My #1 Most Bestest, Baddest Training Secret Ever!?

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

“Everybody’s doing something. We’ll do nothing!”

If I told you that I’ve got a secret that will help you stay healthier and make far better strength gains this year than any year ever before would you be interested?


Okay, here it is…

Do nothing.

Don’t lift weights. Don’t do bodyweight stuff. Don’t run sprints.

Just do nothing.

For a month.

Now before you all get to thinking I’ve lost my mind (which happened many moons ago) let me explain.

First of all, what I’m going to tell you doesn’t apply unless you’ve been training properly for at least three years straight.

For everyone else who’s been training for a while and has been moving some serious weights over the course of many hours accumulated in the gym, listen up. Sometimes a single week off every 8-12 weeks (as I always recommend to everyone) isn’t long enough to let everything heal up properly.

We put ourselves through a pretty good pounding with all the heavy lifting and you have to think about the knees, hips, shoulders, lower back, etc. They need a break once in a while.

Yes, the human body can withstand a lot of punishment. And yes, you can eventually adapt to doing an enormous amount of work. But there has to be a price to pay in the long term. I know we’re made to run and jump and lift heavy things, but probably not at the level that some of us do it at.

Prehistoric man most likely ran a sprint a few times per day when being pursued by a predator or when chasing his dinner. He probably did some heavy lifting a few times per week, if necessary to build shelter or move something out of his way. But he didn’t do rep after rep of it at the frequency and volume that most of us do.

Please understand that I’m not telling you to train heavy, hard and often.

What I’m saying is that you should cycle in less intensive training phases, cycle your loads and most importantly, take some more time off.

Eventually, if you don’t take a break once in a while and scale back the intensity, the volume and even take some complete layoffs things will start to break down. Knees, wrists, elbows, shoulders, etc. Surely some of you know exactly what I mean.

After football season most athletes take at least a month off and do nothing. Now, some guys are training the next day but it’s always light stuff for at least the first 4-6 weeks. In general, football players will take long layoffs, though, in order to let their bodies heal.

When you think about what happens over a year of training and you compare guys who train 52 weeks versus guys who train 16-24 weeks you see that the strength gains aren’t that much different. Any strength coach can tell you this.

Greg Jones & other pros probably take more time off than you do.

When we work with an athlete we’ll usually have 3-6 months. After that they’re back in season or at school. During that time they make the same or better strength gains than the guys who train 12 months out of the year. Most times the gains are actually better.

It’s crazy and probably even disheartening for some people to hear but it is the truth. I see it time and time again.

So what does that tell you? It tells you that you’re doing a lot of training and accumulating a lot of joint stress for very little long term progress.

Many old time Iron Game legends used to recommend and take long layoffs and I truly believe it’s something everyone should do at least once per year.

Of course, doing so is very difficult because of the fact that we all love to train so much. I, for one, should know better; especially since I see it all the time, first hand. I see the guys who train half the year making greater gains than the guys who train all year.

I also see the guys who go pedal to the medal all the time getting one injury after another.

Being the knucklehead that I am I’ve been guilty of this for far longer than I’d care to admit.

Don’t do what I’ve been guilty of doing too often. Take the off weeks I recommend every 8-16 weeks. It will make a world of difference. Deload regularly, somewhere between every three and eight weeks.

I know and understand the fear that deloading or taking breaks will make you weaker, but nothing could be further from truth. Most people get stronger by doing so.

I was talking with my buddy, John Alvino the other day and we were discussing a sixteen week block of training when I made some of the most rapid strength gains of my life, putting over fifty pounds on my squat and deadlift. During this time I trained for three weeks straight at steadily increasing intensity and volume and then took the fourth week completely off.

Three weeks of intense loading followed by one week of deloading is a pretty widely accepted practice. But in this case I didn’t deload. I simply skipped going to the gym. And I can’t remember ever making faster gains. Why I stopped doing it I’ll never know.

Aside from the weeks off and the deloads I recommend one or two extended layoffs per year where you step away from the gym and just rest up for 2-4 weeks. In the beginning of the article I was exaggerating a bit for dramatic effect. You don’t have to literally do nothing. You can still be active and play some pick up sports, hike, swim, surf, snowboard, etc. but it would be a good idea to back off of heavy training for that time. Give your body and mind a break.

During extended layoffs many people report better sleep and elevated sex drive. I’ve also even seen people get leaner during these times. That makes me think that their cortisol was elevated and testosterone was suppressed. The rest was just what was needed to get things back on track.

In order to make these extended layoffs less mentally torturous try to plan them around your busiest time of year or a long vacation.

When you return to the gym it would be best to start out light and slowly ramp your way back up to where you used to be. I wrote a very controversial article many years back about why breaking down your training into longer blocks of less intensive loading with lighter weights throughout the year was probably a better idea than always going balls to the wall heavy as so many people love to do. The recent growing popularity of block periodization tells me that a lot of other people are starting to think the same thing.

Extended periods of easier training and time off is a very difficult concept for many of us to grasp or accept.

I get that.

I have the injuries to show exactly how much I get that. I don’t plan on accumulating any new ones, though.

I hope that you won’t either.

Take some more time off and thank me later.

PS. Uncaged is one of my most popular programs and cycles the the intensity up and down in a very strategic way over the course of 16 weeks.  Click HERE to check it out.

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29 Responses to My #1 Most Bestest, Baddest Training Secret Ever!?

  1. Jason Staloski November 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Great article, but probably the hardest advice for me to follow since I started following your methods.

  2. Niel Rishoi November 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I took 2 weeks off a few months ago; unbelievable results.

  3. Cameron November 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Good article. I’m so guilty of not deloading properly (I tend to add more volume when I lower the weight…) and not taking enough time off lately. I tweaked my low back yesterday on what was supposed to be a lighter weight workout that had too much volume. I’m going to chill for at least a week and just do some stretching, yoga and easy isometrics.

  4. TS November 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Well, this makes me feel better about the time I take off to donate blood. I end up not working out for a week, then going back really light for a week just to get back into the habit. And that’s the hardest part: getting back in the habit.

  5. Eddie November 13, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    I totally believe this is true, I just have some questions on how to apply this myself. For me, today I squatted 315×4 and then did 285×5…If I take a week off, should I work back up to 315? My issue with deloading is I think I actually take my first week back TOO lightly, or don’t jump up again.

    So my simple question: After coming back from a week off, how heavy do I go that week?

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

      Start back a bit lighter and just go by feel. Don’t push it balls to the wall the first few days back.

  6. Markku November 13, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    This periodisation thing is great! what do you think about taking time to increase aerobic endurance for a period of time? That develops the cardio vascular system and type 1 muscles. Not great for strength and muscle size but in the long run, over the years one would think that would be good.
    Many of the top athletes do that. For example javelin throwers.

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

      If you wanted to focus on conditioning for a while that wouldn’t be horrible.

  7. Stevie November 13, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    100% Agreed

    I always take longer breaks from the heavy lifting. I actually have a 2day split that i do as follows:

    Workout A
    4 weeks off
    Workout B
    4 weeks off

    And i still make progress on every workout. I do sum light stuff during the 4 weeks but nothing as intense as my 2day split routine.

    Rest is Extremely important and i think more people need to highlight it.

  8. Emily November 13, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Great, great post Jason…and it came at exactly the right time for me. My husband (my coach!) advised me to do just this last week. October was a stressful month for me physically and mentally and emotionally and my body felt like it was shutting down. He told me that for the next 4-6 weeks I was to take a break from the heavy lifting and recover. Walk, do light work with the kettlebells – get ups, windmills, goblet squats, etc. Easy on the joints. Easy on the mind. So far, I am feeling better than I have in awhile and looking forward to more of this. Thanks for confirming what we have already put into practice. ;)

  9. Jorge November 13, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Jay, do you recommend this for younger guys (I’m 19yo) too?
    I ask this because you always say this is the best time in life to build muscle as testosterone levels are higher than ever.

    • Jason Ferruggia December 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

      Not really necessary at your age.

      • Von January 22, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

        Jason, so if it’s not necessary at around that age, then what age would be a good time to start?

  10. Kevin November 14, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    That was a good article Jay—thanks! Very eye-opening and makes you wonder.

  11. Matty C November 14, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    I’m doing it this week. I was supposed to do a ‘de-load’ week last week but had a mate come stay who ramped it up a bit, so it wasn’t the de-load I was programming in. This week, I’m just not training at all. Just some metcon type workouts and a bit of surfing, riding & running. Destress the joints. Low back giving me a bit of jibber too…so some very necessary hip flexor stretching and some core work.

  12. Matthew Kasik November 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Absolutely phenomenal advice, Jay! Listen up, folks, I pounded the living tar out of myself for four frickin’ years and all I’ve got to show for it are shoulders, hips and knees that do not care for me at all. One thing I’ve learned (and I do NOT care what the muscle mags may say to the contrary) is that training to failure is a BAD IDEA. Plain and simple. Please, for the love of God, learn to back off. You will thank yourself.

  13. Raymond November 15, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Yes excellent point, I guess it’s realising what the big picture is about i.e long term lifting and progression.

    I use the weather seasons to construct my variable training program so every 4 months I do something quite different in or out of the gym.

    I train or do something everyday so for sure I look forward to the breaks. I usually schedule my breaks when I have annual holidays or when I travel for work which is 2-3 times per year.

    The beauty is when it’s time to get back into training the motivation to hit it as hard as I can is immense.

  14. Craig L. November 15, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    The concept of taking periodic weeks off from training was one of the most useful pieces of advice I took from your Muscle Gaining Secrets book. It seems counter-intuitive, but I am always able to lift greater weights with more intensity after taking a full week off from training.

    I have been taking a full week off every 3 months, but I think I might start taking one week off every 4-6 weeks and see what happens.

  15. Michael November 15, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Great advice! I know about deloads but I learned about taking some real time off (like a month) by accident. I would get really bad allergies and not be able to workout, sometime for more then a month. When I would recover I would go back in the gym and within a week be right were I left off (same 1RM, same conditioning level, etc.). I no longer feel guilty if family is in town and I choose not to work out or only do some quick bodyweight routines. My body definitely thanks me for it.

  16. Fatless Formula November 16, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    Agreed, but it should be a temporary thing…shouldn’t it?

  17. Luke H November 22, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    I only take time off from lifting if my lifts are going backwards or stalling. Then I know that I am probably in a over-trained state provided I am getting enough rest and food. I know that a month off now would not benefit me in regards to strength. I wouldn’t recommend to have a full month off weight training. In saying that I don’t train high end athletes.

  18. Eugene December 14, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Great advice
    How would you keep your diet during this time. I usually go really low-carb so not to gain fat, but I also feel like I lost some strenght. Any recommendations?

  19. Alex December 18, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Deffinitly good advice.
    I take a week off everytime i change programs (6-8 weeks), so i can start fresh and give it my best.. i allways have good gains in the first 3-4 weeks of a new program, then it starts to slow down, untill it stalls usually around week 6-8, that’s when i know i have to take a break.
    I also take a whole month off during the summer hollydays, but to be honest i think it is a bit too much (maybe 2-3 weeks would be optimal) because when i get back i really lose a lot of strength (around 10-20%) and it takes me about another month to get back on track, mentally it can be tough but in terms of joint health it works wonders ;)
    I’m now 35 so i’m more concerned in longevity and being able to train for the rest of my life than eager for gains (as i was back in the day) so i completelly agree with you..
    Keep it up !!

  20. Will January 23, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Periodization and getting adequate rest produces astonishing results, especially if you’ve really busted your butt and bordered on over-training for a few weeks prior to your break.

  21. gago November 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    HI just wana ask you a question can I do this training programmed

    during the 1st week ill do chest,arms,shoulder,back and legs now the 2nd week

    and 3rd week ILL do RESTING TIME and then the 4thweek ill repeat what i did on the

    1st week my question is will gain muscle because i took a 2 weeks off ..

  22. Roberto September 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I read your article, and every single word hit my head and my mind. I always thought that layoffs were a waste of time for a olympic weightlifiter, but I was wrong. I spent the last two years of my life training with no rest and very litlle deload, the result is a long list of injuries, and worse, after some time my strength, power, speed and flexibility was diminishing. May be I was highly influence on the bulgarian method. I plan now to take the rest of the year off, and return next year doing blocks of training
    By the way it is a great site, and sorry about my bad english. Thank you