Christine Envall Female Bodybuilder Australia


You look forward to every training session , your training has been going really well, your weights have all increased so you know you are getting stronger, your clothes feel tighter in the shoulders and across the back so you know you've put on some quality mass... then the dreaded happens... you have to take a break from the gym!!

Nothing ruins the momentum of a good training run like an enforced break from the gym. Whether it be changed work schedules or personal reasons that prevent you from fitting in your workouts, an injury or illness that forces you to rest or perhaps it's that holiday you planned months ago, at one time or another all of us find ourselves away from our normal gym or training routine.


Taking a break from the gym doesn't have to mean all the work you put in previously is lost, and depending on the length of your break you should be able to get your training back to where it was within a month of returning to the gym. Making gains in the gym is all about being consistent. Training regularly with high intensity over an extended period of time will result in muscle gain so the quicker you can get back into the training groove the sooner you will start to see the results in your body again.

Some people believe a break is good for the body, but I find the mental and physical pain of getting back into training after the break just doesn't make it worth while. My fear (or should I say intense hatred) of how it feels to start training again after a break has been motivation enough to never take a long break. In fact, I attribute a lot of my muscle gains to the fact that until last month I had never taken more than 10 days in a row off training. Every time you have a break your body doesn't just 'stand still' in terms of strength and size, it actually de-trains, so when you go back to training you are starting from a point you were at maybe two months earlier. You then have to get back to where you were two months ago before you start to go forward. I liken taking unnecessary breaks from training to the old two steps forward, one step back so you'll never get as far ahead as the person who simply trains.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the inevitable does happen and sometimes you have no choice but to take an extended break from training. Usually this break serves as an amazing motivator; have you ever WANTED to train more than when you CAN'T?? When you finally get back to the gym you are so enthused to train that you just want to jump right back in where you left off.


After talking to and observing a lot of people returning to training and from my own experience I believe you will find one of the following happens when you hit the gym again:

1. You feel so refreshed and strong... until you get under that first weight and you realize how much strength you've lost, how much your pain threshold has dropped and how awkward every movement feels. It is at this point that you remember why you never take a break from the gym (this is the category I fall into).

2. You feel very strong, your weights have all gone up (you even start to think you should take breaks more often)... until the next day when you can hardly move due to muscle stiffness which stays with you for a week causing you to skip your next workout. (my training partner fits into this group)

3. Your body has become so used to resting that you find it really hard to even get through your workout and you feel like packing it in and going home. You decide you like resting more than training. (Often if you've been ill you'll fit into this category).

If you find yourself in the first category generally you tend to go into the gym and expect to do the weights you were doing before your break but due to the detraining effect you are working much harder to do those same weights. If you have only had a short break (a couple of weeks) once you get through a couple of workouts for each body-part you will find yourself pretty much where you were in terms of strength, but you will go through a lot of pain in the process.

People who fall into the second category, depending on how long they have been away from the gym, run the risk of never getting back into a good training routine. Instead of easing into training gently they push to new limits and in one workout all the recovery benefits of their rest are gone and they find themselves worse off than before. They fall into a trap of missing more workouts to allow their body to recover but their training frequency is no longer enough to give them muscle gains.

Those in the third category have the hardest time of all as they have to regain the mental motivation to train as well as the physical fitness. If you do not want to train because it all feels like too much hard work it is very hard to motivate yourself to do much more than make a token appearance at the gym.

Regardless of which category you find yourself in when you try to get back into training, by the following these guidelines you will find the transition back to normal training a much less painful experience.



1. Start training the same number of days and use the same split as you were doing before you took the break.

2. For your first week of training, choose 2 of your regular exercises (3 if you less than 1 month off) per body part.

3. Warm up thoroughly on each exercise by doing about 30 reps with a very light weight just to get used to the movement again.

4. Do one less set than you were doing for each exercise (ie if you normally do 4 sets, only do 3 for the first week).

5. If you had less than one month off, only go as heavy as your second heaviest weight (if you use a pyramid system), but start with the same weight you would normally use. If you normally use the same weight for all sets, choose a weight about 75% - 85% of your usual weight.

6. If you had more than one month off training (but less than four), start with a weight half as heavy as what you would normally start with and work up to a weight about as heavy as what you would normally use on your second set (if you use a pyramid system). If you use the same weight for all sets, choose a weight 50% - 60% of your usual weight.

7. For your second week of training, add in the rest of your regular exercises, but again, do one less set and choose the weight as described in points 5 & 6.

8. Assess how you feel with the number of exercises you are doing. Is it time to add that extra set you were doing back in? Depending on how long you had off, you may stay with the one less set for two or three weeks until your fitness comes back. Try to put the extra set back in sooner rather than later, even if you don't put the weight up, as your goal is to get back to where you were with training intensity/volume.

9. Assess how you feel with the weight you are doing. If you are failing on your last set keep your weight the same when you add in the extra set. If you are getting all your reps out, when you put the extra set back in, go back to your usual heaviest weight (or second heaviest weight depending on how long you had off. It may take a little time for your full strength to come back). Congratulations, you are back in your normal training groove.

10. Remember, you will be sore, even with less weight and fewer exercises. That is normal. You shouldn�t be that sore that you can�t move the next day.



I will assume that you used to do a split program and will want to go back to that immediately rather than start on a whole body general program.

1. Forget what you used to do in the gym before you had the break (at least for the first two months of training anyway!).

2. It is often a good idea to

a) change gyms from where you used to train

b) choose different machines or exercises so you don't have a direct comparison of what you used to do (it may depress or frustrate you to see how much strength you have lost)

3. Decide how you want to split your body up. Four days per week should be enough. Aim to train each body-part once or twice per week.

4. Choose 2 basic exercises per body-part. Do 3 sets per exercise.

5. Try to think that this is your first time in a gym and choose light weights. As I said, forget what you used to do in the gym (that was some fit person you used to know, not you) and pick up weights that are very comfortable to handle. For the first 2-4 weeks you should be concentrating on getting used to technique and movement again. You are also getting your tendons and joints used to moving with added weight.

6. After 2-4 weeks start to determine what sort of weight you should be handling. If you can get 10 reps out comfortably, put the weight up. If it you still get 10 reps out easily, put it up again, and so on. This process should take another 2-4 weeks until you find a weight where you fail on about 6-8 reps on your last set.

During this process is a good time to go up to 4 sets. Pick a time when you found the weight you used on your 3rd set was too light to do an extra set with a heavier weight.

7. Once you have determined your 'working' weights it is time to add in some more exercises for each body-part. Add them in 1 or 2 per workout for each body-part. Use your training weights on other exercises as a guide to the weight you should be using.

8. By the time you have the number of exercises you want in your program and have determined your 'working' weights for all of those exercises you should have been back training at least 2 months. Now you can start to think about the weights you used to train with and use them as a 'goal' or 'inspiration' for your current training. If your old weights were much heavier than what you are using now, don�t sacrifice form to reach those weights.

NOTE: I have read that if you are returning after an injury, it is a good idea to take as long as what you had off due to the injury to get back to your normal level of training. I have never had to come back from an injury, but this sounded like good advice to me.

(Australian Ironman Magazine  Volume 6 # 8 1999)  

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