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How to Return to Lifting after a Layoff

For me, January is the worst month of the year when it comes to weightlifting. After missing workouts during the Holidays, traveling, and barely sleeping it just ends up being a recovery period.

You may have missed workouts too. You may have gone back to the gym this month, tried the same weights and discovered you can’t even move them. If this is the case, you need to return to lifting, but how do you go back to making progress?

Let’s answer that

First of all we have to understand there are different kinds of layoffs:

  • No gym for 2-3 weeks + good nutrition + good sleep / No Gym for 2-3 weeks + low protein intake + bad sleep
  • Injury
  • Layoff caused by sickness
  • Family Crisis
  • 1 workout a week + good nutrition + good sleep
  • BW training only + good nutrition + good sleep
  • No gym 2-4 weeks + good nutrition + OK sleep
  • etc.

Each of these is going to affect your body differently so there is no universal answer for what you need to do when you get back in the gym.

But I assume most people missed the gym for only about 2-5 weeks, had pretty good nutrition and Ok sleep, so that’s what we’ll focus on.

Here’s how you go back to making progress:

  1. Drop the ego. If you tried and you can’t lift as much as you did before the layoff, stop trying. Reduce the weight and progress back up.This is a mistake I used to make. I was so obsessed about keeping my PRs that I trained to failure in all sets for several workouts. Fatigue went through the roof and my performance ended up being worse than ever.
    Don’t do that. Experiment and see what weights you can currently handle in your normal rep range and start with those. You usually only need to go down 10-15%.What I did, last week is I took my training log and I wrote to imaginary workouts with lighter weights as reference points. Even though I know I’m stronger than I’ll act like these are my maxes and I’ll progress them like usual until I’m back to normal.
  2. Don’t rush the progression system. Imagine the reduced weights you’re working with are your actual PRs so progress slowly and cautious like usual. You will very quickly go back to your old performance but only if you don’t fatigue yourself too much.

How quickly will you be back to normal?

Usually pretty fast. Studies and observations show that muscle size barely goes down if you don’t train for about two weeks. That is if your nutrition and sleep are on point. If you eat little protein and don’t sleep much, it will be affected more but still not by much.

We actually lose strength much faster than we lose muscle mass. The reason for that is because besides being related to muscle size, strength is also a skill.

Neurological adaptations go down much faster than muscle size. You’ve noticed that yourself, your form sucks after not training for a few weeks.

But on the flip side neurological adaptations are built faster than muscle size as well. You’ll improve each and every workout until you are back to normal.

The Program I use

The program I follow right now is The Greek God Program. Greg designed it to make you stronger on specific exercises that will naturally promote a proportionate physique.

The great thing about building muscle by focusing on strength instead of the pump is that you don’t lose much size if you don’t train for a few weeks. Last summer I didn’t train for 13 days and this is how I looked.

However if you skip workouts you will feel it in your strength. Handling heavy weights takes practice so after a layoff you usually need a few weeks to get back to your old performance.

If you want you can check out my one year transformation with it here.

Or click here to read more about the program


  1. Eduard on January 25, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Salut,am o nelămurire la estimarea forței ex de ce ? Uneori se calculează sa zicem la inpins la piept cu 1,4 si uneori cu 1,2 sau chiar altfel ce le face diferite adică daca am 80 si trag la piept cu 1,4 + greutatea mea o sa am 80 de kg de masa si daca fac calculul cu 1,2 ori 80 vine mai puțin si cum naiba o sa am tot 80 de kg de masa ?

    • Radu Antoniu on January 28, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      80 x 1.4 = 112
      80 x 1.2 = 96

      Daca poti sa ridici 112 in loc de 96 pentru 5 repetari cu siguranta ai mai multa masa musculara si mai putina grasime.

  2. Shahroon on May 15, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Hi Radu ,

    Thanks to you i know what drives muscle growth and how to progress but , in my case i was fat with quiet a lot of muscle mass 230lbs to 160 lbs at 5ft9 and now i am skinny fat. I read your article about being skinny fat and beginner routines. The thing I am confused about is which routine to choose. I never lifted but i want to start, however i know i intially had muscle mass which i want to gain back while staying lean at the same time. What should i do?

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