Man Lifting Barbell at Gym

How To Start Lifting After Time Off

When returning to the gym after a while off there are a few challenges that you can be faced with. Firstly, there is a good chance that you will have lost muscle or at least will have lost strength in some of your lifts. Since resistance bands and home gym equipment don’t provide as optimal of an array of exercises that you could get from a gym, you’ve probably lost a little bit of lean muscle mass and the staple lifts like deadlift and squat are probably going to feel slightly more heavy.

Secondly, there is also a slight potential for overtraining and overdoing what’s really necessary since it’s been so long since you’ve trained. You might be eager to start lifting again but by having a 4-5 hour session your first day back you’ll probably overdo it and your body will then require more days of recovery and the CNS will be slightly overstrained from the new and sudden workload.

Thirdly, given that it’s been a while since you’ve trained there is going to also be a higher chance of injury. When doing deadlifts, squats, and bench press, your body adjusts to these movements over time and adapts to what the lift requires. If you attempt to immediately start lifting the same weight you were lifting before time off from the gym you’re not going to have the months of prior motor pathway development to perform the movement effectively.

All these things put aside, starting lifting again should be a great experience and it gives you the opportunity to feel some of those newbie lifting gains once again and experience the social aspect of lifting around other people. You also have the opportunity to restart progressive overload and make strength gains quickly in a lot of different exercises. It is best to begin lifting again in a slight surplus so you can optimize the newbie gains but if you were already cutting, you could definitely just see the cut out with the advantage of training with gym equipment.

Restart Progressive Overload

Starting lifting again means that you’re going to be restarting where you were at in a bunch if movements. Since you’re going to have lost a bit of strength and muscle, once you start properly lifting again with gym equipment the rate of progress is going to be much quicker than before you took time off.

If you were hitting 405 pounds on deadlift for one rep, after a few months off, that number has probably gone down to around 325-385 pounds.

This will give you the opportunity to reset progressive overload and start at lower weights then work your way up to the weights you were at before. Progress will be quicker since the motor pathways will have already been developed so you can just focus on consistency and volume and you will make very solid gains the first few weeks back.

Lean bulking vs Continuing a Cut

One of the decisions that has to be made when lifting again after time off is wether to do a lean bulk or continue to cut if that’s what you were doing before. You could also eat at maintenance or immediately go straight into a hard bulk.

The advantages of continuing a cut are that you will be able to finish it out well since the equipment you have will be better and you will be able to maintain muscle more effectively. You could also extend your cut since now you are lifting at a gym instead of home or elsewhere.

The advantages of doing a lean bulk after time off lifting is that you will be able to fully make newbie gains since you will be in a caloric surplus. This is likely the better option because it will allow you to immediately capitalize on the new rate of progress and quickly gain back any muscle that was lost from before.


To provide an overview, starting lifting again after taking time off has a few things which may be challenging and a few other things which could be done to optimize the time spent in the gym upon returning.

The few challenges may be that you have lost a bit of muscle and can’t achieve the same lifts as before, it is more likely for to immediately over-exert yourself in your first few sessions, and your chances of injury are higher.

In regards to losing muscle, since those motor pathways already have been built, you will be able to regain most of the muscle back significantly faster than the time it took to initially build the muscle. It is best to start at lighter weights and then work your way back up to heavier weights and higher volume by restarting progressive overload.

The risk of overtraining is still present. This can be avoided by not immediately doing large amounts of volume but rather easing into lifting and keeping the first few sessions at a reasonable level of intensity or just at what you feel that your body is capable of. Either way, you will make a lot of gains so it is better not to burn out at once and be able to train and recover effectively so you are making the most of the first few weeks back training.

To reduce the chances of injury, take the same approach to reducing the chances of overtraining by not going in with a level of intensity that is going to require longer to recover than is optimal.

For more on training, such as wether or not it’s a good idea to workout twice a day and the top 5 things to do for better lifting results, click here.