Back in the Rack: Returning to Squatting after a Layoff
Much has been written about the benefits of squatting, the pros and cons of different techniques, and what sort of program is best, according to one’s goals. However, there is not much wisdom out there about how exactly one should get ready for these programs, especially after a long absence from the squat rack (or, heaven forbid, no prior exposure whatsoever!).
I think the reason for this is the lack of sex appeal: it’s much more exciting to talk about activating the extensor muscles, to argue about low-bar vs. high-bar, or to pit wave-loading philosophies against linear progressions. It’s not so glamorous to talk about returning to the grind: coming back from an injury, sickness, or vacation. However, these are the realities of life, for many of us.
As a CrossFit Games athlete, the last 4-5 years have been full of all the above! In this series, I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts and experiences about “getting ready” to train your squat after some time away. You don’t want to learn the hard way that it’s unwise to jump right back in where you left off!
What exactly qualifies as a layoff? The timeline on this can vary greatly. Taking a couple weeks off doesn’t really count for most people (in fact, you’ll likely return even stronger after a couple weeks of true rest!). 1-2 months away from squatting is where the average trainee starts to feel problems: the body looks the same, but the barbell moves slower and doesn’t seem to hold as much weight! After 3-6 months most will notice a significant loss of muscle mass and tone. After an 8-12 month break, I’d consider that a truly detrained state.
All lifters will still be able to recapture their old strength, but there will be a correlation between the time away from training, and the time required to reintroduce training. As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest a 1:1 month:week ratio. For each month off, a week of preparation should be planned before all-out training in the squat. For example, if you’ve been out for 2 months, take at least 2 weeks to come back. If you haven’t squatted for 12 months, you’ll probably need 12 weeks (3 months) to build things back up.
Regardless of the timeline, all returning squatters need to accomplish the same things during this transition phase:
Recapture ROM and tissue compliance
Reintroduce eccentric loading and DOMS
Reactivate neural pathways and maximize motor recruitment.
Those three points will be examined in the next three “Back in the Rack” posts – stay tuned!