What if you found out that taking a break from the gym can help your performance or progress, would you listen?
Finding motivation is one thing but being able to sustain progress over years is another and sometimes taking a few steps back, allows you to move past those plateaus. The concept seems simple, am I right? But try convincing an athlete or avid gym-goer to shut down or slow down physical efforts – 100% compliance wont be so easy.
I have learnt over the years to appreciate and abide by the concepts I will be explaining in this blog. Giving your body a structured break is an important part of training and ensures consistent progress.
There are two types of regressions: a deload or a shut down. In this blog I will explain the difference between the two and why someone may need either/or, as well as the importance of sticking to the plan.
First, what is a deload?
A deload is a period in a training cycle where the weight is executed at 70% to 75% of your max. This is usually done after the stress demand has been high for a few weeks. The deload is an active rest all while allowing you to groove proper movement patterns. Sometimes we need a break, both mentally and physically in order to sustain continued progress. The most productive deloads are the ones that are executed before your body tells you, you need one.
Our body is great at automatically responding to stressors and showing us the warning signs before it is too late. Many times, they are right in front of us but we simply choose to ignore them. So you have to ask yourself, how conscious are you at listening to what your body is telling you or how stubborn are you at ignoring it? Therefore, having a deload week scheduled it in your training cycle ahead of time is a good idea.
There has been a couple of times in the past where I was forced to deload. When I say the word “forced,” it is because it normally happened after having a great training week, to suddenly bonking in performance. It was caught too late.
I am someone who strives to see an increase in numbers every single training and I always expect a progression. That level of determination can be good and bad. Good, because I have that constant drive to excel forward but bad, because it can blind me from my own body’s fatigue. I would get frustrated to see from one week to the next, a significant decline in a lift that may have been a breeze the week prior. Its not the best for your mental state.
Scheduling in regular deloads throughout your training cycles gives your body the needed break, allowing you to reboot and come back that much stronger. It keeps the good momentum going. Test it out for yourself – go hard for 3 weeks and on the 4th week perform all weights at 70%. After such, you will feel refreshed mentally, and physically to start a new phase!
“A recovered athlete is one who surpasses the exhausted.“
What is a shut down?
Thankfully with the Oura Ring that tracks my sleep – during quarantine, the signs were visible that I needed a shut down. The red flags were the unusual elevated heart rate, a low HRV (heart rate variability) and a higher than normal body temperature. No matter what I tried, I was not able to regulate these factors. I thought I felt great and my sleep was off the charts in terms of good quality so I remained stubborn and kept training. I kept telling myself that with time, it will get better on its own.
Heart rate variability is a prime component that determines the body’s ability to recover from stress, a day’s demands, training volume, etc. Having these factors out of wack, were signs that I was not recovering. In the past, I have experienced pushing my body too far where it can take sometimes over a week to have my energy go back to normal.
My coach put me on a shut down until I was able to stabilize the above factors. Although I felt good, these red flags were something new to my usual sleep routine and I had to get to the bottom of it. We reached out to World Renowned Iridologist, Gino Bellifante, whom I have seen many times. I got reassessed and was given a protocol. I followed it to a T and it worked, heart rate went down! From that point on, I gave my body the rest it needed.
In addition to seeing the Iridologist, my coach thought to tackle it from a breathing perspective. I saw the CoreXcellence Clinic to address my diapraghm. This involved many nights of blowing into a balloon to calm the body and it worked, my HRV overtime improved!
In a future blog, I can go more into detail about the breathing tactics that worked for me and how it has improved my lifting but let’s stay on topic… I kept checking things off the list that needed to get done so that I can be allowed to train again. It took a couple of weeks but I was back at it soon enough!
“Like anything, whether a deload or a complete shut down, it is only productive once you commit to its entirety!“
And finally, sticking to the plan.
This final section takes discipline and willpower. Its the ability to say “no.”
Here is a small example.
My powerlifting season is throughout the winter and my off season is in the summer. I place huge importance on both. In the past 4 years, when competing became more serious and I have moved my way up the competitive ladder, I had to make the decision to tell family and friends “Sorry but I cannot go,” as training took priority.
In season, with training at its peak, and performance and recovery placed at the highest importance – I could not chance anything harming my progress. Whether it be skiing with my family or activities with friends, just that slight possibility of something injuring me, getting sick or tweaking anything, was not a chance I wanted to take.
That is where the commitment and discipline come into play and priorities have to be set straight. In-season I do no other sports or activities besides swimming on recovery days or lifting itself. If it does not directly enhance my strength and performance for my sport, I will simply say “Sorry, but I cannot go.”
“Your only as good, as how well you recover.“
During the summer, I do have more flexibility in terms of doing other activities or going places but even at that – when it means this much to you and it’s become your lifestyle, you don’t deviate very far because come Monday, you got weight to lift. This is the prime reason why my strength improves every year and my injuries are minimal to none. I stick to the plan. I do not over train, I eat to perform and I recover. It takes sacrifice, but a plan only works once you abide 100%.
Let’s tie everything in together,
Everyone needs a break once in a while, whether it be from your routine, training, work, etc. In order to know if a break is really needed, it requires listening to your body, which oddly enough is the hardest thing for people to do. I used to be one to ignore the signs and I’ve learnt my lessons, hence why I am sharing my experience with you.
As simplistic as it may seem, no matter how big or small; a stressor is a stressor. When your body is requesting a break, do not replace it with other things! If you want to ensure consistent progress in your training, evaluate your performance from week to week. Take into account your energy levels throughout the day and sleep quality. Let the body reboot so it can perform when you need to the most – train smart!