Back around the time WyoFile editor Rone Tempest was in college, there was a guy named Milo of Croton. He was a great wrestler and strongman, and the legend was that he built this massive strength in a very simple way. On the day one of his calves was born, he squatted down, put the animal on his shoulders, and carried it across his field. He continued to do this every day until the calf had become a full-grown bull.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that there are big flaws in such a plan. Aside from the disgusting, even daunting, thought of crawling under a bull each day, it’s obvious that the load will eventually increase faster than the human body’s ability to adapt. Strangely enough, many of us design our fitness programs in just such a way, although they seldom involve lifting cattle.
A better plan is to include rest, or unloading, periods in your training. A look at any professionally designed plan will show an easier week every month or so. Although motivated athletes are afraid that this rest means backsliding in their training, it does not. Quite the contrary: skipping recovery weeks is what will eventually stop an athlete’s progress.
There are a couple of ways to determine how frequently to back off. The first is to experiment: go hard three weeks, then recover, and see how it feels. Then try four on, one off, or two on, one off, and see what you think.
The other way to determine when it’s time to rest is to run through a checklist of how you’re feeling and performing. We like to use the following common questions:
1) Do I feel stronger every week?
2) Do I remain excited about training every week?
3) Am I achieving or approaching my goals?
4) Am I sleeping well?
5) Do I wake up feeling refreshed each morning?
If you answer “no” to two or more of the above, it’s probably time to back off a little.
Your recovery week should not consist of sitting on the couch between trips to the fridge. It should be a 30 to 50 percent decrease in total training volume and a reduction in overall training load. I usually have my athletes maintain the same total exercise time purely to keep them in the habit of setting aside time to exercise, but I assign stretching and mobility work instead of their normal activity.
A week of easy training usually results in improvements in performance. Plan these breaks regularly and you’ll see continued improvements year after year. Omit them from your plan, and your body will find a way to make you rest, whether it’s injury, illness, or burnout.