Many of the e-mails and social media private messages that we get are regarding time off from training. Even many of our competition prep athletes write us during some level of panic, asking us what they should do for their training during a vacation, family emergency, injury, medical restricted period, hardship etc. etc. It’s as if the end of the world is coming and even so much as a hiccup in their training schedule will de-rail their gains, and they are only a week or two away from turning into terrible bodybuilder/athlete, or fat slobs with no muscle. It almost seems like they believe they will never be training or lifting weights again.
I write this blog this month because my training as outlined by Coach Eric has not gone according to plan. I have been experiencing heart palpitations for roughly 2 to 3 months now. This was discovered only recently when my wife told me she could hear my heart “skipping beats” one evening when watching a movie. As a result, I have had a plethora of medical tests done that have interfered with my training. One such test was a heart monitor called a “halter monitor”, that I had to wear for 48 hours straight. As you could imagine, I could not go without training for that period of time and stay on schedule. Additionally, the monitor had wires attached to my chest and ribcage that prohibited me from wearing my weight belt. Subsequently, I wasn’t able to squat and deadlift the loads Eric had originally prescribed me without my belt. So, I had to drop the load considerably to reach the rep targets beltless. Finally, many of the procedures that were performed on me over the weeks interfered with getting some of my assistance work done. Trust me, at times, I’m just like all of my clients who message me in a panic, and I too had to get a bit of re-assurance from Eric.
It’s been proven that short times off from training actually improve gym performance upon return . Having a week off from training, or even a week with a reduced amount of volume or load, can literally propel you to better gym performances in the future and also may have little to no effect on your muscular strength or size. If you think about it, it’s just like taking a well-planned deload.
Sacrifice and outwork are often metaphors that get thrown around in the fitness and bodybuilding community. Many in the industry have proclaimed that if you don’t sacrifice and dedicate yourself to your training completely at all times, then you are simply a “bad” bodybuilder. Training before all else! Don’t miss a session or even a single set! If I could be so bold, what is the greater of the two evils? The bodybuilder who doesn’t miss a training session or as much as a set yet neglects time for family, job, studies, bills and their own health? Or the bodybuilder who still gets their planned training done 80 – 85% of the year by making reasonable, well planned concession so that they can take time off for all of the above? If you think about it, the latter option is probably going to be better off in every way if your goal is be in this for the long haul.
So, I would like to offer a few suggestions that might help those who panic when they are faced with having to take time off, or reduce/alter their training:
As I mentioned, there is nothing wrong with simply taking the week off. However, if you enjoy your training as much as I do, you can simply plan for 1 or 2 trips to the local gym or even the hotel fitness facility for a full body session or two. Rest assured, even if you can’t do your normal exercises during those sessions, you will come back to your normal form and perhaps even greater performance a week or two after your return to training.
We all have them. A new baby, moving, car breaks-down, etc. Life does not wait for us. Once again, a week off from training doesn’t hurt. However, some of these hardships can last a lot longer than a week. Simply reduce your amount of volume by eliminating some sets and even some exercises for the duration of the time spent during the hardship. You can even take a week of training and spread it out over 2 weeks. These things are really no different than planned periodization, where you might program a period of reduced training as a taper in preparing for a competition. Taking that perspective, of periodizing your training with respect to your life has a purpose and can be done intelligently. Rest assured, your volume will come back up after this period and in the long game there will be no losses.
Now that we know and have the peace of mind regarding all of the above, we can have the assurance that not training a particular movement or body part for a period of time will likely have a minimal negative impact. Once you are beyond the injury, and can train that movement or body part again, you will be right back where you started in little time. So, in the meantime, simply train the movements and body parts that are not injured or hurt. If you can’t squat, then leg press. If you can’t leg press, then leg extension and hip thrust. If you can’t do a biceps curl, see if you can do an underhand grip pull down. If you can’t bench press, try a cross over or fly. Have you seen Berto’s recent blog on Blood Flow Restriction training? When using this method, you can get the same hypertrophy stimulus as normal training, but while lifting ridiculously light weights (20-40% 1RM), reducing joint stresses while still training your limbs .
If you are in this game long enough, you are going to experience times when training, in part or in whole, is going to have to be put on the back burner. It’s inevitable! Keep your head and use logic and what I’ve presented here to get passed these times, while yet still enjoying what we all love to do.