Reintroducing Training After an Extended Lay Off -- Bill Gillespie

During these unprecedented times we must be able to adapt. Your training methods will have to be different when the athletes return from this extended time off. To help prevent injury and establish  a plan to build your athletes back to full strength, I have decided to share some guidelines based on my experience.


  • Assume they have done nothing
  • Don’t let their enthusiasm determine the workload 
  • Use this period of training to educate and sell your program
  • You want your best players to be healthy to play in the game - do not over load
  • Soft tissue, hamstring, hip flexor, and groin injuries occur from overuse. Overuse injuries occur after 2-3 weeks of training. If you see a spike of these injuries in this timeframe, adjust accordingly.

Before beginning workouts, you have to assume the athlete has done nothing in their time off. We all understand that we have to start back lifting light weights but there is a training tip I learned from the Bulgarians back in the 80’s. They stated that, when reintroducing lifting, the athletes need to focus on compound movements with light weight. Start the athletes with 50%, but instead of using higher reps like 10 they had the athlete do 2 reps with 50%.  I have had a high success rate using this technique of gradually introducing work load on an athlete. If they haven’t done anything and you introduce a workout of 100 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps you have a total of 30 reps times 100 pounds for a total tonnage of 3000 pounds. Remember up until this point their training load is zero tonnage. So instead of doing 10 reps I would suggest 5 sets of 2 reps with the 100 pounds. Your total tonnage is 1000 pounds and the athletes have a better chance of adapting to the work load.  After the first workout you want to gradually add weight but retain the low reps until they have worked up to around 70% of their former personal record. Once they work up to 70% then you can start to add a rep every workout until they get to 5 x 5 at 70%. At this point they are back and ready to go. The big question then is how long do you have to take on this reintroduction phase of training? There are several points to consider; 

  • How much time have they had off?
  • How much other training are you doing along with lifting? 
  • How are their nutritional habits?
  • How are their hydration habits?
  • How mature is their training background?


Developing work capacity is the goal of the strength & conditioning coach. There are four methods to determine work capacity, Training Frequency,  Volume of Work Load,  Intensity of Training and the Work/Rest Ratio.  All four have to be taken into account when determining work capacity. After an extended break from organized workouts, all four components of work capacity has to be reduced to a beginner’s level of training. Being conservative in your training approach is the safest way to prevent injuries. The current level of expectation for strength and conditioning coaches is getting the athlete into peak performance as fast as possible. But if the coaches are only given a very short period of time to “get them in shape”, and are rushing the process, you are in fact doing just the opposite. Developing work capacity takes a long time to give the athlete’s body time to adapt to the work load. Too many times I have seen athletes in worse shape after 2-3 weeks of training if they hadn’t been training. Developing work capacity will gradually produce better results and reduce the chance of injuries.  


In the weight room, volume is measured by the total number of reps (sets x reps) multiplied by the weight, giving you the tonnage. The easiest way to measure the tonnage is sets x reps x the % of max. An example is 5 sets x 5 reps with 75lbs would equal 1875lbs. If 5 x 5 at 75lbs is a standard workout your team should be able to do at any time and you were given four weeks to prepare them to be able to do this workout safely, you would do the following protocol:


1875 would be divided by 36% to give you the total volume for the 4 week training period which would equal 5208 tonnage. 


Week 1 - 15% of the 4 week program equals 781 tonnage 

Week 2 - 21% of the 4 week program equals 1093 tonnage

Week 3 - 28% of the 4 week program equals 1458 tonnage

Week 4 - 36% of the 4 week program equals 1875 tonnage



Week 1 - 781 tonnage  -   5 sets x 2 reps @ 75% equals 750 tonnage

Week 2 - 1093 tonnage - 5 sets x 3 reps @ 75% equals 1125 tonnage

Week 3 - 1458 tonnage - 5 sets x 4 reps @ 75% equals 1500 tonnage

Week 4 - 1875 tonnage -  5 sets x 5 reps @ 75% equals 1875 tonnage



In this situation, it is recommended that you start with a 1 to 8 work/rest ratio. One way to increase work capacity without increasing the volume of work is to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time by reducing the work/rest ratio. You can achieve this by completing a weekly workout plan, starting the first weeks workout with a 1 to 8 work/rest ratio for the entire week, then the second week repeat the exact same workout with a 1 to 7 work/rest ratio, then the third week repeat the same workout with a 1 to 6 work/rest ratio and eventually working to a 1 to 4 work/rest ratio which is the shortest work/rest ratio recommended by the CSCCa. Comparing the first week of training to the week with a 1 to 4 work/rest ratio you will have doubled the work capacity of the athletes without increasing the volume.


After nearly 50 years of competitive lifting and 40 years of coaching, I have made every mistake there is to make. I have failed so many times trying to do what I thought was right. I was chasing the symptoms but I wasn’t getting to the root of the problem. Out of the frustration of failing, I decided to dig deeper to find the root cause of my training problems. I want to pass on what I have learned to other coaches. I hope they can take my life experiences of “Training Under the Bar” and use them to take themselves and their team to the next level. 


This article is the first installment of a series of articles on how to reintroduce athletes back into strength training. We will also be releasing several articles on preparing athletes for off season training, training camp, and in season training. I am a strong believer that a football player should be their fastest and  strongest during the football season. At the same time, the athletes have to apply their energy and focus to preparing to win football games. This will cause them to have a very limited amount of training time. The easy solution has been to “maintain” their strength during the season. In most cases the athletes get weaker, especially the last third of the season. I have developed a method of training to get your athletes stronger during the season and more explosive in November than they were in July. We always say the games we remember are played in November. This will be a year round approach where each stage of training builds and prepares the team for the next stage of training. I hope you enjoy all of the articles in the series and I would enjoy hearing any information that you would be willing to share.


Questions or Comments? Please reach out to Bill at

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