Needing to take a step back from exercise and your training routine can take a while to understand, especially the impact it has on your longevity in the gym. You can’t carry on training excessively hard for months on end- it’s not sensible and you’ll regret it. Eventually you’ll start to notice tell-tale signs to pay attention too, whether you need a break from the gym completely or some form of a de-load.
I like to use the bucket with water analogy to explain our stress levels and how much we can manage. Be this work, gym or relationships, the bucket is a representation of life and everything you can pile in. The bucket can hold only a certain amount of water and if you cross this line it overflows. Most people who take exercise seriously follow a proper programme and go HAM everyday, week to week, for many months. The intensity is sky high, and if they decide to take training easier they’ll feel they come across as weak by backing off and running a low intensity workout.
The fatigue you compound from workouts starts to add up- similar to building a brick wall. You add brick by brick, slowly increasing the size and eventually you can’t carry on because you run out bricks and the wall is too big to overcome.
If you continue down this path of beating yourself and trying to crush every workout the body will eventually say “hold the fuck on, I’m at my peak limit I can’t take on any further stress!”
At this stage diminishing returns are clear. Performance, sleep, sex drive, motivation, and those small gym niggles across your body will start feeling even worse.
Essentially your body is on the decline.
This could be for many reasons. Lifestyle factors such as sleep and how much you get each night massively impacts your mood and muscle recovery leaving your energy levels impaired.
Now it’s possible to feel exhausted but you yet can’t actually sleep when you try too- this is a common sign of overtraining.
Age is another thing to consider when deciding the style of training you wish follow. The fact is you bounce back much faster when you’re young. You are growing and hormones are circulating high compared to someone who’s past the age of 25 years old.
Keep this in mind. Your body may need more breaks than when you were a spritely teen.
It goes without saying that diet plays a substantial role in you recovery capabilities. If you eat poor quality food regularly and choose fast food and fizzy drinks and sugary stuff, you can cause highs and lows constantly. This only adds to tiredness and feeling hungry- not something we want contend with. The good news is we can quickly change by eating sensibly and making better decisions in the kitchen.
It might come as a surprise but training is a good stress, however for too long and at too high an intensity progress is going to stop in the long term. This can be difficult to hear for a younger gym-goer lifting weights.
You can’t push 110% if you can’t recover. Your body can only take SO much.
Noticeable things start to happen in the gym if you persevere when you shouldn’t.
For example: weights you once lifted start dropping, you struggle to complete the same number of reps, and you’ll wake up in the morning without a spring in your step not excited for your workout.
It’s a juggling act.
Sleep and rest
…and the all other components that make up our lives are inside the bucket.
What should you do?
Many experienced lifters and coaches can spot the giveaways before they’ve gone too far, realising they must pull back what they’re doing in the gym.
Using the downtime to enjoy less intense sessions can be very beneficial. You can focus on fixing the bad habits with technique and form, you could even implement extra foam rolling/ stretching and mobility work to improve tight areas and your overall safety.
Having said that, let’s not get tied up on the what you can do in the gym during this phase. Instead, for some it’s better to get out of the gym, pick up hobbies you stopped doing, catch up with friends and enjoy what else the world can offer. It might even be time to experience new things you’ve held off doing because the gym took priority.
Another popular method many trainees use is de-loads.
If you prefer still being in the gym these can be beneficial to retaining strength, perfecting your form and still get your weekly fix of iron. Not forgetting you still have the post gym feels we all crave and love.
De-loads all depend on the intensity, type of training, characteristics of the person and a number of other points. In my experience the majority of people never need to add in de-loads because they aren’t consistent, working hard enough or pushing their true limits to warrant the time chilling out. These people would be better addressing their level of effort and adherence to weekly workouts.
If any of the symptoms I’ve discussed in this blog are affecting you and your workouts, and you’d like more advice on possible actions to take then I’d love to hear from you.
The week before last I took a de-load week which gave my body and mind the space it definitely needed, as since then I’ve hit some PR’s I’m very proud of. It’s not about going hard all the time until you crumble!