How To Start Training After A Layoff & Not Kill Yourself
Training ,Layoff & Not kill yourself
How the mighty have fallen. At least egoically. I’m staring at an unloaded 45-pound bar and a lighter kettlebell than I usually warm up with. The class I’m in is full of people I’ve never met and part of me wants desperately to sacrifice my body to show them what I used to be, who I used to be. Who I am not at the moment.
I know how to move. I know how to move well. I know how to push beyond healthy limits. I can do it if I want to. I can load more weight on the bar than has any right to be there. I can pick the seventy-pound bell. I can do all of this. I’ve done it before. And I’ve paid the price. I’ve put my time in. I’ve burned the skin off my hands. I’ve walked out of workouts to throw up and walked back in to pick up right where I left off. I know how to do work. I know how to create power. I know how to do damage.
Thankfully, those days are long behind me.
I spent last year exclusively lifting weights. Bench, squat, deadlift. That’s about it. Cardio consisted of walking around the building two or three times as a cool down with my training partner.
However, those days are behind me, as well. And no one in the room who’s seen me pick up the naked bar and the baby bell knows my story. They just know I’m the new guy, but they also intuit that I’m a guy who should be working with something other than the basics. I have my old gym shirt on indicating this isn’t my first day. I have traps and low-profile shoes.
Something doesn’t add up in the land of CrossFit.
Train For Tomorrow – Not Today
Today is day one for me. My first CrossFit class in over a year and it comes after two months of no lifting, no running, no kettlebell swings, no pull-ups. Nothing but two yoga classes under my belt, both of which put my ass half to sleep.
This has left me with three distinct options. Options every athlete faces after a layoff, an injury, or any other period where life has made itself more of a priority than training:
- Stay on the sidelines and revel in past glory. Yes, this is an option. We can stay out of the game and look back at our past accomplishments and speak on them as if they were yesterday. We see this every day. Al Bundy threw four touchdowns in one game at Polk High. The guy hitting on you at the bar was an Olympic hopeful – ten years and sixty pounds ago.
We have the intensely real option to call it a day. To move on to a completely new sport or activity. We don’t have to face being a beginner in a game we once held mastery in. We don’t have to strap our black belt on and play with the white belts for a few weeks until our timing comes back. We don’t have to do anything.
- Push beyond what we’re capable of in this moment and pay the price tomorrow. Yes, this is an option, too. One we’ve probably done ourselves, but if not we’ve surely witnessed it and read about it. You know, that guy who got Rhabdo after a six-month layoff and a date with the GHD machine. The woman whose low back decided a PR wasn’t in store on her first day back and gave her another year off to think about the error of her ways.
Even if our decisions don’t end with trips to the hospital or the physical therapist, we can have our weeks ruined and our training set back by one poor decision in the early part of our return. The most dangerous human being on a gym floor is someone who knows the movement patterns and has the mental skill set to push through pain. This is a recipe for pushing beyond our capabilities and paying the price by hobbling around or not being able to put shampoo in our hair for a few days. Neither of which are the signs of intelligent training.
- Bite the bullet, swallow our pride, and realize no one really cares but us. I have the sneaking suspicion that everyone else in my first class yesterday had infinitely more on their plates than to speculate as to why I chose the weights I chose. Incredible as it may be to my ego, they may not have even noticed. It seems impossible, as I was so keenly aware of the weights I could have used, and dare I even say should have used. And if I’m keenly aware of me, then it only makes sense everyone else is too, right?
This is especially important for coaches, gym owners, and competitors. Those of us whose identity is tied up in our performance in our given movement practice. I have no problem sucking at yoga; I’m not a yoga instructor. I have no problem sucking at golf; I’m not gay. Ya feel me? But when it’s our sport, our activity, our profession, then the stakes for our egos go way up. Sky high. To the stratosphere high.
The advice we’ve given a thousand times to new members, to those people in our exact positions, goes right out the window. “Hey, it’s your first day back so I want you to leave your ego outside and focus on movement quality today. Ignore what the women next to you are using for their weights.” How easy to say to others, but push out of our own minds. Don’t let it. Treat your body with the same kid gloves you would your favorite client who has returned from traveling or an injury. Show yourself the same level of respect and care.
This article is being written after I humbly grabbed the cold hard steel of a naked forty-five-pound bar – the lightest bar of anyone in the room. And yes, I then strutted over to the baby kettle bells and grabbed myself one, telling myself “today doesn’t matter unless it’s the day you do something dumb and get yourself hurt.”
We are all going to have a first day back. And let’s just agree this first day back is not going to be the highlight of our training careers. “Dear Diary, today was the mostest amazingest day ever!” was not my journal entry last night. It’s not going to be yours either. What I did write, though, was something about how good it felt to be back in a gym. How good it felt to be around support people doing movements I love. How good it felt that I got through my first day back and don’t have to do that again for the foreseeable future. The road back to where I want to be is now underfoot as opposed to out in the distance. May it be so for you, as well.
The 45-pound bar and baby bell were exactly what I needed. I write this with soreness in my biceps, slight twitches in my calves, and the ability to feel muscles that have long stood idle. I can say with honesty I feel great today. The soreness is a reminder of the work I did – my decision to not let my ego dictate my training day. Tomorrow I’ll put some light weights on the bar and play with it again. I’ll pick up a slightly heavier kettlebell and slowly walk myself back into the shape I was a year ago, thoroughly enjoying the process.
One Day Stronger Action Steps:
- Before your first day back in the gym, come up with a plan. A plan that has weight limits, rep limits, and time standards that are acceptable given where you are. Make this plan with brutal honesty, all the while knowing that the easier your transition back is, the faster you’ll return to full speed. Come up with an honest plan.
- Share your plan with your coach. Literally have this conversation: “Hey, it’s my first day back and I’m nervous I’m going to go to hard once my adrenaline kicks in and I feel the familiarity of the movements. If you see me going for heavier weights than X or doing more reps than Y, please step in.”
- Follow your plan come hell or high water. This is the step that = matters. The first two steps will only protect you if you follow through with them. Be okay being slightly less than elite for today and follow your plan to a T. Go slow. Take breaks. Be grateful for the body you do have today and treat it in a way that gives it the greatest shot at doing all that you want it to do tomorrow.