Ever wonder why they call Christmas time the holidays? For many people this is a very busy time of year. Also after a year of hard training, it may be time to take a break. If your body is honestly asking for a break, I've got just the program for you!
First the test – is this for me - now?
Some days you wake up feeling great and ready to attack your training. Other days you might feel tired and unsure if you lift. The problem with this feeling of fatigue is that it can be physiological (i.e. your body is run down and truly needs a break) or psychological (i.e. you are mentally tired, but your body is still good). How do you know the difference? In this case, I just make deals with myself – “Just start warming up and see how you feel.” “Just do a few warm-up sets and see how it goes.” Most of the time I find that once I get going, I can have a good session. This works well for most people most of the time.
However, some days you just know your body needs a break. Maybe you have just completed several intense weeks of training and it is time to deload. Or, maybe “life” hit you with an unexpected bout of business, an emergency or some stressful situation. Maybe you tried the above test and as you were warming-up your body kept telling you, “No, not today!” You are not trying to be lazy, but you know that you know you can’t go hard today.
The trick with training is to think long-term. Not every workout will be better than the last. Not every training session will be amazing and end in a life-time PR. A few days will be amazing, most will be okay and a few will be down-right awful.
An important key for long-term success is to not fight your body. Yes, you want to challenge it and push it to get stronger, but you want to work with your body - not against it. If you try to fight your body, you lose – every time.
When you know you need to back off, but still want to hit the gym, this program is for you.
The Refresh & Rejuvenate Program Introduction
Here are the benefits of the program:
- Enjoy the health benefits of physical activity
- Mental stress relief
- Maintain mobility
- Joint friendly exercises
- It gives your spine a break for heavy spinal compression (especially if you normally do a lot of heavy lifting)
- You maintain the habit of coming to the gym regularly (some important for many!)
- Reduced the risk of de-training
- Burn a few extra calories
- Practice proper technique
- Leave feeling better than when you came in
- Improve your sleep quality
The Refresh & Rejuvenate Program
Note: this program is for information purposes only and is not an individual exercise prescription. If you choose to try it, be sure to adjust exercises, sets, reps and loads based on your current lifting skill and fitness capabilities.
Take 5-10 minutes to get warm and feel ready. For more info on this, check out my post:
Sets, Reps & Rest:
Do about 1-3 sets of around 8-12 reps (i.e. 6 reps may work on some exercises and 15 is fine for others. However, don’t do heavy sets of 3 or burn out with 20+ reps). Yes, I know that looks like something out of a beginner fitness textbook. However, it fits perfectly with this program. High sets means high volume and this will not help with recovery. Low reps are harder on your joints and really high reps can burn you out. For rest times, go about 60-90 seconds between sets for one exercise or 30-45 seconds between exercises if you are doing alternating sets.
Do the leg exercises by themselves. However, for the upper body exercises, you can alternate between pulling and pushing. Example: 1 set of pull-ups, rest 45 seconds, 1 set of press, rest 45 seconds, back to pull-ups and repeat until you are done your desired number of sets. This why these exercises are labeled as 2a) and 2b).
1) Goblet Squat
Goblet squats are a great way for beginners to learn to squat. However, they are also a great recovery squat variation for more advanced folks.
2a) Ring Pull-Ups
If you are strong enough to do weighted pull-ups, body weight pull-ups are great for recovery. They also give some spinal decompression. If you have access to rings, this makes them even better as they are more joint friendly. If you don’t have rings, use a neutral grip (palms facing). If pull-ups are a big challenge for you, feel free to use lat pulldowns (ideally with the neutral grip).
2b) Bottom’s Up Kettlebell Press from 1/2 Kneel
This is a fun, challenging way to do overhead presses. With the kettlebell upside down, you will have to grip the handle much harder. This activates your rotator cuff and helps protect your shoulder joint. Note: if you have never done this before, start lighter than you think you need to. If you don’t have access to a kettlebell, just do a 1-arm press with a dumbbell.
3. Hips & Hamstrings
This is the tricky one. What you do for your hinge movement really depends a lot what you have access to as well as your strength and skill levels. Here are several good options for this program:
- Swiss Ball Leg Curls
- Sliding Leg Curls
- Glute-Ham Raises
- Kettlebell Swings
- Hip Thrust
- Single Leg Hip Thrust
- Back Extensions
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (holding)
4a) Suspension Strap Rows
As with ring pull-ups, these are great for your muscles and easy on your joints. You can also easily regress this exercise. Another good option here is the Seated Cable Row.
4b) Suspension Strap Push-Ups
Again we have something really joint friendly. You can regress these as needed or if you don’t have some type of suspension strap, just try regular push-ups or if needed, bar push-ups.
5) Free time
If you have done all of the above, it is time to have some fun. If you want to just go and have some fun outside the gym, go for it! If you want to stay and do some fun stuff in the gym, you have earned it. If you are a guy, maybe you want to do some chest and biceps work and leave with a great pump! Maybe you want to do some extra core work. Note: if you want some new ideas for effective core exercises, check out my post on 7 Superior Alternatives to 7 Popular Core Exercises. Maybe there is an exercise that you wanted to learn or try out to see if it is a good fit for your program.
There are only 2 key guidelines to follow here in free time:
- Do what you want to do, not what you feel you ought to do
- Don’t do something overly stressful. Stay with the main theme of this program – recovery. Don’t pound on your joints. Don’t further burn yourself out and delay your return to normal training.
Once you are done, it is time to focus on recovery. Be sure to hit your recovery switch before you leave: How to Flip Your Recovery Switch to Accelerate Your Results.
The Magic of Walking
Walking (especially outdoors) is completely under-rated in most fitness & athletic performance circles. It offers tremendous benefits for your health, recovery and stress relief. Do your best to do a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes most days – especially when you are in recovery mode. This can be done after this program or at some other time in the day.
How long should I do this?
In most cases, 1-3 workouts. It may just be used once during the middle of your regular training program when you are having a bad day. Or it could be used 3 times a week for 1-2 weeks to give your body a break when it needs it.
Why not just be out of the gym?
There definitely is a time for just taking a break from the gym. When you need it, go for it. For many folks, taking 1-2 weeks off the gym per year can work well. However, by doing a light workout, you get the benefits listed above in the program intro section.
What about active rest?
Active rest is when you do some non-structured physical activity (e.g. go biking, play a recreational sport, etc.). This is a great way to get some physical activity, recover, give you a mental and physical break from the gym AND have some fun. However, you may not always have many options here – especially in the winter. If you do, great, if not, you now have a plan for the gym.
If you try the program, please let me know what you think. As always I welcome your comments and questions below or on my Facebook Page.