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Are You Resting Enough To Get Stronger?

When I arrived in Denver on Sunday, I had planned to get in several workouts this week.  Instead, for different reasons, I decided to take the entire week off and get extra sleep and calories.  I’ve been looking for insomnia relief for a long time. Maybe the trip would be the answer. I haven’t touched a kettlebell in days, and I’m climbing the walls.

This is a good thing.

I had not taken a week off–or just had a week of light effort–in months.  I have not seen negative effects from this, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  You can only push so hard for so long before needing a recharge.

Back off

If you are new to strength training, I would advise that you get in the habit of working hard for three weeks, then either taking a week off or having the fourth week be a very light week.  You could do something entirely different than the program you are used to, or do the same thing, but only working with a fraction of the volume.

If you are experienced, I would recommend the back off weeks even more.  It may seem counterintuitive, but giving yourself a chance to rest can be the best way to jumpstart progress again.

The result is that I miss the gym.  It’s only been a week, but I can’t wait to get back and tear it up.  That is going to result in some great things and some great progress.

So, for you fitness and strength people: do you plan down time in your programs?  Why or why not?

Josh

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  • Dean Dwyer November 27, 2009, 6:10 am

    This is one area I need to be better at. I use the 3 on, 1 off approach as well, but lately it has been 3 weeks off, one week on. YIKES!

  • Niel November 27, 2009, 10:16 am

    I know I’m the same after taking a week off. I’m always worked up to get back in the gym again.

  • Srinivas Rao November 27, 2009, 12:41 pm

    Hey Josh,

    As you know I’ve been out of the water since last week and I’m going stir crazy, but I’m sure that my time off has probably rejuvenated me quite a bit and I got to put that time into launching the new stoked for life blog, so I made good use of my time.

  • Jarie Bolander November 27, 2009, 1:37 pm

    I typically cross train to give myself some rest and to mix it up a bit. Varying the intensity of my work outs also gives me some rest. I usually don’t take any days off if I can avoid it. Doing something everyday just seems natural to me. My energy levels tend to cycle in roughly 10-14 day intervals using this method (i.e. the work outs feel a lot tougher toward the end of the cycle).

  • Terresa Wellborn November 27, 2009, 4:34 pm

    I’m not into exercise much, unless you count moving a pen across a spiral notebook in between diapering my son and scrubbing kitchen floors.

    Curious, I came across an article you wrote over at ProBlogger. I think. (The Internet can be a tangled web and it can be hard to keep track of link-throughs and such.) I liked the article a lot and the you-can-do-it Carpe Diem theme. As a Librarian and blogger, I applaud you for creating a comfortable virtual spot to visit, learn & laugh.

    Carry on, fellow Librarian!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 27, 2009, 4:37 pm

      Just back off of the diaper changing every fourth week to make sure you’re reaching your potential:)

  • Philippe November 27, 2009, 7:52 pm

    Since I have a hard time backing down, even when suffering something mild like medial epicondylitis, a trip out of town or a great surf swell allow me to take time off without feeling like climbing the walls too much. Interestingly enough, before being RKC, off time was easier to accept mentally. Even though I know more and know better, the instinct to push, especially with RKC’s more knowledgeable than me wherever I go, is working against me. A plateau in strength gains can be an indicator. In other words, I don’t even practice what I preach out if my own accord. A few of you might get it (like your article about the downside of strength). Mother Nature blessed me with waves and year long sunny weather. The peace it gives me resets my mind. Being away from my gym and spending time with family I don’t see often is another wdy into forced relaxation (and carb loading…).

  • Boris Bachmann November 27, 2009, 9:00 pm

    Three hard, one light is good for just about everyone. Get greedy and push too hard, too long, and you’re going to regret it. I’m regretting it right now as a matter of fact…

  • Susan Neff November 28, 2009, 10:57 am

    Thanks Josh,
    I think it is really hard for some of our elite athletes to realize the benefits and necessity of this. I can think of a few at our box that could/would go faster and stronger if they just gave their bodies and minds a much needed and deserved break.

  • Laurie November 29, 2009, 4:40 pm

    After years of getting nowhere fast in the weightroom, with he help of Stuart McRobert’s Brawn, I’ve had reasonable success with a 4-week ramping cycle (for weight training), where the first week is about 90% of my previous PR, then I do 95% of PR, then match my PR, and then try to beat my PR.

    The primary drawback is I sometimes find myself getting sick after the end of the cycle, so this could be too much as it is. So I’m experimenting with backing off more early on, taking more time between the heaviest days at the end of the cycle, taking time off before starting a cycle, backing off to 80% and 90% instead of 90% and 95%, etc. But I find I am getting stronger, despite my self-diagnosis of “hardgainer,” so it is working, apparently.

    I also tried staying out of the weightroom entirley this summer and tried to use bodyweight and kettlebell-only stuff, plus running and bicycling. That was nice becasue the idea of squatting and deadlifting heavy and hard in the hot sweaty months stole my drive. Plus, I didn’t want to be sore for runnign and biking. The change up was good for my mind (and I also took off a bit of winter fat), but it’s taken me some time to get back where I was, I think because I’d get so sore from using the bar again.

    Next summer I think I’ll try something where I keep using barbells, but probably just not as frequently as I do in the cold months, for strength maintenance-purposes.

    The main thing I’ve learned about backing off is that I’m always amazed how easily you can back to where you were, such that laying off really isn’t a problem.

    The other beauty of backing off, coming from a background of you-have-to-do-cardio-6-days-a-week, is that I don’t feel the need to kill myself if I’m on a hike or just going for a walk, etc. For awhile I viewed being outside as my exercise, as a challenge I needed to overcome. Now I (usually) can just enjoy the scenery, etc., knowing that I’m getting stronger from more efficient, concentrated exercise with heavy things.

  • Josh Hanagarne November 29, 2009, 4:43 pm

    Laurie, Beyond Brawn might be my favorite strength book ever. Your stock just went WAY up here. You make a lot of great points.

  • Gubernatrix November 30, 2009, 6:40 pm

    I don’t have a job at the moment so I am getting plenty of rest! It’s great, as it coincides with the culmination of a powerlifting cycle.
    For most people who have jobs, family etc, getting enough rest is an ever-receding target. But a quiet and calm mind can also be good, even if you are not getting as much sleep as you need. Stress affects the nervous system which of course also governs strength.
    Boris had a good post on this a while back too – http://squatrx.blogspot.com/2009/10/sleep-debt.html
    Oh, and watch less TV!

  • Forest December 2, 2009, 10:47 pm

    Hey Josh –

    Good point here. I know I need to take ‘back off weeks’ like these, but it’s so darn hard! You’re totally right that it gets you excited about training again when you get back to it.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 2, 2009, 11:03 pm

      Stinks, doesn’t it? In the short term, at least.