If you missed part 1, read it here, where I discuss what happens to body composition, strength and muscle when you stop training, along with photos/videos of what happened to me and Jonny when we stopped training for 3 months.
In this article we’ll put the science into practice: how you can incorporate an extended break from training into your year to focus your sights on out-of-the-gym life-gains, without losing strength.
Again, the quote from Jujimufu:
Strictly focusing on non-training stuff for an uninterrupted block of time creates significant, and long lasting positive changes in your training support system, which will do wonders for your long term prospects of succeeding with your training goals. Thus, the purpose of the No Season is to improve your life, which improves your training support system, which inevitably improves your training in the long run.
Before you decide you’re going to pack in the training for 6 months and YOLO your macros, bear this in mind:
A) It’s easy to convince yourself that you need some time off.
Only take time off if you geniunely need it. You should only even consider a break after 2-3 years of serious heavy training.
Also, the ‘overtrained’ excuse is void. Overtraining is rare. We’ve encountered perhaps one person among hundreds of clients that are genuinely risking chronic overtraining. And even then, it’s easily remedied. Lay off the preworkouts, take a week off, get some sleep, eat more. Job done.
B) You’re taking time off TO FREE UP TIME for other pursuits. Don’t waste it.
Even if you actually work in the fitness industry, you’re not a one-dimensional douchebag. The world is full of life-enriching activities to explore.
‘You don’t get to be bored’:
Training and dieting consumes time and energy, which is finite.
Sometimes a dedicated focus to a new pursuit is required to make sufficient headway. we need to free up some RAM. But without a clear structure for what you’re going to DO with that freed up time, it’s very easy to piss it away.
C) Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
If the idea of a no-season scares you, remember that doesn’t mean substituting your gym membership with a Netflix account, heading straight to the nearest buffet and letting yourself go.
Think more along the lines of ‘blast and cruise‘ rather than ‘all or nothing‘. Simply dial back the training frequency a little during busy periods and go for the ‘blasts’ when time allows.
The beauty is that you can do this to varying degrees: dialling back could take the form of switching to a 3 day/week push/pull/legs split with lower volume rather than an official ‘break’.
1) Decide on your focus for sweet life-gains
Don’t pick too many, one is good. Two is OK. Three or more could be a clusterfuck. It’s easy to underestimate how long it will take to master a new skill, due to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Remember before your first driving lesson, you look at people driving their cars thinking ‘pfft how hard can it be’. Next thing you know you’re stalling the clutch and fudging the parallel parking.
So decide on a focus:
A project at work
Learning a language
Learning to code
Taking up a new sport
Knitting a jumper
2) Define your progress.
‘I want to get better at X’ is vague and not measurable. How do you know if you’re successful or not?
We need a defined, quantifiable future-you that you can step into in 90 days’ time and know precisely whether you have achieved your target or fallen short.
For example, this could be to memorise the 2000 most frequently used words in Arabic, to achieve 70% in your exam, to achieve the splits, a standing backflip, whatever.
Meditation is a tricky one since the goal is, paradoxically, detachment. More appropriate ways to define it are by achieving a consistent streak of inputs and measuring a number of subjective attributes (mood, how much you catch yourself in autopilot, frequency checking facebook, how often you lose your temper etc.). Sleep is another tricky one: your perceived quality and adherence (frequency, bedtime, time spent) are useful proxies.
3) Work backwards to determine the behaviours necessary to get there.
What set and rep scheme would be required to reach your target in 90 days time?
Writing a 10,000 word dissertation or work report? 10,000/90 = 110 words per day.
Learning those 2000 most frequent words in a new language? 2000/90 = 23 words per day.
4) Set Checkpoints along the way
Motivation lies – data doesn’t. Just as you track your strength based on your rep performance or max tests, apply the traffic light system to your week.
Plan for some flexibility. You’re not a robot. Don’t sweat it if you have a bad day. The traffic light system will give you instant feedback. An additional layer of security is to check in with us in the free facebook group with your goals. Stay accountable and we’ll support you along the way.
For the hardcore: We have developed a full tracking system to automate all of this for whatever habits you want to develop: The Tracking 101 Bundle. It contains the ultimate tracking spreadsheet complete with book and pretty live graphs and moving averages to make it crystal clear how you’re progressing with any pursuit. It’s ridiculously comprehensive – you could not ask for more.
What about training/nutrition?
The goal is to minimise muscle loss and fat gain. So the important thing is:
a) Keep protein high.
b) Keep calories sensible
Don’t drop calories too much, if at all.
Tracking macros once per week and keeping an eye on bodyweight would be prudent to make sure things are stable. But there’s no need to overthink this.
If you time it properly, you can even use block periodisation to leverage these quiet periods to your advantage: accumulate volume during the quiet periods, then dial back the frequency, increase the loads/intensity during busy times. If you need any help planning these phases, we’re always on the other end of a phone call.
You’re still allowed to have a training focus
My training focus was to switch to gymnastics-oriented strength/flexibility/skills work, extending my morning yoga practice, while reigning in the heavy squats/deadlifts.
Jonny used his layoff as a chance to take a step back and relearn(!) squat/bench/deadlift. He took time away from heavy work, addressed his weaknesses and potential causes of his knee pain:
– Problem: On a knife edge with IPF depth in competition.
– Solution: Switched from high bar squats to low bar. Depth no longer an issue.
– Problem: He’s benching similar numbers to me (Yusef) and as a result is both a) mirin, and b) jelly. His long limbs place him at a disadvantage for this lift.
– Solution: Switching to a wider grip, reducing the range of motion.
– Problem: Knee pain when squatting, tight iliotibial band and tensor fascia latae.
– Solution: Single leg work, deloading, more soft tissue work.
The results for Jonny: he added 10kg to his deadlift and 20kg to his squat as a result of the technique changes during the layoff. Not too shabby.
He also learned to take a step back and be more sensible with programming his percentages too aggressively.
Putting it together
Option 1) ‘I still have time to train, but all this macro-counting is a ballache’
If you have the phsyical time to train, but not the mental RAM to track meticulously, I’ve written out a minimal busy-man’s training program for you here.
Option 2) The bare minimum
Weeks 1-3: Off entirely, or 1 light session per week.
Weeks 4-6: Higher volume, 2 sessions per week
Weeks 6-8: Reduced volume, higher intensity, 2 sessions per week
Week 8+: Repeat
Here, you’re cycling the blocks of training so you’re doing 4 weeks of hard training between 3 week blocks of detraining.
3) The nuclear option: No training
You will regress slightly with the nuclear option. But as we’ve seen in part 1, it’s never catastrophic, and the gains are easily recoverable.
– Enjoy and make full use of the time off
– Manage satiety
– Do SOMETHING physical. Stretch as a wind-down before bed, walk the dogs, do some yoga, whatever.
There are even some potential advantages to the nuclear option. You’re allowing your connective tissue to recover, a major psychological break, sense of perspective, plus you may be resensitising yourself to the training effect on your return by restoring the sensitivity to anabolic signalling pathways.
What to expect on your return
During the layoff: You will feel small and fat. Most of this is in your head. The remainder is down to resting tone and fullness, discussed in part 1.
Returning to the gym:
- Don’t resume your program based on your previous max lifts – you will be rusty and out of practice, particularly with the more technical movements.
- Give it 2 weeks to get back in the groove: allow some time at lower percentages to clear the dust off the old squats.
- Your work capacity and tolerance to volume will have taken a hit: you may feel more out of breath between sets and feel wrecked after the first few sessions back. Expect serious DOMS too.
- Your resting fullness and tone will return within 2-3 weeks
Welcome it. You’re resensitised to the training stimulus, and after the breaking-in period, you’ll surpass your previous personal bests.
So that’s it. Let me know if you have any questions below and I’ll address them. I’m keen to hear about your experiences with detraining.