The last two years of my life have been, as I’ve mentioned in prior articles, about as outlandish and hyperbolic as two years could be. Amidst all the partying and my subsequent incarceration, I took several layoffs… which was a bit of a shock after about 20 years of training in which I never took a week off. When I was asked a few years ago how best to come back from a layoff I was as mute as I would have been if someone cut off my fingers and tongue, because I had no clue- I’d never come back from a layoff. Now that I’ve been a colossal shitbird / party animal, however, I have a damn good idea because I’ve done it a number of times- where I wouldn’t respond previously for lack of knowledge I now am equipped to lay out a plan for anyone interested that will have them rising from the ashes of their layoff like Dark Phoenix to lay waste to everything around them and slay weights like they’re Pygmies and you’re the Congolese Army.
Every now and again, life hands you an ass whipping the likes of which haven’t been seen since Wandy kneed and soccer kicked Rampage Jackson half to death in Pride 28, and your training necessarily has to take a back seat. Even if that doesn’t happen, you are more than likely going to get burned out on training at some point and just sit your ass on the couch for a month or two. You’ll spend the first couple of days thinking about how you’re going to lose all your gains. Maybe a week later you’ll hit the gym to discover your lifts haven’t really suffered, and then your lifts will space out a little further, and a little further. Here’s the cool thing- unless you go on a starvation diet and dive-bomb Rich Piana-style into a medical coma, you’re not going to lose too much strength.
That last statement assumes you have a few years of aggressive training under your belt, and that even in your layoff you’re still at least as cognizant of getting adequate protein as a cat is that a cucumber may not be a snake. Should either of those two facets of your layoff fail to materialize, you might experience different results. Provided you have those two things, however, after a month or two off you might be looking at a 10-15% drop in your typical top end strength numbers. While that seems massive, it’s not- getting that back takes two months, tops. Frankly, as I surge in strength and then get bored again (repeatedly), I lunge closer and closer to my best top end numbers even without dieting like a maniac or killing myself in the gym. It’s weird- although it was insanely difficult to get a 415 bench, I can train my ass off for two months and see 415+ at the end of the tunnel without even really trying… and when I say without even really trying, I mean that to get that 415 bench in the first place I was training 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day, and I can get within shouting distance of it again with 4-5 intense (but not eye-bleedingly intense) workouts a week.
“EVEN IF SUBSEQUENTLY SUBJECTED TO GRAVE ATROPHY, THE HIGHER NUMBER OF MYONUCLEI IS RETAINED, AND THE MYONUCLEI SEEM TO BE PROTECTED AGAINST THE ELEVATED APOPTOTIC ACTIVITY OBSERVED IN ATROPHYING MUSCLE TISSUE. FIBRES THAT HAVE ACQUIRED A HIGHER NUMBER OF MYONUCLEI GROW FASTER WHEN SUBJECTED TO OVERLOAD EXERCISE, THUS THE NUCLEI REPRESENT A FUNCTIONALLY IMPORTANT ‘MEMORY’ OF PREVIOUS STRENGTH. THIS MEMORY MIGHT BE VERY LONG LASTING IN HUMANS, AS MYONUCLEI ARE STABLE FOR AT LEAST 15 YEARS AND MIGHT EVEN BE PERMANENT” (GUNDERSON).
If you went full blank-faced, wide-eyed Lindsay Lohan when you saw the word “myonuclei”, the TLDR is that muscle memory lasts at least 15 years and might be permanent, which means you’ll be able to regain your peak level of strength with far less effort than it took to achieve initially when you finally decide to pick the barbell back up. That’s awesome, and if you think about it, it makes sense- once you’ve climbed to the peak of a mountain, hunting around for the best access point to the peak, each subsequent effort will go much more quickly and smoothly because you’ve already been there.
Your return is going to consist of two sections- machines and free weights. If you lack access to machines, I’ve got you covered, but in my opinion the best way to recondition yourself for the gym is two weeks of machine work. The reason for this is mostly narcissistic, but there’s a practical component as well- you’re prepping your muscles to handle free weights without exposing yourself to the possibility of injury. I realize that doesn’t seem to fall in line with my general mindset, but I can explain my logic in two parts:
- To me, having anything but elite strength is embarrassing in the same way that shitting your pants at your own wedding is embarrassing, and I’d like to whet my teeth on some machines to feel out weights and build a little baseline strength before I potentially embarrass myself on the bench or in the squat rack.
- I know myself- I will want to max out as soon as humanly possible to see where I stand and how far I must go. With no physical preparation, this is goddamned stupid- your body has lost its rhythm, you don’t have good bar paths, your ligaments and tendons are totally unprepared to handle heavy weights, and all the tiny support muscles, like the supraspinatus, are totally detrained. Even if you don’t hurt yourself physically, you’re likely to hurt yourself mentally by hitting the free weights and getting stapled by a weight that should be easier than finding a Nazi in Charlottesville.
As I stated, the first two weeks of this program will be done entirely on Hammer Strength machines, cables, and the like. This is just a physical preparatory period designed to get you back to moving some weights without exposing yourself to injury and to prep your muscles for the DOMS nightmare looming on the horizon. The reps here will necessarily be a bit higher, as the volume just gives you a bit of time under tension and is going to induce some soreness without killing you. Lest you worry that your time will be wasted in these two weeks, consider the guys who famously based their workouts heavily on machine work- Big Ramy, Casey Viator, Bob Cicherillo, Mike Mentzer, Phil Heath… and the list goes on. Machine work, according to most bodybuilders, results in far more hypertrophy than free weight work, which means you’ll get a bit of your size back while you’re getting a pump and flushing your musculature with enough blood to feed a family of ravenous 30 Days of Night vampires for a week. On top of that, you’re sort of “greasing the groove” as Pavel says- you’re allowing your body to be led through the motor path for various exercises to sort of jog your muscles’ cellular memory without exposing yourself to undo risk of injury that could occur with a wonky bar path (Krakauer).
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, guys like Roger Estep actually had an offseason, wherein they’d either not train or train very little. That didn’t stop them from rocking physiques that would have had the Hulk shamefully masturbating in the corner.
Move like you’re Chris Kattan on an eight ball of coke during this first fortnight of training- you’re not in the gym to chat up the insanely hot guy/girl/trans person you’re ogling from across the gym, and you likely don’t look good enough to pick them up anyway. So walk your jiggly ass quickly to the water fountain after each set, get a quick drink, then go right back to your next set. It’s not like you’re in the kind of shape wherein you’re gonna pick up anyone at the gym anyway, so keep it moving and burn off some flab while you’re getting back in the swing of things.
Week 1 and 2
Day 1- Chest and Shoulders
Chest Press- 3×8; 3×6; 1 death set with 80% of the weight you used in your first 3 sets (death set is a set done to complete failure [i.e. death])
Incline Chest Press (or Incline Smith)- 4×10
Pec Deck/Cable Crossover-3×12
Machine Shoulder Press- 2×10; 5×8; 1 death set with 80% of the weight you used in your first 2 sets
Lateral Raises- 5×10
Real Machine Laterals- 4×10
Day 2- Back
Hammer Row / Dumbbell Row- 6×8
Cable Row- 2×10; 2×8; Death set with one plate lighter than your first two sets
Face Pulls- 3×20
Day 3- Legs
Leg Press / Squat Machine- 3×10; 3×8
Leg Curl- 5×10
Leg Extension- 4×10
Calf Raise- 3×50 (yeah, sets of 50. I believe I picked this little tidbit up from Tom Platz and told my last training partner about it. They hadn’t been able to grow their calves for shit using any method, and this method blew them up fast)
Day 4- Arms
Rope Curls- 6×10
Rope Pushdowns- 6×10
Dumbbell Curl- 4×8
Dumbbell Skullcrusher- 4×8 (these are done laying on the floor, legs out straight, bringing the dumbbells down just above and outside your ear. Rest the dumbbell on the floor for one second, then return to the starting position.)
Day 5- Potluck for 45 minutes
This is a fill in the blanks day- I just bounce around the gym for 45 minutes getting a pump on. If you want to ogle that chick you’ve been side-eying all week, go work out near her. I’d recommend doing more calves (your calves can never be too big), some forearms (your grip is going to need work, as are your callouses), and more shoulders. Shoulder strength seems to have the most carryover to other lifts, in my experience, and jacked shoulders will make you look bigger than you are while you’re training to refill those shirts that have gotten a little loose on you. Really, though, what you do on this day is entirely up to you. Just get your ass into the gym and train like breaking the dry spell that has you rocking a half gallon of yogurt in your pants depends on it. Because it does.
Days 6 and 7- Off
Now, as I mentioned, I realize some of you lack access or have some horrible allergy to machines, which I have to say is lamentable. Nevertheless, it is of course possible to rise out of your indolence utilizing only barbells, though you won’t have the same hypertrophy that the machine users use, in all likelihood, because you will be forced to use light weights while you relearn your bar paths, and you’ll likely be far sorer because you’ll have to utilize far more stabilizers than the machine users would. For non-machine users, I recommend the following (because I had to do this in the past year as well):
Champagne Press– 4×8 (10RM)
Incline Flies- 3×8 (10RM)
Strict Military Press- 4×10 (12RM)
Lateral Raise- 3×10 (12RM)
Rear Lateral Raise- 3×10 (12RM)
Day 2– Band Work
Tricep Pushdowns- 10xAMRAP
Day 3– Back and Shoulders
Pendlay Row- 5×8 (10RM) (pull explosively into your solar plexus to the point that you’re bruised)
Pullups- 6x AMRAP-2 (so you’re stopping just short of failure on every set)
Face Pulls- 4×20
Lateral Raises- 6×8 (10RM)
Day 4– Band Work and Bodyweight Work
Pullups- 75 total reps, in as many sets as it takes
Dips- 150 total reps, in as many sets as it takes
Tricep Pushdowns- 5xAMRAP
Day 5– Legs
Squat- 5×5 (10RM) (going light on these because you’re going to be insanely sore, and getting back in the groove on the squat is by far and away the hardest thing you’re going to have to do in this month)
Stiff Leg Deadlift- 5×8 (10RM)
Calf Raise- 3×50
Days 6 and 7– Off
Now it’s going to be time to pick up the pace a little bit. Stay on top of knotting- self massage is as essential as protein during the initial month of training. Neglect it at your peril. Time to fight like you don’t deserve to live and give the weights a bit of the old “what for.” You’ve screwed around long enough.
Dumbbell Skullcrushers- 4×6 (8RM) (these are done laying on the floor, legs out straight, bringing the dumbbells down just above and outside your ear. Rest the dumbbell on the floor for one second, then return to the starting position.)
Now, you might think that this program is light on legs, and it is- this is because in the last year I have discovered when you come back off a layoff nothing gets as sore as your legs. Your legs are going to be more sore than a porn star’s vag after a world record gangbang. It’s obnoxious, but it’s true.
So there you have it- you can come back harder than a diamond in an ice storm if you just put some will into it. There is no sense in beating yourself up for lost time, lamenting what could have been if you hadn’t taken time off, or bitching about the current state of your strength or physique. All you can do is put your head down, attack the weights like a rabid dog attacking an old lady, eat as much protein as you can fit down your gullet, and watch the gainz pile up. If it were any easier, it’d be basketball.