What to do with a week off

One of the biggest and best plateau-busting moves you can make in your fitness regime is actually pretty surprising, and a bit counter-intuitive:

Take a week off.

As crazy as it sounds–especially once you’re fully hooked on the workout and diet routine over the course of your program–your body needs that week to rest and recover. However, some guys (myself included) feel like they’re losing momentum when they don’t exercise. I don’t know about you, but when I’m on a recovery week, my mornings don’t really feel like they’ve started unless I get that workout in.

So what to do?

Well, truth be told, the reason you’re addicted to the workout in the first place is because of the chemicals it releases; namely the endorphins and adrenaline that give you a great workout buzz. [Don’t believe me? Endorphins are “endogenous opioid peptides,” neurotransmitters produced by the body that function the same way as opiates to reduce pain and bring on a feeling of well-being similar to opium. In fact, it’s why opium is addictive–in reality, opium mimics endorphins. Check it out…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins] You are quite literally addicted to the activity…but this is unfortunately also where you can fall into the trap of overtraining that will make your workouts less effective.

First of all, recognize that it’s only a week. Your metabolism won’t change, and your muscles will continue their adaptive growth. You’re not doing any damage to your progress, and in fact will progress faster once you get back into the swing of things and start your next program.

Second, you don’t have to radically change your diet, but do keep in mind that you won’t be training at full intensity. So if you’re on a 3,000 calorie daily intake, you’re not going to be burning it up at the same level. You may want to scale it back to a maintenance level. Supplement with BCAAs to ensure your muscles are getting the nutrients they need to continue growing.

Third, nobody said you have to stop moving completely. A week off of an intense exercise regime doesn’t mean sitting on the couch in a daze, counting the minutes until you can lift weights again. The point of working out in the first place is to be healthy and enjoy life…so get out and freaking enjoy the fact that you just spent 4, 6, 8, or 12 weeks getting into awesome shape! Play with your kids. Go for a hike with your girlfriend. Toss a ball with your dog. Scale a rock face. Get the guys together for an impromptu football game. Whatever you’re training for isn’t just to look good. It’s to LIVE WELL.

Finally, if you really need the rush of endorphins and you absolutely can’t start your day without some kind of exercise, try this little push-pull routine. It’s light enough that you can do it daily (if you’re not a total beginner), and just enough bodyweight work to give your muscles the sense that they’re still being used for something:

  • Close-Grip Push Ups: 10 reps
  • Mountain Climbers: 10 reps per side
  • Pull Ups: 10 reps
  • Prisoner Squats: 10 reps per side
  • Chin Ups: 10 reps

It’s the shortest possible routine, won’t override your rest time, hits all of your muscle groups, and offers just enough work to get the blood flowing and keep you feeling limber.

Remember, your muscles and your whole system need time to rest and adapt to the torture you just put them through on your training program. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit completely on the sidelines. Just recognize that your week off is as integral to your fitness goals as the actual workouts themselves, and you’ll be able to find ways to maximize your time while still enjoying the fruits of your labour.