“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…
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.
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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