Returning to Training After a Break • Stronger by Science

Returning to Training After a Break • Stronger by Science
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Having to take time off from training is frustrating. What’s more frustrating is struggling to progress upon your return because you are trying to do too much too soon. This video provides a sample program for how to come back from time off the right way.  

Lifters all around the world have had to modify training as a result of gym closures due to COVID-19. Gyms are now beginning to open again. When returning to train after time off, it is imperative to not do much too soon and to work your way back up to your normal volume and intensity appropriately.

To help with this, we are releasing a video that appeared in MASS Research Review in November 2019 (Volume 3 Issue 11) called “Returning to Train After a Layoff: How to Gradually Comeback the Right Way” by Dr. Mike Zourdos.

The first half of this video analyzes the data on detraining to demonstrate that muscle size and strength are fairly resistant to a break from the gym. The second half of this video uses that knowledge to create a 13-week program as a conceptual example of how you can begin training again after the long layoff.

13-week program

The entire program, which is detailed week-by-week in the video, can be downloaded here. If using this program, please note that some of the absolute loads listed are in reference to an individual with pre-detraining strength levels noted on slide 10 of the video and the retraining program is based upon a hypothetical program which was used prior to detraining (also on slide 10).

Therefore, this program could be implemented exactly as is for some, and others may need to change the loads listed. Ultimately, this program is intended to be understood conceptually in conjunction with the video, and lifters can use this as a guide if they wish to create their own program instead. We hope this video helps you in your return to the gym.

Download training program | Download PDF slides of presentation

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This video is from a previous edition of MASS Research Review, a monthly publication by Greg Nuckols, Eric Trexler, Eric Helms, and Mike Zourdos.

Every issue of MASS contains 8 articles and 2 videos focused on helping you learn and apply the latest training and nutrition research. Subscribers get a new issue every month, plus access to our entire back catalog of 325+ articles and videos.

If you enjoy this free video, please consider subscribing.  (Or, check out a free issue of MASS here.)


Note: This video is very hands-on and extremely practical, as Mike walks you through a 12-week program for returning to training after a layoff. We strongly recommend you watch the video first (there are captions on the video to make it easier to digest), then use this transcript for future reference. 

Hey everyone, welcome to the video here in the November issue for 2019, volume three, issue 11. So only one more issue left in volume three before we turn the page to volume four in January of 2020. So for this video, it’s called returning to training after a layoff.

And the subtext: how to gradually come back the right way. So, I think this is a pretty cool topic.

In MASS previously, and I have them in the references of this video, we talked about all the way back in volume one I think, issue two or three there was a written article that I reviewed and it talked about how skeletal muscle mass and strength were resistant to two weeks detraining. So I’ve linked that article here in the references and then I did another article that talked about introductory cycles and how to elicit the repeated bout effect with introductory cycles that are a little bit lighter than what you would typically do in your normal training block, so that way when you jump into your normal training block, you don’t have too much damage and too much fatigue from that training block.

So both of those articles, I think, are related to this, but in this video here, returning to training after a layoff, I wanna talk about a layoff for a long period of time. Specifically we’re gonna give an example that looks at a layoff of about three months.

But there are times in our life when school gets really busy, work gets really busy, we have stuff in our personal life and relationships get really busy. And we just don’t have time to train. And we just don’t simply make it to the gym for a while.

And I think that happens to more people than we’d otherwise notice. You know when we look at social media, typically people are just posting their PRs, they’re not posting when they have to take long periods of time off from the gym.

And what I think is important is if you have to take a long period of time off from the gym, I don’t think it’s going to really crush you in the long run. I think what’s important is how you come back from that time off, and that you do so gradually and that you don’t do too much too soon. So that’s what this video’s all about.

When you have to take some time off for those reasons, not for injury, I don’t consider myself an expert on that, so we’re not gonna cover coming back from injury, but when you have to take some time off here, how can you come back appropriately and not do too much too soon?

So today’s objectives. We’re gonna examine first, the rate of decline in strength and hypertrophy following time off. And what I think we’re gonna find out is that the rate at which you lose muscle mass and you lose strength when you have to take significant time off, a few months or so, it’s not as much as most people think. You think, “oh I take two months off “and I’m just gonna look tiny, “and I’m gonna lose just absolutely all of my strength “I’m gonna lose 100 kilos on my lifts, “I’m not gonna be able to do anything.” And that’s just not the case.

I would say that resistance training is pretty resistant to decreases in size and strength. Even over three months or so. You’re certainly going to lose some, but it’s not as much as you might think.

So, first we’re gonna take a look at the rate that hypertrophy and strength decline when you take time off from training. Then, wanna understand when you start to get back to training, you need to be cognizant of the fact that you’re more susceptible to muscle damage, and you’re more susceptible to fatigue.

Also, your lifts just simply aren’t at the same place that they were, even if you don’t lose a ton of strength, you’re going to lose some, so since you’re more susceptible to damage, and you’re going to lose strength when you get back, we’re going to talk about how to get back from that.

Also understand that the decrease in strength in assistance lifts, might be different than a decrease in strength in the main lifts. And there’s some inconsistencies in the literature on this, but I do have some thoughts I’d like to share, specifically losing strength on a machine based movement might not be as much as losing strength on let’s say a squat. Well, you also have to worry about skill in addition to just worrying about the strength. And so then, once we do all of that, and we talk about how much strength and muscle mass people lose, and then understanding when you start back you’re more susceptible to damage, what I wanna do is to develop a full program to get somebody back from a layoff.

So in last month’s video, October of 2019, volume three, issue 10, we talked about concurrent training for a marathon and what I did for most of that video was I put together a sample program that someone could use.

So after we go over the data and the science in the first few slides of this, what I’ve done here again this month is to put together another sample program that if you were to have to take three months off from training, then there’s a three month or 13-week program that I’ve put together here that can get you back to where you were within those 13 weeks.

So one thing we wanted to try to do in these videos is to bring more practical examples to everyone rather than just data. So the second half of this video is going to do that. And then during that time where we have that program, determine the general guidelines for rebuilding volume, intensity, and frequency, and where your RPEs should be throughout the process.

So first, let’s get started with exactly how much strength and size you lose after the detraining period, and then we’ll go through that sample program to start us back. So, the first study we wanna look at here is from Blazevich in 2007, and this is one of the most frequently cited studies I would say, on this. And over the course of 10 weeks, Blazevich and colleagues had men and women who had some training experience, not a lot, but some training experience.

And I will say right there, most of the studies on training and detraining for long periods of time, are on individuals that are maybe recreationally trained. The reason being is it’s very difficult to get a trained person to simply not train for three months, right? I know most of us in here, if you’re interested in participating in a scientific study, and I would certainly be as well, but if I was asked to not train for three months, that would be hard to do.

So it’s typically easier to get less trained people for these studies. But Blazevich and colleagues had individuals in either a concentric or eccentric training group, doing for sets of six reps on leg extensions for 10 weeks. Both men and women. They had control groups here, you can see control groups, they’re for looking at strength or torque here on the leg extension and the dashed line over the course of ten weeks didn’t change strength and we wouldn’t expect it to be, but individuals here that trained in the concentric and eccentric groups, we can see, trained here in the eccentric and in the concentric and they increased their strength after the 10 weeks, which we would expect.

But then, this dashed line here that’s three months of detraining. And following that three months of detraining, you can see that strength does indeed decrease, but if I use the cursor and I just draw a line straight across, you can see that this is at levels, they decreased the levels where they were at five weeks. Right, so they’ve lost a little less than half of the adaptations or the gains that they had during these ten weeks. So training for 10 weeks and taking three months off, taking three months off you only lost about five weeks of those gains. So yes, that sucks, right?

If you wanna get back and you wanna keep training, nobody wants to have to lose that much strength, but five weeks can be made up in a relatively quick timeframe. So you do lose some strength, but it’s not as much as you might think. On the right, I think is even more impressive.

So if we go over to this figure now, this is looking at hypertrophy or muscle thickness of an ultrasound measure, and again we have the control groups in the dashed lines, and then the eccentric training group increase their muscle size, concentric training group increase their muscle size and then look at the detraining. Yes, there’s a trend to go down here, but this was actually a non-significant decline from this 10-week point, to this point after three months. So they did lose some, but again if we draw this line we’re back to about the five week level. Right? At least for the eccentric group.

The concentric group had a little bit of a different time course, so they’re well above the five week level here. But the point is you do lose size and you do lose strength, but it’s not as much as you’d typically think. So if you have to take three months off of training, while that’s probably not ideal, if you think of this as a long term game, five years, 10 years, 20 years that you’re training for, that three months isn’t gonna mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

So if you have a really busy time in your life, you’re gonna lose strength and size, but it doesn’t have to kill you.

So, another study, an older study here, one of the original’s in this from Staron in 1991, it’s an individual that’s done a lot of work on resistance training. This was in college-aged women that had some training experience as well, and they trained twice a week on the squat at six to eight RM or a 10 – 12 RM and they did have some other movements that they were doing. But this was a long term study in that they had 20 weeks of training, then 30 weeks of detraining and six weeks of retraining.

So the dashed line here, everything to the left of it represents this. So this is base line, this is following 20 weeks of training, following 30 weeks of detraining, and then following six weeks of retraining. On the right here, this is just seven women who only did this six weeks of retraining and they increased strength and the goal is to compare that to this. But if we go over here to the left side of this dashed line, and we take a look at the changes in squat, the time course of squat changes in these women, there was a 67% increase in strength over the course of 20 weeks, again they weren’t that well-trained, so that’s pretty reasonable.

There was only a 13% decrease in strength after taking those 30 weeks off. That shows that this strength is very resistant to dropping after only decreasing 13% in 30 weeks.

There is other data that shows a bit more, and I do think for the most part you would probably lose a bit more. So nobody should take that 13% as an absolute number. But, I do think that it shows the amount that you lose isn’t going to be some sort of astronomical amount if you have to take a few months off.

That’s just going to be killer for a long period of time. And then when they started the training again after six weeks, not only did they get back to where they were after the 20 weeks of training, but they even got a little bit better than that. But the main point being following a large increase in strength after a long period of really good training, if you take some months off, in this case it was 30 weeks, you are gonna see a decrease in strength, but it’s not going to be a ton. You will be able to make that up in a couple months when you come back.

So strength and size are pretty resistant to decline. Now, this is from that same study and that same group of women, and it was looking at hypertrophy as well. So we’re gonna see results here similar to the Blazevich study where if we just scroll back very quickly two slides, we can see a decrease in hypertrophy after three months, decrease in hypertrophy, or a decrease in muscle thickness, but it’s not significant, and it’s not a lot.

If we go back to the Staron study now, we can see this is showing from PRE to 20 weeks of training and then 20 weeks of training down to after the 30 weeks of detraining. So this is type 1 fibers, type 2, and then type 2B, type 2X. So, if we’re looking at this here, we can see a 15% increase in size, a 39% and a 47%, so that’s what these numbers are. 15%, 39 and 47.

And then over here, we’re seeing the decreases after the detraining. So type one fibers down 1%, and then here we’re down 10% and then here we’re down 14%. So clearly this is tending to decrease.

The only significant decrease was this 14% but it does look like there’s certainly a clear trend for this. Type 2 fibers to decrease 10% obviously if you would take more time off, if would likely be a significant decrease. But nonetheless, we’re seeing a small decrease here after these 30 weeks off, but then we they start to train again for six weeks, we’re seeing the hypertrophy occur again, muscle mass increase again.

So it just goes to drive home the point again, as we saw in the previous couple slides that yes you are gonna lose size and strength but it’s not gonna be killer and this has been seen for a long time, if we go back to this ’91 study, and then we go back to the Blazevich study that was done in about the past decade or so. So the data is in agreement there.

Now lastly, I wanna talk about briefly before we go into our sample program, why this occurs. And there’s going to be some conflicting evidence on this, so I wanna show this one paper here, ’cause this is one of the more foundational papers from 2004, but there is a paper that’s just out really recently in the last month or so that is questioning this hypothesis or these findings.

So I think there is conflicting data in the area, but nonetheless, we’ve covered in MASS before so if you can think back to the concept of myonuclear addition. So with myonuclear addition, we’ve talked about how hypertrophy occurs one because of protein synthesis, but two because when satellite cells are activated, a nuclei from satellite cells can be donated to a myofiber, and when a myofiber has more myonuclei, it tends to support a larger area, if you will.

Each nuclei can only support so much domain or so much area, so when an additional nuclei is added, it can support more area and the myofiber can grow. So that comes from satellite cells. So when there’s more satellite cells around the myofiber, that tends to mean that individual has a greater propensity for growth.

Someone that has a fewer amount of satellite cells around a myofiber, has a lower propensity for growth, it might be a low responder to training. A higher amount of satellite cells might be a higher responder to training. So with that said, this study from Kadi in 2004 looks at 90 days of training and 90 days of detraining in men. And so, if we look at fiber area, or muscle size, hypertrophy here, we can see hypertrophy from PRE to 90 days of training.

Now, after the detraining, we can see a decrease in fiber size. That’s all the way up to the 90 days detraining. So at 90 days detraining here, this is significantly lower than it was when they ended the 90 days of training. If we go over to the right, we’re gonna see a somewhat similar graph when looking at satellite cell number per fiber. So if you remember, we just talked about how satellite cells, somebody has more satellite cells they can donate more myonuclei, have a greater propensity for growth.

So, we see an increase in the number of satellite cells per fiber at 90 days, but a decrease here, close to back to baseline, right? After 90 days of detraining. So after 90 days of detraining here, we are seeing that and that this bar here is pretty similar to this one, so a pretty similar trend here. Up and down and up and down.

So the authors noted here that one of the reason that muscle size might go down here in the detraining is because of satellite cell number and thus myonuclei number going down. So, that being said, there is some conflicting evidence on the maintenance of myonuclei.

Some data is showing that even during a time of detraining and when there is a loss in muscle size, that myonuclei number remains similar or doesn’t go all the way back down to baseline and this data does show that myonuclei number or satellite cell number falls pretty far. So, the decrease in satellite cell number or myonuclei could be a mechanism that causes a decrease in hypertrophy with detraining, but we’re not 100% sure on that. But this is hopefully helping to explain or to give you one hypothesis why that may occur.

So if you could maintain your satellite cell number during detraining, hopefully that could help maintain muscle size, but again we’re not entirely sure. So where does this leave you?

Forgetting the mechanistic stuff for a moment, the decrease in muscle size and the decreased strength that occurred, puts you not back to baseline and then regaining pretty quickly. Meaning, you do decrease muscle size and you do decrease strength but you can make that back. So all the data does show quicker regaining, specifically the Staron study, although they only took 30 weeks of detraining and only six weeks of training which is why I think that was a bit fast in how they gained it, but I would take into account training status and say in the Staron study the women were trained, but not super well-trained, so they probably regained it a little more quickly.

But, something to be cautious, we’ll say if you take four or five months off, and this is using the data and being a little bit cautious on my part, so it’s not an exact exact timeframe, but it’s based upon the data and then saying, “Hey, just to make sure “nobody leaves this video thinking they can gain “all their strength back in a week.” being a little cautious. So we take four to five months off, it probably takes about two to four months to regain. So about three months off, two three months to be able to regain.

So in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that much time. I try to stress a lot and think about training in terms of let’s say 20 years or 25 years, right? If you’re in this, and you’re a member of MASS training is important to you, and it’s something that you’re probably gonna do for a long time, and so in that case I would say if you have to take a few months off now, but you know, you have 20 more years to train, it’s really not gonna matter that much. Just as last month we talked about if you wanted to run a marathon, certainly that’s not gonna be ideal for your power lifting progress or for your body building progress in the short term.

But if you have 20 more years to train, you’re gonna be fine. You might as well do it and have some fun. So, mechanistically, we talked about possible contributions: satellite cell and myonuclei number, but certainly there’s neuromuscular changes, fiber type adaptations. Not only the decrease in size, but from a strength perspective, the shifting of the fiber interconversions that you’re gonna see away from type 2, 2X or type 1 if you stop training and then with a loss of skill adaptation, I’m sure we’ve seen this, if you don’t squat for a while, you don’t deadlift for a while, you don’t bench for a while, you go back to it, the movement just feels uncomfortable at first. The rate of force development’s probably lower as well.

So all of those things are gonna harm strength which is why I suggest that the skilled lifts may see a greater detriment in strength from time off than the non skilled lifts if you’re doing a leg extension or a leg press, or something like that, it doesn’t take as much skill as a squat, so you don’t have the skill aspect of it in terms of technique, all you have is the neuromuscular aspect of it.

So where does this leave you? It leaves in the fact that you’re gonna lose some size and strength but it’s not gonna be as much as you think. But, you also need to consider that when you return, even if you haven’t lost as much strength as you thought, or as much size as you thought. You’re going to be more susceptible to muscle damage. Meaning you’re gonna have greater fatigue that occurs when you start to train again, right? And your neural adaptations have diminished and they can be regained quickly.

But if we just focus on these top two, damage and fatigue, even if you haven’t lost as much strength as you thought, or as much size as you thought, when you come back to training, you haven’t done it for three months. So if you haven’t done something for three months, it’s going to fatigue you a lot more easily than it used to.

You’re not completely back to baseline. After one training bout, the repeated bout effect can last for up to six months, right? But the degree to which the repeated bout effect occurs from today to next week is a lot greater than the degree which is occurs from today to three months from now. So you’re going to be susceptible to damage, so you have to take that into account. You’re gonna wanna start back with very little. If you did nothing, and I like to say this a lot too, if you did nothing for three months and now you just do something, it will work.

And so what we’re gonna propose here in the sample program at first isn’t gonna seem like very much training. But remember, doing nothing and now doing something is a lot. I always give the example, you know, I went a long time without ever playing basketball or shooting free throws. I shoot free throws in my drive way every single day now, I’m still terrible, but I’m infinitely better than I was a year ago. Because now I’m actually playing, right? So I was doing nothing and now I’m doing something. Right? I’m still terrible, but relative to where I was, I’m better.

So if you don’t lift for three months and then you just do a little bit, you will make progress. So, your previous numbers don’t matter, you shouldn’t use percentages to start, ’cause you don’t know where your maxes are, we can estimate. You can use RPE, but even at first, I don’t wanna run the risk of overshooting it too much, so what I like to do, is just to program absurdly light loads.

So when we go through this program, we’re gonna give an example program and we’re gonna give what this person’s numbers were before they went on their three-month hiatus, and then we’re gonna give you the absolute numbers in this program and you’re gonna see how light they are and we’ll go through a 12-week program to get us back.

So the goal with this program, or 13-week program, I should say, I ended up adding a 13th week ’cause I wanted to get a little taper in there. But a 13-week retraining program following 12 weeks or three months of detraining, so roughly three months of detraining and then roughly three months of retraining.

So during this three months of retraining, this might not get you all the way back, all right? But it could get you pretty close, and remember this is just one example. So anytime I put together a sample program I think it’s always imperative, just as a reminder that I’m just giving an example of how to do things, this isn’t the only way to do it.

This isn’t the exact program that I would write for everyone, and I think everyone here knows that, it’s just rather an example of saying, “Hey, if this is what you’ve done,” and it’s taking a specific person, right? This person doesn’t actually exist, but I’ve created a training block that this person was doing before they went on their three month hiatus. So based upon that, that’s how we’re creating our retraining program.

So whatever program you were doing, or whatever level you were at, you would wanna take all of these principles and apply them to you. So, our pre-detraining program that we’re gonna see in a moment. This individual is benching and squatting three times per week, about 12 sets and 10 sets respectively, and then deadlifting twice a week for eight sets and then appropriate assistance work and so forth. So about 10 more sets after that per muscle group, around 20 sets or so for some of the muscle groups, a little more, a little less for others. This individual we’re gonna say they have a dual focus they definitely wanna get stronger, but they’ve got a lot of volume in there, they’re definitely focused on hypertrophy as well. So kind of a dual focus, here.

So this is the pre-detraining program. This is training a lot, training six days per week. You can see, benching three times a week as we said, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And then squatting Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in an undulating fashion, RPE for some lifts, using some various assistance movements, and all of the programming tools that we’ve talked about in MASS so far, they’re all in this program, it’s a very similar starting program to what I showed last month in the concurrent marathon video, and then off of that we worked the program to get ready for the marathon, off of this, this kind of standard program for this person, we’re gonna work retraining.

So somebody did this, let’s say their max is on this, 225 kilos, which is about 496 in pounds, if you work in pounds. 140 kilos on bench, that’s about 308 pounds, I believe. And then deadlift 230 which I believe is 507 pounds. So this person’s pretty strong, pretty good base, they’ve definitely been training for a while.

And so if they have these numbers, and it’s important to remember those numbers because we’re gonna use some lower percentages of those as we’re working back. So, this is what this person was doing, pretty high-volume program, training the lifts frequently, training a lot, putting a lot of assistance work in there, and so let’s see how we would retraining.

So they did this and then they had three months off, and now we’re gonna write a three-month program to get ’em back.

So the first two weeks: just do something. Nothing strenuous at all. These are your very first two weeks back from taking three months off. And it’s one thing to say that we take three months off, but actually think about it for a moment. You did not touch a weight for three months. That’s a long time.

Even if you didn’t lose as much size and strength as you thought, you’re really gonna be susceptible to fatigue when you start back. So, we’re only gonna train three total days in the first two weeks.

Each week is gonna be three days, so six total days for two weeks. But three training days per week. You could definitely get away with less than that I should say as well. Even if you only train once or twice. But a frequency of once on the main lifts in the first week, and then getting to a frequency of twice on the main lifts in the second week is what we’re gonna do in this first couple of weeks.

And then, as we said earlier, we’re not gonna use percentages, we’re gonna program absolute loads in week one, and absolute loads in week two and be really conservative. But you’re gonna see, even when we say twice a week in week two, it’s really easy.

So remember, previously this individual could max squat 225 kilos, bench 140, and deadlift 230. Now, our first week back, so week one is up here, I’ll circle it here with the cursor. Training three times per week, you can see squatting just once, benching just once, deadlifting just once. They could squat 225 kilos the first week back, three sets of five, 65 kilograms. I know it’s absurdly light, I know they could do a lot more, even if they could only max 170 kilos and they used to be able to do 225, 65 kilos is exactly 65 more kilos than they had squatted any day after the first three months.

So it’s a really really light load, this is off whatever their projected new max would be which we’ll look at in a moment. This is 30%-ish, something like that, maybe a little bit less, absurdly light.

The assistance work is staying at a five RPE or less just a couple sets of rows here, again even though this is really light, it might cause some fatigue and soreness for the next couple days ’cause they have literally done nothing.

Bench press again, working at 50 kilos, they could have done 140 before, really light, just putting a couple assistance movements in there, nothing strenuous at all. Deadlift just singles at 70 kilos, and they could deadlift 230, right? They’re just doing one rep and no collar on the bar. Some leg extensions and they’re just one set of lateral raises.

Really really easy, it looks like you’re not doing anything, but the goal of the first two weeks was just do something. I’m gonna hit on this next refrain a few more times, but when you’re doing something like this, you’re going to want to do more, right?

If you’ve taken time off, and usually it only takes one or two days, and then you’re motivated and you wanna do more, don’t, right? Only bad things can come from that. If you follow something gradual after taking time off, it’s going to work. You gotta trust the process and you gotta stick with it, and it’s gonna work. If you wanna jump up and do more, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.

So from there, we go into week two, and in week two, you can see on squat, it went from 65 kilos to 80 kilos here. Now you can see at the end of the week, we’ve added a second day of squatting. These six reps at 80 kilos probably aren’t gonna cause much soreness at all, ’cause we’ve elicited the repeated bout effect now, and also what we’ve done is we’ve tried to quote “protect against muscle damage.”

So when you look at the repeated bout effect, by performing such a light load, what that does is it causes a minimal amount of damage but just enough so that way then ultimately there’s recovery of skeletal muscle and there’s repair of skeletal muscle, and it’s more resistant to fatigue here. So we’d also call that protecting against damage. So now we’ve added a second day of squatting in here, but it’s still absurdly light. It’s just doubles here, working at a four to five RPE, and then is just a guide that’s working up to 100 kilos.

The reason I put this in here is, I would ask this person to cap it at 100 kilos, so even if they’re double at a four to five RPE was above that, it gives them a cap, say “Hey, don’t go above that, “that’s as much as I want you to do.” so in week two, we’re still working at absurdly light loads here, we’ve added a second day of bench pressing here as well, you can see bumping up to 65 kilos on the sixes day. And then some doubles here, capping them at 85 kilos on the bench, remember again they could bench 140 before.

So this is still really really light, and even though we’ve gone to a frequency of twice a week, it’s not really a full frequency of twice a week, it’s still absurdly light, here on this day. And this other day is just doubles at really light loads as well, and then we have a little more assistance work, we’ve added a set of curls here, we’ve added a set of pull-ups from two to three and so forth.

But, these first two weeks are pure intro weeks, you’re just doing something, you’re conferring the repeated bout effect and protecting against muscle damage. You’re gonna wanna do more, don’t, stick to the plan. So just doing something here, one thing, and I said we’d get to this, is, you know I would probably take something like 75% of your previous 1RM if you wanted to predict some numbers, and so the old numbers were 225, 75% of that would be 170. 140 would go to 105 for benching 230, we go to 172 and a half.

I think this person might be stronger than this, remember, if you look at the Blazevich and the Staron studies, the percentage decreases in strength after three months off were actually less than this. They were only about maybe 15% or so, they weren’t as much as 25%, but I do think it’s good to be cautious,

I’m taking into account that a lot of people watching this are gonna be more trained than the people that were used in those studies. I just don’t want anybody to overshoot. So if you did this, I think it’s probably a conservative calculation but I bring that light because that means we’re working between 30 and 60 percent in weeks one and two, you know with the exception of the double at five RPE in week two, but even that’s around 60%-ish, meaning that we’re not doing anything crazy here.

All right, everything is very very light, so you were doing nothing, now you’re doing something. It is definitely not too light. So after this, though, we go to weeks three and four. So I don’t think we’re doing real training yet, but I think we’re progressing to real training.

Weeks three and four is a bridge to what I would call your first training block. So, we’re still doing intro, so we’ve had one introductory micro cycle in weeks one and two, now we’re gonna have another introductory micro cycle in weeks three and four, then our first real training block will start in week five.

So now we’re gonna train a total of four times per week, training a total of three times per week before. Working up to a frequency of twice a week on everything, adding a little bit more assistance work and gradually increasing intensity. So just gradually moving things up. So again, before we had three total training days, now we have four. So we can see squat here, and squat here, this is twice a week. Then we have bench here, and bench here, that’s twice a week. And you’ve included another day of deadlifting and just a little bit more assistance work, but everything is really light still. So squat three sets of seven at 100 kilos, so again I’m still programming the exact loads.

Sometimes in this case we know, right, I’m choosing loads that I know are still absurdly light that this person can do without issue, that are still going to cause adaptation, right? Even though it’s really light doesn’t mean it’s not causing adaptation. This still qualifies as progressive overload.

This person on squat had done fives at 60 and then sixes at I believe whatever we programmed the next week was about 85 kilos. Now they’re doing sevens at 100. That’s still progressive overload, so rather than having them use RPE, hey three by seven at five to seven or five to eight RPE, I know if I’m doing that at this point coming back I’m gonna overshoot the RPEs or even if I’m hitting the RPEs, I’m just gonna go so high up in weight that it’s just not necessary yet. I don’t need it. So this still qualifies as progressive overload so I would still utilize this.

Then for the second day of squatting, I’m just working singles here, but I’m doing progressively heavier singles, why? I’m trying to now facilitate those neuromuscular adaptations that were lost by gradually getting into some heavier loads. Same thing on bench, one day here, some higher reps from easier load here, it’s still causing progressive overload, higher load, more reps than they were previously doing and then increasing some singles up to some decent intensities, trying to facilitate those neuromuscular adaptations, and I’m starting to add in some assistance work.

RPEs are really low fours and fives, five to seven for just a couple sets, but the reason being in our next block in week five we’re gonna start doing some assistance work as part of our first real block so we wanna make sure that we’re having enough work here so we’re not so susceptible when we go into a little bit more volume.

And then down here in week four, the only real difference here is that everything is, sure it’s progressed a little bit, and I’ve chosen to progress instead of three by seven at 100 instead of all of these to 105, just one set at 105, peak intensity is more important than average. So again, not doing too much.

And then there’s a single at a six to a seven RPE. So now in week four, we’re finally getting into programming something here really with RPE on the main lifts. And I’ve put in the parenthesis in red about what I would expect this person to hit at that point, just so we can calculate some numbers and see where they might be. So a single at a six to seven, maybe about 180, 180 kilos about 396 pounds, remember they could squat 496 or 225 before so this is probably gonna put them around a max of somewhere in the 200, 190-200-ish range.

So they’re still gonna be considerably below where they were, but I think they can start to get back there and start working on some singles to facilitate some neuromuscular adaptations.

So just gradually increasing, I would call this two weeks the second introductory micro cycle, or progressing to real training. Getting back to some sense of normalcy. And so, everything we just said, we did there: twice a week frequency, but the one time a week is really really light, so it’s not two volume days yet. We took our time on all of this and we’re gradually building to get into our first real block.

So the first real block, I would call this getting four weeks away from normalcy, right? We’re getting back to where we were, we’re getting closer. I still don’t think this person is ready to fully jump back into everything. And even if they are, I don’t think it’s necessary. So I still think you should take advantage of some time, ’cause you’re only in week five here where you can still progress on doing a lot less work than you used to.

So training four times a week here. And I put this in capitals, not because I’m yelling at you, but because I just to know that this is a true two time per week frequency, meaning two full volume days in this block, not the two time a week frequency we had in the introductory micro cycle where it was one volume day and then one just singles day, at really really low intensity. So meaning we have a more challenging intensity here and now we’re beginning to use RPEs because it’s starting to get okay to push things a little bit more, we don’t need to just program the really really light loads, they’re not gonna do as much for us in terms of adaptation.

We’re at a point now after a full four weeks have gone by where we can use RPE and challenge ourselves a bit more. So four day a week training block, for weeks five to eight. So if you notice this individual was using RPE before they did the detraining to program their loads. So we have bench here, three by eight at five to eight RPE and then bench over here: four by four at six to eight RPE and then a single here and I’ll explain that in a moment. But, if we take three, four that’s seven, and then one, that’s eight. That’s eight sets of bench when they were doing the block before the detraining they did 12 sets at bench, so we are gradually climbing back toward that 12 sets. And in the next block that starts in week 10, we’re gonna see that we go to a frequency on the bench press and the squat of three times per week. So we’re still two times a week here, but when we go to three times per week, that’ll help us facilitate more volume, thus we’ll bump it back up to around the 12 set mark. And so, if we just focus on bench for a moment, see how we have the same thing on squat, what we’ve done here, is we’ve added one single at an eight RPE, that’s not too strenuous, but all of this here is between a six and eight RPE, and this is between a five and eight RPE, and the assistance work is submaximal, so the reason for the one single is just to have some neuromuscular adaptations to help with rate of force development, and we’ve talked about some heavy-ish singles here in MASS before.

I think the single will progress really well every week during this block, because you just weren’t working up to anything heavy at all, and if you haven’t done anything in a while, or any heavy work in a while, and you start to do some singles, I think you notice progress pretty quickly. So that’s the point of it here. But it’s not too strenuous and it’s probably not going to be as heavy as it would be otherwise, because you’re doing it after the volume work and then the same principles apply on squat, we have that on Tuesday and on Friday.

On deadlift here, I have singles at 70-80% of the new projected max, we projected the max previously because we were able to go ahead and take that single on deadlift on a six to seven RPE, 190, you can go ahead, and we’ve done this in MASS, if you have velocity you can predict to one around, if you have the equation, you can predict to one around of something like that. And so I would take about 70-80% of this. If you prefer to use RPE, you can say somewhere between a five to a six, or a five to seven RPE for your singles.

And then we’ve added some assistance work here. If you notice though, even though we’ve added some assistance work, it’s still not too too difficult, six to eight RPE, a couple seven and nines mixed in. Some five to sevens here, some five to eight early on in the block. So just doing a little bit more and preparing for the next block to come after this. But gradually getting things a little bit higher, some singles to get some neuromuscular work. And so again, the first time here with two full volume days is in our fifth full week back. And the first time here where we’re using RPE and challenging ourselves a little more rather than programming absurdly light loads as in our fifth week back.

So I think that this is a key block force here, this week five to eight, ’cause there’s some thirst here in terms of full volume days and finally getting rid of the absurdly light loads and some heavy-ish singles. But still, our volume is much lower than when we started training about four sets lower on bench, we said.

At 12 sets before the detraining and now eight sets and still we have only two days a week frequency instead of three on main loads. So after that, instead of jumping into the next block because we did do a lot more in weeks five to eight than we did in weeks one to four.

So, you took three months off, so one week of taper/intro isn’t gonna hurt you, it’s just preparing you, because the next block, I think we’re about ready to go back to almost full force with three times a week frequency, and getting our volume back up there. So between weeks eight and 10, in week nine, do an intro week. Three times per week frequency though, so if we were only doing two times a week frequency before, with two volume days,

I think this taper/intro’s a great time to start to introduce three times a week frequency, but one of the days is really really light and it prepares you for the next block. So let’s take a look. So if we take that squat, look at squat, we have our squat here, and we can see three sets of five using RPE climb, five, six, and seven RPE in each set.

And then at the end of the week, we can see three sets of three at five to seven, remember this is a taper, this is an intro week, five to seven RPE is really easy, but what this taper allows us to do with these easy loads is we’ve put a third day of squatting in and a third day of benching a quote “power” or “light day”, three singles at 75%, the projected max that you would get with the heavy singles that you took at the end of the previous block at the eight RPE.

So adding some assistance work in here just to prepare. This week should be very easy and light. But obviously, even though it’s lighter, it’s gonna give you a rest, you’re probably gonna feel more recovered, and you’ve introduced a day of training, a new frequency, you’re going to three times a week. So you’re certainly not going to get weaker from doing this intro week.

Now, we go into what I would call back to normal training in weeks 10 to 13, right? So this would be the last meso-cycle of the block that we’re looking at here today. Training a total of six times per week, with a true frequency, meaning three volume days of three times per week on the squat and bench which is exactly what we were doing before the detraining.

And then I’d finally start to add in some integrated periodization to allow for some heavier work and hopefully push the 1RMs back to where they were. And I do think that’s possible after these 13 weeks. So if we look at this last block here, this should say week 10-13, but if we look at this last block. We can see now take bench four sets, RPE’s a little higher.

Over here we have four sets, and then over here we have four more sets, a double here, a heavy double. And then three sets of volume, that brings us back to our 12 sets that we were previously. So let’s just focus on the bench for a moment and the squat, and then we’ll go to the assistance movements and the deadlift. But if we look at that, and we can see bench in an undulating fashion, eight reps here, five reps here, again, this isn’t a requirement for anybody, it’s just how I like to program. And then, if we go down here, what I’ve done in this block is, at the end of the week on squat and bench, there’s a heavy-ish double, and then the next few weeks is gonna transition to a heavy-ish single.

Again, to facilitate those neuromuscular adaptations. Now that we’re getting in enough volume here, this is much more volume than we were doing. So there still is room, and this is what I’m talking about the integrated periodization strategies, to still put in some heavy work and facilitate neuromuscular adaptations.

And again, if you haven’t done heavy things, this is going to consistently push up your max pretty quickly in a short time span. The same thing on squat here. Deadlift is getting a little bit higher using the projected max of 80% one day and 85% in the first week of this block of week 10.

And we’ve added in a lot more assistance work now, still have some max on maximal RPEs, but some of them are getting up there a little bit higher, we have some seven and nines here in terms of the RPEs. And we’re definitely adding more sets. Four sets of curls, four sets of rows here on this day. You know back is being trained about three times a week, here. Shoulders about two to three times a week. So we’re definitely increasing the amount of assistance work we’re doing.

And we’re pretty much back to normal with the exception of I’m still trying to push up that 1RM a little bit, so we are using some submaximal doubles and then going to singles in the next few weeks of this block to get those neuromuscular adaptations. So back to normal in this block.

What I wanna highlight on this slide is, I’m circling with the cursor here, is that I showed you week 10, in week 11, 12, and 13, remember in week 10 there was a double at an eight to nine on squat and bench? I would gradually progress that day to get the neuromuscular adaptations and push up the 1RM. In week 11, I would probably have a single at an eight to nine on squat and bench. And a single at 87 and half percent on the deadlift, or three singles, it was 85% in week 10. So that’s gradually increasing. Again, the same eight to nine RPE, I still think you’re gonna be able to increase load from week 11 to 12, no problem. Because this is still a new stimulus.

And then, working up to a deadlift single at an eight to nine on week 12. So we’re finally getting closer to being able to really feel comfortable pushing heavy weights and working close to a 1RM. Then week 13, an eight and a half to a nine and half RPE single on squat and bench. And deadlift at nine, nine and a half, getting finally your three months into this retraining which was the exact time the detraining was, and can you get back to where you were in three months? And I think if you use this strategy, you can get some neuromuscular adaptations and push those lifts up there towards the end of this training block.

So, some thoughts and wisdom from doing this. Typically I don’t take a whole lot of time off from training just to take it. Although I’ve certainly had times that have been busy in my life and I’ve had to. And you know we all have little injuries and things and so forth from time to time.

But I have had times where I’ve had to come back from being off for a couple months or so. So if you go through something like this, just from being there, and I’m sure many many people watching this video have been there as well, just do something, it will cause progress. You will progress quickly as well.

Right, if you can think back to when you first started to train, years ago, or maybe you’re in the early stages of your training career now, it’s really fun, right? You start to gain pretty quickly. You’re going to do that, so enjoy it, right? If you wanna do more, don’t do it. You know, stick to the plan, if you get passed the first three months or so, if you’ve been off for three months, I think that’s a pretty good rule, as long as you’ve been off, once you’ve started training for that amount of time again and then you start to wanna do more, and push it or go off the plan, it’s okay. But if you’re within those first three months and you’ve got three months off, don’t do more than you’re supposed to.

You’re going to make progress ’cause you did nothing and now you do something. So enjoy that. Now once you get passed these three months and you’re making really fast progress, you’re not gonna expect the same progress in the next block after this, right? That’s when you’re probably gonna start to level off a little bit. So temper your expectations. And if you’re new to training, you’re probably making all this progress now, but it’s not gonna last forever, right? So temper your expectations.

So applications and takeaways, again, following months of detraining, you will lose size and strength, but it’s probably not as much as you think, when you start back, work gradually and understand that your previous numbers simply don’t apply. If you start back the first week and say oh well I could squat 225 before, and so you know I’ve done 175 for twelve, so you know I’ll just do 175 kilos for a bunch of fives on my first day, I should still be able to do that, don’t do it. Could you do it? Even that, that’s probably a little much, probably not, but even if you could, don’t do it.

Your previous numbers do not apply. Program some absurdly light loads and start back, don’t do more than you need to. And then just stay calm and focused. Your adaptations will come back and it won’t take that long. You know , I can’t stress this enough, if you do plan on training for many many years, and I’m sure a lot of us do, then, it’s gonna get there. You just have to be patient with it. It’s not easy and I break that rule all the time myself, so it’s more of a “do as I say, not as I do” type of thing, ’cause I’m not a very good coach with myself.

But you know if you can stay patient, stay calm and stay focused, and trust that this gradual process will work, it ultimately will work and then there will be a time to push it and go off plan later on. But not in the first three months that you’re coming back.

Lastly I just wanted to say on the bottom of this slide and in the blue font, that this video isn’t look at coming back from an injury. I’m not a physical therapist, and I think there are some really cool strategies coming back from injury whether it’s around manipulating the movement and doing, if you can’t squat, doing a box squat, or doing some portion of the movement that you can, and then when you can do the movement, using a lighter load. Working on slow eccentrics to make sure you’re not overloading too much in the early stages of coming back.

You know, the biopsychosocial model of pain is very interesting, however it’s not something I consider myself to be an expert on, I’m not a physical therapist. So I just wanna say that ’cause I don’t want anybody watching this to think that this applies to everything or it applies to someone coming back from an injury.

If you’re coming back from an injury, you’re certainly gonna probably have to modify exercises, consult with your physical therapist, and I would probably let them lead the way. If you’re just coming back from time off, that’s what this video applies to.

But I really enjoyed making this one, I’ve enjoyed the last couple months, putting together these sample programs and to provide some really practical takeaways and practical programs that you guys can take out of this, and manipulate to be specific to you, or take a program that we have here, and take that and go ahead and use it.

So hopefully you guys enjoy that. I’ll try to keep doing that type of thing to give you guys information that you can put into practice right away. As always it’s an honor and pleasure to do this and I will see you guys next month.


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  2. Staron RS, Leonardi MJ, Karapondo DL, Malicky ES, Falkel JE, Hagerman FC, Hikida RS. Strength and skeletal muscle adaptations in heavy-resistance-trained women after detraining and retraining. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1991 Feb 1;70(2):631-40.
  3. Kadi F, Schjerling P, Andersen LL, Charifi N, Madsen JL, Christensen LR, Andersen JL. The effects of heavy resistance training and detraining on satellite cells in human skeletal muscles. The Journal of physiology. 2004 Aug;558(3):1005-12.
  4. Murach KA, Dungan CM, Dupont-Versteegden EE, McCarthy JJ, Peterson CA. “Muscle Memory” Not Mediated By Myonuclear Number?: Secondary Analysis of Human Detraining Data. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2019 Sep 12.

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