I’ll start with an anecdote. A couple years ago I was 30 minutes into a workout and three sets into Dumbbell Shoulder Press when a buddy of mine approached and asked me a few questions regarding my training routine. One of those questions was…
“How often do you workout?”
“I typically train 5 times per week, but since it's Christmas Break, I’ve been here much more often,” I told him.
“How much more often,” he asked.
“I think this is my 23rd day in a row.”
Even I was shocked by my answer. 23 days. For 23 days in a row I went into that gym to pick up heavy stuff and put it down. It didn’t resonate with me until then how ridiculous and more importantly disadvantageous to my development that was. Now, I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt. It was Christmas Break, and being a college student, I didn’t have too many distractions, stresses, or inhibitions to my recovery. But c’mon. 23 days.
It was dumb. It was too much. I needed a break.
Most folks have the alternative problem. Getting in the gym and being consistent is the barrier standing between them and whatever ideal they’d like to achieve. Maybe these words will help them too. Knowing that not only is it sensible but in fact, optimal to take breaks away from the workout. Here, I’d like to discuss two types of breaks I take and why they’re optimal for my results.
Important to state too is that these concepts largely apply to forms of training outside the weight room. Runners, swimmers, and dare I say Cross-Fitters may stand to benefit from the rationale here.
A “Deload Period” is a planned break from training taken periodically to reduce training stress and hopefully accumulate gains from the weeks of training prior. Personally, I prescribe deloads as 4-day breaks from intense training where instead of lifting heavy weight, I focus my energy toward mobility work and various therapeutic exercise if necessary. Maybe that’s the Physical Therapist in me, but I think it’s important to periodically allow your connective tissue to recover properly. These deloads are usually programmed after either 5-6 difficult weeks of training or when I feel I’m not able to overload for an additional week.
Four sentences ago, I made a point that deloads may allow us to “…accumulate gains from the weeks of training prior.” How? I’m operating on a principle I learned a few years ago called the G.A.S Principle. “G.A.S” stands for General Adaptation Syndrome, and it alludes to how our bodies perform many functions, one of them being recovery from exercise. Here’s a nifty picture.
Photo credit: http://www.rdellatraining.com
This picture governs the methods by which any complex system adapts over time. Here’s a breakdown for our purposes.
The ALARM is the training stimulus. It’s the curls and squats you performed in the gym that have your body saying, “Okay something isn’t right. We’re being attacked.”
The RESISTANCE is the increase in size and strength that occur due to the progressively overloaded ALARM over time. It's an adaptation. This is what should be occurring the other 23 hours of the day.
But with these stresses comes an overarching cloud. If we consistently grind ourselves into the dirt by trying to overload for weeks and months on end, we may EXHAUST. Often, this is termed “overtraining.” When we overtrain, we have literally EXHAUSTED our body’s resources to adapt any further. The best hope we have then is to return to baseline without the bigger and stronger muscles we wanted.
This concept is important because we must realize that the RESISTANCE processes may not be finished before we go into the gym ready for another ALARM. So these gains (or RESISTANCES) we so wishfully desire become ever further from our grasp as we beat the body up. I hypothesize that the 4-day or 120-hour deloading period may allow us to accumulate gains from the ALARMS that became too much for our bodies to handle between sessions.
Twice per year, I take a complete week away from training. The rationale for these lengthier breaks is similar to that of deloads but in a grander fashion. Not only do I allow my connective tissue to take a much-needed break, but more importantly, I allow my mind to get away from the gym.
I would never select a random week in February to do this either. I program them so they align with my life outside of training. Further, I’m aware of these Training Vacations weeks in advance because they’ve almost always aligned with family vacations, Finals week, or the NCAA Tournament, so they’re easy to program. I’ve taken these frequently enough that I’m aware of the predictable way my mind will react.
Days 1 & 2 – “Thank goodness I’m not in the gym”
Days 3 & 4 – “Something just feels off”
Day 5 – “I need to get back in the gym”
Day 6 – “Can I please carry the cooler to the beach? Please.”
Day 7 – *alarms*
The best part of taking a Training Vacation is the week you get back. Your body is just detrained enough to feel a bit extra sore and a bit more sensitized to a training stimulus. But boy oh boy, it’s some of the best training you’ll ever have because you’re so geared up to get in the gym and MOVE. Those productive sessions alone are well worth the hiatus from training.
Thanks for reading.
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