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Comeback Training: How to Get Your Lazy Butt Back in the Gym
by: Marc McDougal

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a pair of track shorts at my favorite park, surrounded by beautiful weather, beautiful women and a beautiful 50 yard stretch of grass. I truly had no choice but to have myself a good old-fashioned sprint workout.

Although I am a huge proponent of a proper warm-up, and have even written detailed articles on the intricacies of the subject, my rules obviously don’t apply to myself…because I’m humanity’s closest thing to an immortal cyborg…right? So, my workout proceeded as follows:

Step 1> Progressive Dynamic Warm Up. Skip (brilliant) .

Step 2> Knock out a 50yd test jog to ensure a lack of discarded beer cans, napping squirrels and/or shards of glass in my chosen path. Check .

Step 3> Take a quick glance around to ensure my testosterone levels would be optimized by the inquisitive gazes of young fertile female dog walkers and sun bathers. Check .

Step 4> Pull a couple of sips off of my pre workout shake, and jump up and down in place a bit for no real reason. Check .

I dropped into my starting stance. After a descending 3-count, I envisioned an explosion going off at my heels and tore through the first 10 yards like a man running out of a 7-11 with a ski mask on his face. Great start. Is it possible that I’m running so fast the skin is peeling back on my face? Are those girls over there taking note of how incredibly fast I’m moving? Can they even see me, or am I just a blurred streak like that old TV show The Flash ? No matter, I’m setting a land speed record right here, right now. Where’s an Olympic scout when you need one?

Once I hit full upright stride, I started whipping my legs so fast, I suddenly felt a loss of control. Either I was about to take flight, or about to eat shit. Probably the latter.

That’s when everything went wrong. My right leg hit an unstable chunk of ground, and as it rebounded back in front of my body I felt my illiopsoas tear like a wet kleenex. As my foot returned to the ground, it felt like I was trying to plant my entire land speed record setting body on a prosthetic marshmallow.

Needless to say, the lack of support from the injured hip shifted my entire momentum 90 degrees instantly, face first-directly into the ground. I tumbled into a cloud of dust, and hopped up to try to play it off for my imaginary fan club.

I knew immediately I was screwed. This was a bad tear. I limped off with my tail between my legs, too embarrassed and pained to even play my famous “anybody here a nurse???” game.

Within 12 hours, my right leg had swollen up black and blue to the size of Lee Preist’s in the off-season. My left shoulder was separated from the impact of the fall. Of course, this came at a rare time that I was actually pleased with my physique, maintaining a high bodyweight at around 7% body fat. Now I get to sit back and watch my body slowly morph into Dr. Phil’s.

After a couple of months of rehab, and a loss of so much muscle that my body composition test yielded a total lean body mass reading of something starting with a minus sign, I was ready to hit the gym again. Problem was; I had no plan. I was so frustrated with my muscle loss, and astounding amounts of strength loss, that I was embarrassed to even train in public. Echoes in my head of imaginary voices… “Hey, isn’t that guy a strength coach over there, squatting with like 95lbs? Chump!!!”

My workouts would be half assed, unplanned, and infrequent. I just could not get started. Then when I finally got going a little, I’d try to jump immediately into one of my old advanced programs with low reps, heavy weight, fancy conjugated periodization, etc. I basically wasted months and months that could have been used effectively to springboard me back onto a good program, and back to my old physique.


Since then, I’ve noticed this to be a major trend. Whether people get out of the game because of an injury, or surgery, new job, new relationship, laziness, or one of 50 other reasons, it seems that getting back at it is a huge problem. People fail for two main reasons:

  1. Pride. You worked hard to get where you were before you hit the disabled list. Whether it’s personal pride or social vanity, you feel like a chump using half the weight you were using previously. Because of this, you try to jump right back into the heavy loads right away, therefore causing excessive soreness and prolonged recovery leading to stagnation. You also leave the gym every workout with a sense of defeat instead of empowerment. This leads to more days off, no progress, and a downward spiral that ends up in you riding the waste-of-time-rollercoaster eventually taking another layoff.
  2. Lack of Direction. Getting back on track requires more of a well-designed regimen than normal training, yet nobody even gives it a second thought.

A comeback plan isn’t something to take lightly. It’s the difference between starting your car in 1 st gear and gradually shifting through the gears up to a nice smooth cruising speed…or starting out in 3 rd and redlining, barely moving and making a lot of damn noise.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve perfected the comeback plan that I’m going to lay out for you here in detail today. I’ve been able to use this on myself and many clients with great success. So if you’ve been out of it for more than a few weeks for any reason at all, this is your plan. It only takes one month, and will prime your body to get right back where you were. This is even something you could use if you’ve been working out consistently, but your workouts have been a general disaster, constructed haphazardly with no rhyme or reason.
The Program

We will be tapering up your total physical preparedness gradually throughout this month the following way:

Week 1—————-> Week 4

Intensity (%age of 1 rep max, not to be confused with perceived exertion)
Low——————–> High

Low——————–> High

High——————–> Low

Rest Periods
High——–Low——> High

Low——————–> High

You will also notice that some exercises at the beginning of the program are a little easier, i.e. cables instead of barbells, etc., which you will appreciate mentally and physically. You will also notice that leg work comprises less volume than upper body. This is because of the drain it takes on your system (mentally and physically), as well as prolonging recovery time for someone who’s been sedentary. As you begin month 2 back on a regular program, leg work should then be augmented back to higher total volume.

*As repetitions drop from workout to workout, you should be increasing weight by 5-10%.


Those of you coming back from an injury, make sure you have completed necessary general rehab work before this. You will also want to perform extra specific warm up work for the affected area to increase joint temperature and ensure proper blood flow and nutrient delivery to a potentially restricted region.

If possible, cease all use of anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) before starting this program, or at least stick to a low dose. They have the nasty side effect of decreasing/inhibiting protein synthesis, and that’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to get your crappy physique back in order.

If you still have inflammatory issues from an injury, ensure that you are taking a hefty dose of a good fish oil, up to 9g of combined EPA/DHA in 3 divided doses with food, and make sure it’s from a high quality source.

You could also consider including MSM after your workouts, at a dose of 3-6g. If those two aren’t cutting it, the third line of defense would be glucosamine, usually 1.5g/day is sufficient. Beware, however; if you are a typical endomorph phenotype (tendency to store fat easily) you may want to avoid this supplement due to its likelihood to decrease insulin sensitivity in you unlucky folks.

The Program

Phase 1: Drag Your Ass to the Gym

Motivation is crucial here; just make yourself do it. Prioritize working out up next to sleeping and eating. Just make it happen. Cancel weddings, don’t pay your bills, Tivo B-list celebrity poker, whatever, just get your ass to the gym. And, friend, when you do get there, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, because phase 1 is pretty derrrn easy. DO NOT attempt to do any more work. I’m a genius. Don’t screw with genius. Get it done and go home.

Completely avoid training to failure at all costs. You will be sore enough just doing the exercises, and we don’t want you having any excuses to skip a workout, you crybaby. Each set should be finished with a few reps left in the hole. Assess any possible tightness, or lingering injuries.

If you are not familiar with the Letter/Number set scheming, or any of the abbreviations, see the asterisk at the end of the article.

(rest 120 seconds between sets)
A: Half Squat (slightly above 90deg) 1×15
B: Hyperextension 1×15
C1: Flat Bench Press 2×15
C2: Seated Row (PG/MG) 2×15
D1: Standing Cable Curl 2×15
D2: Lying DB Extension 2×15
E1: Kneeling Cable Crunch 2×15
E2: Seated External Rotation 2×15

Tuesday: Off

Wednesday: Off

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A: Deadlift 1×15
B: Knee Extension 1×15
C1: Dips 2×15
C2: Chin Ups (SG/NG) 2×15
D1: Incline Curl (SG) 2×15
D2: Cable Pressdown 2×15
E1: Seated Lateral Raise 2×15
E2: Hanging Leg Raise (Knees bent, maximal pelvic rotation) 2xAMRP

Friday: Off

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A1: Half Squat (slightly above 90deg) 2×12 >
A2: Prone Hamstring Curl (dorsiflexed) 2×12
B1: Flat Bench Press 2×12
B2: Seated Row (MG/PG) 2×12
C1: Standing Cable Curl 2×12
C2: Lying DB Extension 2×12
D1: Cable Crunch 2×12
D2: Standing Calf Raise 2×12

Sunday: Off

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A1: Deadlift 2×12
A2: Knee Extension 2×12
B1: Dips 2×12
B2: Chin Ups (SG/NG) 2×12
C1: Incline Curl (SG) 2×12
C2: Cable Pressdown 2×12
D1: Standing Lateral Raise 2×12
D2: Hanging Leg Raise 2xAMRP


Phase 2:

Your sense of worthlessness should be starting to slowly dissipate. The body is now dealing with the shock of working out, and you should even notice some muscle starting to come back as well as some increased glycogen storage. Still avoid concentric failure, but begin to use slightly more challenging weights.

(Rest 90 sec between all sets)
A1: Full Squat 2×10
A2: Prone Hamstring Curl (dorsiflexed) 2×10
B1: Flat Bench Press 3×10
B2: Seated Row 3×10
C1: Standing BB Curl (EZ curl bar) 3×10
C2: Lying DB Extension 3×10
D1: Cable Crunch 2×12
D2: Seated External Rotation 2×12

*Use about 25% less weight for the full squat than the half squat, and get your butt on the ground!

Wednesday: Off

(Rest 90 sec between all sets)
A1: Deadlift 2×10
A2: Knee Extension 2×10
B1: Dips 3×10
B2: Chin Ups (SG/NG) 3×10
C1: Incline Curl (SG) 3×10
C2: Cable Pressdown 3×10
D1: Standing Lateral Raise 2×12
D2: Hanging Leg Raise 2xAMRP

Friday: Off

Phase 3:

We now start increasing sets higher, decreasing reps, and dividing the workout into a 4 split instead of a 2 split. As usual, avoid failure, but continue to increase weights to keep them challenging.

(Rest 60 sec between all sets)
A1: Flat Bench Press 4×8
A2: Seated Row (PG) 4×8
B1: Standing BB Curl 3×8
B2: Lying BB Extension (to the top of the forehead) 3×8
C1: Cable Crunch 2×10
C2: Standing Calf Raise 2×10

Sunday: Off

(Rest 60 sec between all sets)
A1: Full Squat 3×8
A2: Romanian Deadlift 3×8
B1: DB Lunge 3×8
B2: Hamstring Curl (plantarflexed) 3×8
C1: Hanging Leg Raise 2xAMRP
C2: Standing Calf Raise 2×10

Tuesday: Off

(Rest 60 sec between all sets)
A1: Dips 4×8
A2: Chin Ups 4×8
B1: Cable Pressdown 3×8
B2: Incline Curl (SG) 3×8
C1: Cable Crunch 2×10
C2: Cable External Rotation 2×10

Thursday: Off

(Rest 60 sec between all sets)
A1: Deadlift 3×8
A2: Knee Extension 3×8
B1: Hip Pull Thru 3×8
B2: Standing Overhead DB Press 3×8
C1: Hanging Leg Raise 2xAMRP
C2: Seated Calf Raise 2×10

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off


Phase 4:

The final phase of the program, now we go to a 5×5 routine, increase the rest periods again, and look to use more weight. Still avoid going to failure, but the last rep of the last set should be challenging to complete. Frequency is now increased as well.

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A1: Flat Bench Press 5×5
A2: Seated Row (PG/MG) 5×5
B1: Standing BB Curl 2×12
B2: Lying BB Extension 2×12
C1: Cable Crunch 2×10
C2: Seated External Rotation 2×10

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A1: Full Squat 4×6
A2: Romanian Deadlift 4×6
B1: DB Lunge 2×12
B2: Unilateral Good Morning (leave non working leg about 2in. above the ground) 2×12
C1: Hanging Leg Raise 2xAMRP
C2: Standing Calf Raise 2×12

Wednesday: Off

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A1: Dips 5×5
A2: Chin Ups 5×5
B1: Overhead BB Extension 2×12
B2: Incline Hammer Curl 2×12
C1: Cable Crunch 2×10
C2: Cable External Rotation 2×10

(Rest 120 sec between all sets)
A1: Hang Clean 4×6
A2: Knee Extension 4×6
B1: Deadlift 2×12
B2: Standing Overhead DB Press 2×12
C1: Hanging Leg Raise 2xAMRP
C2: Seated Calf Raise 2×10

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

Begin New, Advanced Phase

*Perform exercises with the same letter in an alternating set fashion. In other words, if you see this:

A1: Squat 2×12
A2: Dips 2×12

You would perform a set of 12 squats, then the prescribed rest, then a set of dips, rest, then squats, rest, then dips. Then move onto the B’s.

PG – Pronated Grip (for those of you with A.C.E. personal trainer certifications, that means palms down/facing away from you)

SG – Supinated Grip (palms facing you)

NG – Narrow Grip (palms 10in. or so apart)

MG – Medium Grip (slightly wider than your bi-acromial width)

AMRP – As Many Reps as Possible

There you have it, you’re balanced, you’re healthy, you’re strong, you’re back. Log everything, and tuck this plan away…chances are, you’ll need it again.

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