I Had a Layoff from Training and Dropped Some Reps off My Bench Press. Why Have I Lost So Much Strength?
This is a common complaint and it represents a typical misunderstanding of muscular strength. Let’s say you are able to do 200 x 5 x 5 on your bench press. Something comes up and you are forced to layoff training for several weeks, maybe a month. During that time you are then “detraining.”
Once you get back to training, of course, the first thing you do is jump on the bench with 200 loaded on the bar. But, to your dismay, you have a hard time getting your reps. You can only manage 2 to 3 per set and that is pushing it. Oh, no! You’ve lost so much strength!
But you haven’t. You haven’t truly lost any strength at all, at least judging by this performance. Your performance has changed, but what you’ve really lost is “strength endurance” or “muscular endurance.” See, you could bench press 200lbs before your layoff. If, after resuming training, you can still bench press 200lbs, you cannot take that as strong evidence that you’ve lost a lot of absolute strength. You’ve lost endurance but you can still “lift” what you lifted before.
ometimes people equate their ‘strength’ to a particular rep maximum that is more than one. So if your 5RM changes, you’ve lost strength. But the absolute force required to move the bar each time is the same, so you haven’t lost your overall ability to apply that absolute force, you’ve just lost some ability to continue to apply it for up to five reps.
Other times, though, trainees are not talking about losing the reps, they are talking about their supposed 1RM (maximum strength) as represented by this particular 5RM or any other RM. Well, sure, a lot of misinformed ‘trainers’ still think estimated maxes are useful. In fact, some of them say that’s all that should ever be done for a max: Estimate it! But in reality, estimates are only a tiny bit useful and an estimate about anything is only as good as what information you use to guess it with! You know what they say: A guess is only as good as the person making it.
See, if you lose some weight off your 5RM, or to put it more simply, you drop some reps during a layoff, you really have no way of knowing if and how that affected your maximum strength. The bar speed, etc. during your performance, may give you a clue that you lost some maximum ability but this is all imaginary. In other words, in this instance, you are worried about losing strength that you have never actually displayed. That’s like worrying about getting your car stolen and then remembering you don’t own a car.
As I’ve said so many times, to the point I sound quite pedantic, I’m sure, your max is the most you can actually lift and do lift; not what you think you can lift.
Given the above scenario, where you’ve dropped some reps off your 5×5 with 200 pounds, you should be able to regain that lost endurance fairly quickly and easily. Really, the quickest way to add back in reps, is to perform sets to failure. Next workout, do so again, and before you know it you’ll have your old reps back. The only problem with this is it may compromise form somewhat because you may get in too much of a hurry and be caught up in counting reps instead of paying attention to how badly you are lifting. So, there are more conservative but sounder ways to recapture that performance while still paying attention to what the heck you are doing.
This might consist of an easy build up of sets of 2 to 3, with good rest in between so that performance stays consistent. Build up to a place close to or exceeding your working weight from before, if you can.
Then, the next workout, you can do a similar thing, except that you tend toward sets of three and four in your build-up. The next time, you could build up to your working range and hit the 5 reppers and see if you feel on solid enough ground to go ahead and start back where you left off. This can be generally applied to other types of sets, not just 5 reppers, of course! You just have to build up to it over fewer or more sessions, depending on the rep number you were looking to regain. This method assures that quality is maintained while getting your reps back. Once you have done that, you will want to reduce your rest periods back down to where they were before, approximately, if you need to.