How many of you guys and girls have been working out non-stop for weeks now? How about months? Have any of you been going regularly for well over a year? First off, pat yourself on the back because any of that takes a certain level of dedication most people don’t have. The day-in, day-out rigors of going to the gym, eating healthy, and living according to the textbook can be grueling at times. But, as most of you have probably figured out, the rewards make it all worth your while. Not feeling self-conscious when you get into something tight, getting a congratulations from your doctor during your physical instead of being told your blood pressure is too high, getting some attention on the beach because you’ve got a sizzling six-pack…these are just some of the fruits of your labor.
But you know what? That daily grind takes its toll. Even things that are good and healthy for us can strain our bodies and minds when they become a daily routine. Every time we work out we break down our muscles, we tax our nervous system, and we push our cardiovascular system to the max. Think about it; when you work out, you’re doing a lot of manual labor. Lifting heavy objects, running, bending to pick things up, pushing past fatigue…there’s no way around the fact these things are tough on your body, even if they provide hundreds of benefits.
When “Mixing It Up” Isn’t Enough
By now we all should know that variety, i.e. mixing up workouts, weights used, the way of lifting, is the key to avoiding the dreaded plateau. But even the most diligent exerciser, who has a strategic plan, mixes things up every few weeks, and has successfully avoided a plateau for months, can further benefit their gains by doing one simple thing…..nothing at all. Huh? That’s right, doing absolutely nothing at all, for a week or even two, has been shown to help you recuperate and bounce back even stronger.
I’ve often found that taking a solid 10-14 days off from any lifting after an extended period of heavy work has allowed me to come back to the gym stronger than when I left. My body, which was used to the daily pounding, has a chance to really sit and recover. Over-training is a real concern, even for those who don’t think they’re over doing it. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder training 3 hours a day to experience the negative affects of over-training. Simply doing a HIIT cardio and heavy complex lift workout routine (as I recommend to almost all of you guys!) 5 days a week is enough to slowly cause enough wear and tear on your body that you can start to slip into “over-training zone”. What happens when you’re in the “over-training zone”? Well for starter’s…
- More susceptible to injury
- Gains become much harder to come by
- Burn out becomes more likely
- In women, the potential for estrogen depletion and bone density issues
Obviously, the goal should be to push ourselves to the limit, back off before we’re over-training ourselves, recuperate, and come back stronger. Following that cycle, you put yourself in a position to make endless slow and steady gains WHILE protecting your health.
I’ve been working out in preparation for an Ironman for about 6 months without any sort of break. Five to six days a week, every week…this has been my life. To allow myself to heal up for the next big push, I’m going to be taking a break. I’m heading to Peru for 2 weeks (that picture of Machu Picchu makes much more sense now) for rest, relaxation, and a chance to heal. With that in mind, my responses on the blog and website may be a bit slow while I’m away; I’m not sure how great a wifi signal they’ve got in the Amazon. If there are any technical issues with the blog or website, please feel free to contact us, we’ve got someone working on that, but for general fitness advice and/or questions, my replies may be sporadic. I’ll be back and ready to roll September 17th, so please forgive my brief absence.
In the meantime, if you’ve been going at it hard like I’ve been, consider using this 1-2 week window to give yourself a break and pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you’ve done. Remember, breaks aren’t for “slackers”. Calculated and relatively short breaks of 1-2 weeks (keep in mind it’s a BREAK, not an open-ended hiatus from the gym) are what smart exercisers use. Trust in the physiological science behind these carefully planned periods of rest and use them to repair yourself mentally and physically. When you return, you’ll be amazed at how strong, and most importantly, MOTIVATED you now feel to get back into your routine and keep striving to reach your goals.