I haven’t trained for a few years, as I had to focus on college and starting a family, and now I want to get in shape fast. How long does it take to get back to 100% and beyond?
One of the problems with reaching a high level in a sport is that it not only takes a lot of work, but it’s also necessary to eat well and control outside variables that affect progress. Sacrifices must be made, and when making a comeback it can be difficult to implement the changes required to return to your previous levels of physical and athletic conditioning.
When making a comeback, you have to set realistic goals. If during your hiatus you’ve gotten married and had a child, then perhaps setting a goal of earning your pro card is a bit unrealistic. But if you now have 16-inch arms and before you quit you had 18-inch arms and were training three hours a week, getting to 17 inches with half that amount of training could be doable, provided you are performing quality workouts during your gym time and not making friends.
What is great about weight training is the concept of muscle memory, such that if you reached a certain level of ability in the gym and quit, you can quickly regain that level faster than it originally took you to achieve it. One of the most remarkable examples of the power of muscle memory is Fred Lowe. In 1973, Lowe clean-and-jerked 180 kilos in the 75-kilo body-weight class, an American record that was only eight kilos off the world record. In 1976, Lowe made his third Olympic Team, and then decided to take up distance running, even competing in a marathon.
In the list of least compatible activities for a weightlifter, distance running tops the bunch. While I understand that many competitive bodybuilders believe it’s important to use aerobics to help lose those last few pounds of body fat before a competition, the consequence is that compromises will be made in muscle mass. Getting back to Lowe, after his brief stint with distance running he decided to return to the gym and in 1981 broke his own American record with 182.5 kilos! Two highly touted research studies that emphasized this point were conducted in the 1970s by the late Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones. His 1973 Colorado experiment involved former Mr. America Casey Viator. Viator, who had lost a considerable amount of weight due to detraining, a reaction to penicillin (which had nearly killed him), and strict dieting, was able to regain 28.6 kilos of solid muscle in four weeks!
Two years after the Colorado Experiment, Jones sponsored a six-week study of West Point football players who also made rapid and impressive improvements in strength and muscle size in this brief training. This study was just after the West Point football players had finished their season, so obviously these athletes were regaining much of the strength and muscle mass they’d lost during the season.
This being said, it’s much easier to maintain your muscle development than to regain it. Many top bodybuilders look amazing well into advanced age—just look at the incredible physiques of the Masters Olympia (Lou Ferrigno and Boyer Coe). If you look at these champions in their prime and then in this competition, you’ll see that they didn’t lose much from their previous forms. I am especially inspired by the first Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, who in his 70s still sports a great set of guns.
I’ve seen your workouts and you often use supersets. Is this practice primarily to save time? I work long hours and my training time is very limited.
These types of sets do certainly save time, but the fact is they also can increase the effectiveness of your workouts. Alternating between agonists and antagonists has also been proven to lower fatigue drop-off curves more than performing traditional station training, even with complete rest intervals. Compared with the standard-sets approach, supersets can increase work capacity by as much as 40% for a given workout because there is less cumulative fatigue due to having more rest time between each exercise.
A study on circuit training versus traditional strength training was published in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. This study investigated the effects of eight weeks of two types of bodybuilding workouts, one involving circuit-training protocols and another using traditional strength-training protocols. It involved 33 subjects, all about 22 years of age with at least 12 months of weight training experience before the experiment.
Both lifting groups performed the same basic exercises, such as bench presses, lat pulldowns, and half squats. The key factor to look at in the program design was that the circuit-training group completed their workouts in nearly half the time. Furthermore, there were no significant differences regarding improvements in strength or muscle between the two groups. We can look at it this way: The circuit training method enabled the subjects to achieve nearly identical results in approximately half the training time. The circuit training group also experienced a significant decrease in bodyfat compared to the traditional training group.
Supersets are an ideal training method for you, as it will enable you to achieve great gains in the shortest time possible.