Restarting After Some Time Off

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT

With lockdown restrictions easing as we recover from the Covid-19 crisis, many gyms have begun to open up. Undoubtedly, many people are eager to get back to the gym and get after their fitness goals again. With many of us not having had any exposure to heavy weightlifting during the duration of the lockdown, it is important that we have the right action plan and mindset when restarting our training.

Leave Your Ego

Some areas have had restrictions in place for over 2 months, maybe even more. Which means 2 months of your joints not being exposed to any kind of heavy loading or extreme ranges of motion. It’s important that the first few training sessions are focused on reacclimating the body to this type of stress. Think back to when you were first introduced to Olympic Weightlifting and your session should resemble more of that initially. Some detraining is assumed to have happened, so for now, be smart and enjoy the process rather than focus on the weight you are lifting.

Some helpful guidelines:

1) Stick to weights around 60% of your best 1RM and work on technique; You may even just stick to variations like muscle snatching to get used to having the barbell in your hands again.

2) Pauses in different positions are recommended to help reestablish positions and rebuild foundations.

3) Plan to do less volume than you normally would; we are not in the same shape we were in before lockdown so we can’t expect to train the same way for now although trained individuals tend to regain their form quickly.

4) Expect to be sore the next day even if you are training with light weights and less volume. Olympic lifts are now a novelty stress to our body after time off and therefore will make us sore.

5) Focus on the process and technique rather than trying to test how much you’ve lost during quarantine. Now is the time to rebuild consistency rather than risk being injured doing something you haven’t done in a while.

Priorities

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what you should prioritize in your training after an extended break. Here’s a list in order of most important to least important to help organize your training:

1) Strength- Olympic weightlifting is an explosive power sport and you can’t have a high rate of force development if you have a limited ability to exert force. Overall squatting, pulling, and overhead strength needs to be a strong (pun definitely intended) emphasis when returning to training. You can also add in local strength of the trunk, rotator cuff, ankles, back, and elbows.

2) Technique- This is the perfect time to spend more time rebuilding your technique and developing a consistent pattern again. While you are doing heavy strength training it makes perfect sense to program lighter Olympic lifting for technique work. Under high stress the body tends to default to the most practiced pattern so it would be smart to work on building good technique now.

3) Training frequency- It’s to be expected that we are deconditioned after taking some time off. You can expect to be sore in your first few workouts even if the training doesn’t seem to be that significant. Slowly build the frequency back up to where you were pre-pandemic. Taking your time to build back up allows your body to make the necessary adaptations so it can handle more volume (sets x reps x intensity and frequency of training). I would start with 60-70% of our peak frequency pre-pandemic for the first 2-3 weeks e.g. if you were training 4x a week before lockdown start with 2-3 training sessions a week.

Sample Week

I’ve provided a sample week of training to help structure your training.

Day 1

1) Muscle snatch + Overhead squat (3+3) 30-50% x4 sets

I recommend pausing at the bottom of each overhead squat for just a second to get some extra time in that position.

2) Hover snatch pull 70-80% x4 sets x2 reps

Straps are optional. You may choose to not use them to redevelop your calluses.

3) Barbell strict press 60-70% x4 sets x4 reps

You can base this off of your best strict press or best clean and jerk numbers.

4) Barbell front squat 70% x 4 sets x4 reps

Focus on moving well and getting use to the front rack and deep knee flexion.

5) Barbell bent over row x3x8

6) Whatever abs and upper back hypertrophy work you want to do.

Day 2

1) Deadlift 70-80% x4 sets x4 reps

Based on your best deadlift numbers

2) Weighted split squat x3 sets x 8 reps/ side + Chin up x3 sets x6-10 reps

For the split squats you can choose to hold whatever weighted implement you want. I recommend being more conservative in this scenario rather than more ambitious.

3) Standing landmine press x3 sets x6-8 reps/side + Single leg hip thruster off a bench x3 sets x8-10 reps/ side

4) Dumbbell pull over x3 sets x8 reps + Any rotator cuff exercises x3 sets x10 reps/side

5) Any arm or trunk work you want to add in

Day 3

1) Power snatch + snatch (2+2) 50-60% x3-4 sets

Focus on making the reps perfect. Resist the urge to go heavier than this for now.

2) Power clean + clean + power jerk (1+1+2) 50-60% x3-4 sets

I recommend staying away from the split jerk in your first few weeks to establish a strong vertical dip and drive first. This also allows time to take care of any asymmetries you might have through training before resuming the split jerk.

3) Back squat 70-80% x4 sets x4 reps

4) Dumbbell bent over row x 3 sets x 10 reps/side + abs x3 sets x time or reps

5) Upper back body building x3 sets x10-12 reps

Sometimes it can be difficult to restart training after such a long break but it’s important to be patient and start back up slowly. You understandably have a lot of enthusiasm and motivation but focus on rebuilding a solid foundation first to allow for more intensive training later on. I hope this post is helpful for those of us who are slowly starting to return to the gym. Be safe and here’s to many PR’s to come.