to take from this concept or studies is that we should be cognizant of what we have been doing for the past 3 weeks and what we are looking to do for the following week and block of training. 

What have you been doing during lock down, and more specifically the last 3 weeks?

This isn’t an idol question this is something you should be considering when you are coming back to full training.  If you have been doing 4-6x bodyweight or resistance based sessions a week then you can probably go back to your full routine in terms of days/frequency.  You need to regulate the volume and intensity you are going to use but we will discuss that in a little bit.  If you haven’t been doing anything at all then you need to take it easy when you come back to training 1-2x sessions in the first week.

What have you been doing the last 3 weeks in lock down?Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Jack shit1-2x light sessions 2-3 exercises, 2-3 sets.Progress frequency +1, progress working sets 1 per exercise, progress intensity +1 RPE or +5% RMContinue to progress if you need more sessions to get back to full training.
1-2x bodyweight sessions or cardio2-3x light sessions 2-3 exercises, 2-3 sets.Progress frequency +1, progress working sets 1 per exercise, progress intensity +1 RPE or +5% RMContinue to progress if you need more sessions to get back to full training.
2-3x bodyweight sessions or cardio3-4x light sessions 2-3 exercises, 2-3 sets.Progress frequency +1, progress working sets 1 per exercise, progress intensity +1 RPE or +5% RMCan start intro week to next training cycle.
3-4+x bodyweight sessions or cardioGo back to your normal frequencyProgress frequency +1, progress working sets 1 per exercise, progress intensity +1 RPE or +5% RMCan start intro week to next training cycle.

If you are wondering why it’s important to be training or to keep training in the lockdown when you can’t be fucked and you aren’t motivated to continue training during the lockdown when you don’t have a barbell and weights then read on fair reader, read on.

Out of shape athletes get injured, in shape lifters recover.

One thing we can say with pretty good certainty when it comes to strength and conditioning it is that athletes who are prepared for the demands of their training AND their sport run a much reduced chance of getting injured then athletes who are not conditioned towards it.  If you stop exercising and take up a sedentary lifestyle you will decondition, you will become and unfit and you will increase your chance for injury. Guaranteed.

Things we can say with confidence 

  • Stronger athletes get injured less
  • Fitter athletes recover from training faster
  • Stronger athletes recover from training faster

Things we know for certain

  • If you stop training you will get weaker
  • If you stop training you will lose fitness
  • If you go from no training to lots of training you are increasing your chance for getting injured by orders of magnitude.

Bottom line – keep doing some kind of training, any kind of training even 2x per week will help ease your transition into normal training and help you to reduce the chances of you getting hurt when you get back to training. 

The kind of training you do is really just splitting hairs.  If you can train as normal then great keep at your training and keep at your program.  If you can’t then you should be doing some kind of whole strength training or resistance training and you should probably be doing some kind of conditioning even if it is just reducing the rest a bit between your body weight efforts.  The better shape you come into starting training again the quicker you will be able to get into a good powerlifting shape.  There are some things we can work on to help actually boost our performance when we get back into full training even if you don’t have any equipment to train with. We covered this extensively in our “training for the apocalypse” series. 

What kind of program should you follow when you get back to training full time?  

The answer to this question depends on what kind of training if any you have been doing during the lockdown or the lay off period and what goals or timelines you have in the immediate future. 

Scenario one – I have done little or no training during the lock down for whatever reason, or maybe done 1-2x general fitness sessions like youtube sessions or biking/running basically whatever I was motivated to do.

For some people due to circumstance or personal reasons may have done nothing over the lockdown or during your layoff.  The most important thing is to forget about what you have done in the past there is no point in giving yourself a hard time about the past it’s over you can’t change anything so let go of that first.

When you come back to training your going to need to get in shape to train before you start doing any kind of more specific training.  

  • Training block goal – get back in shape
  • Training block timeframe – 6-8 weeks
  • Frequency – 3-4x per week
  • Focus – General conditioning (muscle imbalances/physio exercises), general skill acquisition (less specific exercises focus on push, pull. Hinge, squat and carry).
  • Intensity – 40-80%
  • Volume – Moderate to high – 4-6 exercises, 6-15 reps, 3-5 sets.
  • Skill focus – general programing based around general strength and conditioning principles

You are basically training to train.  You can of course skip this step but you are just compromising the quality of the training blocks that you do end up performing going forward.  A decent block working on your general conditioning will help you to move better, reduce chances of injury and be able to train harder in the following blocks.

Scenario two – I have been doing a regular program (3-6x per week) based around whatever bands, weights or equipment I had on hand.

You will be coming into full training in a much better place than if you had been doing nothing or close to nothing during the layoff or lockdown period.  You will be able to come into a bit more of a full training regime I would still recommend you take a more volume based approach as your training will have been very general in the preceding period.  

Your first training block should be more of a hypertrophy/specific fitness based block where you are looking to build up and overload your lifting specific fitness, put on some size and work on a slightly more specific skill development but still not doing a specific competition lift focused training block.

  • Training block goal – work on hypertrophy, volume/lifting fitness and weakness based exercise variations
  • Training block timeframe – 4-8 weeks
  • Frequency – 3-5x per week
  • Focus – Blockage based exercise selection (work on your weakness), hypertrophy work and general lifting fitness (work capacity), working on general conditioning/muscle imbalances but not as a main focus. 
  • Intensity – 50-80%
  • Volume – high to very hight – 3-5 exercises, 6-12 reps, 3-6 sets.
  • Skill focus – developing specific competencies (variations of competition lifts) and focusing skill work on blockages or deficits (working on your weakness). 

Scenario three – I have been doing a regular targeted programing based on hypertrophy, general conditioning (physio based work), force capacity (isometrics and plyometrics) and skill work with what means I had available to me (tempo work using broomsticks for example). 

In the best case scenario where you have performed a more targeted program based off the training goals you have or want to train towards long term based off the equipment you have and any issues or specific work ons you might have.  The two elements of training or programing you can do in a scenario where you only really have limited or no equipment are muscle hypertrophy (since you can use methods such as occlusion or just simple mechanical overload to produce the stimulus effectively) and muscle imbalance/general conditioning based around injury prevention and specific strength.

The other training interventions suggested (skill retention, force characteristics retention) are at best mitigations of the circumstance (trying to prevent detraining of specific adaptations) and not ideal in any way.  However, it should prove to a better and easier bridge for full training than if you were to only focus on hypertrophy outcomes and general strength and conditioning. 

Your first training block should be more based on strength in the specific lifts or direction you want to push.  Since you have been training towards hypertrophy in the previous block of time you should be looking for more strength related outcomes over the coming peroid. 

  • Training block goal – develop strength and push performance in specific direction or lifts you want to get better at.
  • Training block timeframe – 8-16+ weeks
  • Frequency – 3-6x per week
  • Focus – strength based outcomes (push RMs and RPE based sets) and volume designed to push strength development.  Specific force related or skill related training and assistance for performance bottlenecks. 
  • Intensity – 70-100%+
  • Volume – moderate to high – 2-4 exercises, 1-8 reps, 3-10 sets.
  • Skill focus – competition lift focus, specific exercise variations based around competition lifts. 

Goal setting for the immediate and medium term

If you are coming from a layoff due to circumstance or injury to your person then this process is a bit easier, if you are reading this during or after the coronavirus pandemic and shut down then this might be slightly tricker but definitely not impossible just carrying slightly more uncertainty. 

Immediate term goal setting

On the immediate time frame (today, this week, this block) you need to bridge the gap between what you have been doing over the last few weeks and months and what you want to do (your full training routine) and make sure you are choosing the best training outcome and block for this time to set you up over the coming training blocks.

The goal should be to get into performance based outcomes (pushing your rep maxes) through the best means available either by taking advantage of the work you have already done or by putting in the ground work necessary for you to have better future blocks of training.   

Medium term goal setting

Medium term goals for me are those out into the 4-6 month time frame (maybe out into a year).  You should be looking at the landscape where you live when you come out of lockdown OR if you are just coming off a layoff during a normal time frame you should do the same thing but without the following caveats.  You should be looking at organising your time either by using a block structure just based on training (volume, strength, realisation rinse and repeat) or if there are competitions/meets in your locality that are going ahead then you can use those to set your time frames.  However you need to be realistic in the likelihood of them happening or at least satisfy to yourself of these questions or facts.  

You should look out into a 4-6 month time span and if you can book on to the most convenient location for you to compete.  4-6 months is long enough to give you time to acclimatize to training and to also put in some meaningful training to allow you to advance your performance.

Hopefully this article has given you a framework to think about how phase yourself back into training and if you have any more questions or would like to talk about working with us in a coaching capacity then feel free to get in touch.   

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