Despite all the lifehacks to ensure you make it to the gym regardless of excuses, sometimes you wake up on a Saturday and realize amidst the craziness of work and life, you haven’t hit the gym since last weekend.
We’re not here to guilt you—sh*t (and life) happens. But we are here to make sure your muscle-building gets back on track ASAP. “If you haven’t hit the gym for a few days or longer, performing a full-body strength training routine is the single most effective method for getting your body back into the swing of things,” says strength and performance specialist Joel Seedman, Ph.D., owner of Advanced Human Performance in Atlanta.
Besides targeting all the muscles that you’ve been unable to stimulate during your mini-layoff, Seedman adds that full body workouts do more in terms of burning calories and increasing your metabolism than any other type of workout—critical if you been doing nothing but sitting in meetings and then coming home and sitting on the couch.
And you don’t have to slave at the gym all day to reset your system. “In addition to a boosted metabolism, the goal is to target the most muscle mass in as few exercises as possible while also increasing testosterone production, which is vital if you’ve been unable to get to the gym,” he explains.
Here’s how his routine works: There are eight moves, grouped into four supersets. After warming up, perform the first superset circuit three times through with 60 to 75 seconds of rest between the two moves. After three rounds, rest 90 seconds, then hit the next superset three times, and so on. The order is important for building upon muscle activation and burning out certain muscle groups, so don’t switch things around.
“If you’ve been unable to hit the gym for a week or longer, chances are your nervous system is probably firing a bit lethargically,” Seedman says. Besides making you feel tired and unmotivated, your body will be less efficient at recruiting all the available muscle fibers. Recharge it by starting your routine with explosive movements—they’ll re-innervate your body and begin waking up fast twitch fibers that you’ll most definitely need to recruit throughout the remainder of the workout.
How to: Stand next to a box (or bench) with both feet firmly grounded. Bend knees and, with as much height, power, and force as possible, jump over using your arms to accelerate your body and your hips. Perform 6 reps. Once this becomes too easy try performing it on one leg, cutting your reps down to 3 per set.
“The barbell squat targets a majority of the muscles throughout your body making it a great choice for re-stimulating strength and size gains,” says Seedman. “Besides crushing your legs, core, and spinal stabilizers, you’ll get your heart rate to near max which is a critical factor for reinvigorating your metabolism after a brief training layoff.”
This move concentrates on the eccentric motion of a squat—or the lowering portion where your muscles are stretching out. Why? Your form, mobility, symmetry, joint stiffness, and overall muscle function is probably a little out of whack from your temporary gym hiatus, so a slow lowering and then pausing at the bottom helps deconstruct the exercise and hone in on form, Seedman explains.
How to: With the barbell on your shoulders and feet shoulder width apart, lower your body slowly, reaching the bottom over a count of 5. Keep your hips back and actively push your knees apart, spine neutral. Pause at the bottom for 3 to 7 seconds (depending on how much your legs are screaming). Pushing from the heels, explode back up to standing over 2 seconds. Focus on contracting the glutes as you straighten the knees so you don’t hyperextend. Perform 5 reps.
Move 1: Romanian Dead Lift (RDL) and Bent Over Row Combo
If you haven’t had time to hit the gym, chances are you’ve been logging late nights at the office—which means a lot of sitting. This combo not only helps build strength but also helps deliver a postural adjustment. “The RDL targets the glutes and hamstrings by stretching muscles around your hips that tend to become overly tight from sitting. The rowing phase targets the spinal stabilizers and postural muscles throughout your entire middle and upper back—not to mention the added benefits of stimulating smaller muscles including your biceps, forearms, and rear shoulders,” Seedman explains.
How to: With a barbell on the floor in front of you, start at the bottom of a deadlift, palms facing away from you. Stand up, performing a deadlift. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly until the barbell is about a foot off the ground. Your back should be nearly parallel to the floor with all of your weight sitting back towards your hips. Pull the barbell toward your abs, pausing at the top of the move when elbows are farthest back. Perform 2 smooth yet powerful rows, then forcefully stand up, activating your glutes and hamstrings as you drive through your heels. Perform 5 sets, totaling 5 RDLs and 10 rows.
You know you need to hit that chest, but override the instinct to go for the basic barbell bench press. “If you’ve been unable to hit the gym for a week or longer, your non-dominant side has most likely received very little activation, exaggerating any imbalance or strength deficit,” says Seedman. A barbell bench press allows your stronger side to takeover, whereas a dumbbell variation requires each side to work individually. Plus, the latter forces you to press smoothly rather than using momentum to bounce the weight off your chest, and offers a safer and more natural elbow and shoulder position thanks to the freedom of movement.
How to: Lay with your back on the bench, feet flat on the floor. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows so the dumbbells and your forearms are perpendicular to your body. Push straight up until your arms are fully extended. Pause, then lower with control until your biceps are parallel with your body. Perform 8 reps.
“Besides targeting your upper back, biceps, forearms, core, and shoulder stabilizers, the pull-up is a great option after a brief gym layoff as it promotes decompression of the spine, which is something your body will need if you’ve been sitting for long periods,” Seedman explains. This spinal decompression is particularly emphasized at the bottom of the movement when you’re hanging, so pause here, just like with the squats.
How to: Grip the pull-up bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Pull yourself to the top, maintaining a flat back. Pause at the top while squeezing your upper back. Slowly lower yourself to the bottom, then pause in the full hang position for 3 to 7 seconds while keeping your shoulders tightly packed. Perform 6 reps.
“The standing overhead press is one of the more underrated exercises not only for producing strength and size but also for improving mobility, stability, and postural alignment,” Seedman explains. Plus, he adds, it recruits more muscle mass than any upper body exercise as it activates the musculature around your shoulders, traps, upper back, low back, triceps, upper chest, and core—arms of steel in the making.
How to: With a barbell on the floor in front of you, start at the bottom of a deadlift with an overhand grip. Explode up to standing, driving into your heels and squeezing your glutes to avoid hyperextending your knees. Flip the barbell up to shoulder height. Keep your elbows up high and your upper arm parallel to the ground. Slightly bend your knees and drop down while keeping your torso upright and avoiding leaning forward. Explosively extend your knees and hips as you drive the barbell overhead and stand up tall. Slowly lower the barbell back to your shoulders before repeating.
Let’s get your six pack back on track. “Although most of the exercises listed in this routine will hit your core to some degree or another, it’s always good to specifically isolate these muscles with exercises that force the spine to resist extension forces,” Seedman says. Plank variations are ideal for this—particularly the single arm plank as it addresses each side of your core individually by forcing you to resist rotation. Plus it recruits contralateral forces—the tension crossing from one arm into the core and over to the opposite hip—which will bulletproof your spinal integrity (while simultaneously crushing your abdominal muscles), Seedman points out.
How to: From hands and knees, place hands directly under your shoulders, feet in a wide stance approximately two feet apart. Lift one arm to the side of your torso and hold this tightly while keeping your body square and parallel to the floor. As you feel tension building up in your entire body, focus on resisting forces that try to pull your spine, hips, and shoulders out of position toward the sky. Hold for 20-30 seconds then switch sides. Perform two reps of each side.
If you haven’t worked out for a week, few exercises will target your conditioning and spike your metabolism like heavy lunges will. Fortunately, this is a great stimulus for melting body fat. It triggers a significant release of growth hormone and IGF-1 (two hormones crucial for bulking up) and causes your body to burn more calories over the next 24 hours—in addition to the killer calorie burn of the actual move!
How to: With feet hip-width apart, hold a dumbbell on either side of your body. Step your left leg forward and lower into a lunch. Concentrating on keeping your hips back and chest out, drive through the heel of the front foot and bring the left leg back to meet the right. Repeat on the other side. That’s one. Complete 7 reps.