One of the most frustrating situations to experience in the gym comes after a long layoff. You come back to the gym and your timing is off, physical conditioning is down and your lifts are at pathetic new lows. Even worse, some of the people that you used to outshine have crept up and in some cases, surpassed you. You know who you were before the layoff and you still feel the same but your body isn’t cooperating. That first day back can sometimes make you want to just hang it up completely. The good news is that if you are able to deal with this initial rough start back, you’ll more than likely get back to where you were before and in most cases exceed that previous level.
Layoffs come about for various reasons. Most commonly because of injuries but sometimes work, family and new love can be the culprits. Whatever the reason, a long layoff makes coming back to the gym difficult. Below I’ve listed some of the reasons that might cause a layoff and some suggestions on how to deal with them based on my personal experiences.
- When a complete layoff cannot be avoided
First off, sometimes a layoff is unavoidable. Maybe your injury is severe and inhibits your ability to work anything in the gym. Perhaps reasons relating to family or work prevent you from making it to the gym. When time away from the gym is forced I have a few pieces of advice.
- Lower your expectation when you return – Once we progress to a certain level in our training we begin to set expectations for ourselves. In the weight room we become accustomed to putting up certain numbers. On the mat we get used to submitting certain people or being able to go for a certain number of rounds. When you come back after a layoff you need to throw those expectations out the window. After time away from the gym your lifts are going to be down, your physical conditioning is going to be shot and your timing on the mat will be way off. If you come back into the gym expecting yourself to be where you were, you’re going to run headfirst into reality and become frustrated. Instead of coming back with high expectations, just be happy you’re back in the gym. Also keep in mind that you’re not going to be where you once were. This will help prevent you from getting your hopes up. The reassuring news is that your body has a memory and you’ll regain lost ground quickly. Also, it doesn’t hurt to bear in mind that everyone who has pursued athletics for any length of time has experienced a layoff. Even the champions.
- Keep your diet in check – Diets seem to slide when people aren’t training. They lose the motivation brought on by training. But this is precisely the time when someone’s diet needs to hold. When our activity level drops we won’t be able to make up for all the extra calories, and there’s nothing worse than being sidelined and watching your body fat climb. In addition, maintaining a good diet and healthy body will help you get back on your feet faster when you return to the gym.
The worst reason you might be forced to take a layoff from the gym comes from injuries. Depending on the severity of the injury you might not even be able to go about your day normally. I’ve experienced plenty of injuries, some minor and some that left me couch-ridden and unable to walk. Below are a few things that I’ve done to avoid a complete layoff when injured. This has made it easier to deal with the time off and made easier when I returned.
- Just come in the gym – Even if you’re injured and are unable to train, come in the gym and hang out. Most of us are good friends with our training partners and seeing them is uplifting. I know that after having back to back injuries earlier this year and feeling really depressed. One of the few things that made me feel better was coming into the gym and just seeing everyone. Even before I became a full time BJJ instructor, when I was injured I would still come in and say hey to everyone. I would help my instructor run the timer, coach lower belts or hang out. Maybe I’m weird, but for me, just being on the mat and in the gym helps deal with the depression of being on the shelf because of an injury.
- Work around it – If you have an injury chances are, most of your body remains in good working order. If this is the case then work around your injuries. Earlier this year when I had knee surgery I had to lay off my legs. So, I focused on my upper body for lifting. For BJJ, I would lie down flat (taking my legs out of the mix) and let my training partners start in dominant positions. From there I would focus on keeping my arms and upper body in good position and slowing down submissions. While it wasn’t the most fun thing in the world, it definitely beat sitting around doing nothing, and truth be told, it made my submission defense better.
One of the most common and frustrating reasons (for me as a coach) that I see students drop off for a time comes from new relationships. A guy/girl meets another guy/girl and during the early infatuation stage of the relationship my student will drop all of their previous hobbies and activities to spend time with the person. Eventually after this initial stage of the relationship wears off they make their way back into the gym. Their training is off and they don’t feel like they used to, which is frustrating. Even worse though, is that this new man/woman finds it odd that they are training all the time. When my student explains that they always trained a lot, they forget that they haven’t really trained since the new relationship started. From here the best case scenario is that the two work it out and they continue to see one another. The worst case is that the new love leaves and my student is now left both with no boyfriend/girlfriend and they are out of shape.
- Don’t set unhealthy precedents – Avoid this sort of scenario by continuing to train and focus on yourself even when you began dating an awesome new person. Make time for them but don’t give into the temptation brought on by the rush of a new relationship to exchange your entire life for more time with this person. You will only create problems down the road and set unhealthy expectations for the future.
So remember, layoffs are inevitable for different reasons. Avoid them when you can and work around them if possible. When you are forced away from the gym, just remember that it will get better and that you will be back soon enough.
Thanks for reading!