WATCH: Recouping After Sickness

One of the comments on this YouTube video asked me to address how to restart training after a forced layoff of more than a week. It's a great question, so here goes.

First, if you're out of the gym for more than a week, you better have a damned good reason. Planning a longer layoff is a perfectly fine reason. Having a minor head cold or even a bad sinus infection is not. Once you're no longer contagious, you better have your ass back in the gym doing something, even if it's light. For me, more than a week out of the gym, unplanned, means you're seriously injured, hospitalized, or something equally extreme. I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but they're few and far between.

Now, let's say something like that does happen — for instance (and I'm just making this up) you're out 10 days for having your appendix removed. Bad situation, but good reason. Now you're feeling better and it's time to get back up to speed.

Your first step should be to take a day or two just to go through the motions with no more than 50% 1RM on the main lifts. Technique is typically the first thing to start to falter after a break, so we want to give ourselves some time to address that before moving on to heavier loading. If you're feeling up to it, you can also include some light recovery work.

Once you've got your groove back, then it's time to start piling on the weight — but not all at once. Instead, try to stretch your "catch-up" phase over a longer period of time. I like a 2-to-1 ratio: for every week you're out of the gym, plan to take two weeks to return to that level of strength. So in our imaginary scenario we're taking about 20 days to get back up to our pre-break strength levels.

During that ramp-up phase, I strongly recommend using some form of autoregulation as the primary method of determining loading. On days when you feel good you're likely to be able to use very close to your initial loads, but on other days you might feel like half of that is heavy. It's vitally important to listen to your body during this stage and not rush things — in fact, try to hold yourself back as much as possible. This will help you to re-establish momentum to carry you through a long and productive training cycle.

Here's a quick idea of what a squat progression might look like in our hypothetical case.

  • Week 1: 405x2x5
  • Week 2: 425x3x3
  • Week 3: 440x4x2

10-day layoff, no training at all

  • Week 4: 225x5x5
  • Week 5: 315x5x5
  • Week 6 (feeling particularly good): 315x3, 365x3, 405x3
  • Week 7: 405x5
  • Week 8 (feeling awful): 315x3x5
  • Week 9: 425x3x3

    And then we're back to our pre-layoff strength levels with lots of room to spare.

    I'll be the first to admit that this is a very conservative approach, but I've become much more conservative as I've gotten older. Regardless of your training age, though, I believe that a slow-and-steady method is the best for long-term success.

    Good luck, stay healthy, and train hard!


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