In this article we will go through the most common mistakes people make when they return to the gym after a long break and how you can avoid those.
Mistake 1: Going full throttle
After a long break from training, it is perfectly understandable that you want to lift your old weights again as quickly as possible and gain back the lost muscle mass in the shortest possible time. Accordingly, many start again with their old training.
Most people don't train as hard as they should in the gym. However, after a longer training break, you should really take it easy. Attacking your previous weights seems like the right thing to do, but it overtaxes your body immensely. One consequence of this is severe muscle soreness, which is absolutely not beneficial. Numerous studies prove that too much muscle soreness is counterproductive for building muscle. The regeneration of your body does not keep up. You will be weaker in the next training session or even have to skip it altogether.
Another aspect why you should not start impatiently with your old weights is the high risk of injury. Your body and muscles are more susceptible to injury due to the longer training break, as they are no longer used to heavy strength training. Since an injury makes it impossible to get back into gym training, patience is the key to success.
So, when you start training again, be careful not to set your exertion level too high. You should not train to muscle failure in the beginning. In the first week of training, leave about 3 reps in reserve (3 RIR) at the end of each set. However, if the training break was longer and you didn't train at all, aim for about 5 RIR. When you have found your way back into training, you can gradually go back to muscle failure.
Do not have high expectations. After a training break, it is normal that you cannot lift the same weights as before the break.
Mistake 2: Excessive training volume
You should therefore take it easy at the beginning. Taking it easy means that you also have to adjust your training volume. Even if you are quite motivated now, excessive training volume is not conducive to a perfect return to training.
Start with fewer sets. 2 sets per exercise is a good start. Then, gradually increase the sets during the next 4 weeks.
This is what your training plan could look like for the next 5 weeks in terms of volume:
- Start with only 2 sets per exercise.
- Gradually increase the sets each week.
- In the 4th week, you train with 4 sets per exercise.
- If necessary, take a deload in the 5th week.
- Now, adjust your plan. Continue to train with a set periodization or keep the number of sets constant.
You can create your plan with a set periodization with the Alpha Progression App. To do this, activate the set periodization + deload in the expert settings.
Furthermore, it is enormously important to warm up well before training. This should be done before every workout, not just when returning to it. However, warming up is especially important after a long break from training, to keep the risk of injury as low as possible.
Mistake 3: Bad diet
Now that it's been clarified how you should train to get back to where you started as quickly as possible, it's time to take a closer look at nutrition. Similar to training, the same applies here: Don't rush it.
It is not advisable to be in an excessive calorie deficit in order to "undo" the training break and still somehow restore the beach physique. However, stuffing yourself with food to rebuild the muscle mass you may have lost is not advisable either.
For your perfect comeback, you should aim for maintenance calories to rebuild lost muscle mass and also lose excess fat. After the first 4 weeks, you can then go more in the direction of a calorie deficit (focus on fat loss) or a calorie surplus (focus on muscle gain).
Mistake 4: Incorrect interpretation of body weight
After a long break, you should interpret the change in your body weight differently than you normally would. This is because you probably lost muscle mass during the break. However, due to the muscle memory effect, you will quickly build muscle again. You will probably even build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat.
After about 4 weeks of effective training, you should have reached your starting point again.
To correctly interpret the change in your body weight, you should know the following scenarios:
- If you eat on maintenance calories, you will gain weight.
- If you eat in a surplus, you will gain weight faster than you normally would with the same surplus.
- If you eat in a deficit, you will lose weight slower than you normally would with the same deficit.
This only applies to the initial period until you have rebuilt your original muscle mass. By the way, as a beginner or an untrained person, this principle always applies to effective training.
In addition to the muscle memory effect, your body will store more water due to the severe muscle soreness you will likely experience initially. Water retention is also normal due to possibly fuller glycogen stores. So there's nothing wrong with gaining weight from these effects even with maintenance calories. It's just important that you are aware of this so you don't get the number on the scale wrong.
After a break in training, eat in such a way that your weight remains constant for the first 4 weeks. Then, you were in a slight deficit and built muscle and lost fat at the same time.
Mistake 5: Insufficient recovery
Recovery always plays a significant role in strength training. However, a good recovery period is especially important when returning to training. Don't overstress your body. Give it the time it needs to recover. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. Overly sore muscles are not conducive to achieving your goals. Make sure you get a good night's sleep and include rest days in your schedule. If you still feel too sore or tired and can't train, take an extra day off.
You should take it easy during your return to the gym in order to make it as perfect as possible. Try not to go full throttle right away and avoid too much muscle soreness. Patience is the key to success. Start with easy workouts and increase from week to week. It makes sense to start training again with a set and RIR periodization.
Remember that you have to interpret the change in your body weight differently than you normally would. However, don't get too distracted by the number on the scale. Rather, focus on working out. Try to make training as effective as possible.
Listen to your body and give it enough time to recover to gradually get used to the training again. The muscle memory effect will do the rest! Good luck with your gym comeback!