Maybe You Should Train For Maintenance Once In A While?
(It doesn’t make you a bad person).
At Thrive, we are skilled at pushing our clients a little beyond where they would ever push themselves. We hold people accountable for showing up and doing meaningful training once they’re here. Normally, this leads to better results than a person would ever even hope of training by themselves, but occasionally it has an adverse effect. Every once in a while, life loads it up for an individual, and training gets harder. Being a member of a facility like Thrive HM can help you stay on track during turbulent or busy times, but the added pressure, or perceived standards can sometimes become a stress.
When just making it to the gym is a struggle, let alone pushing yourself through gruelling routines, maybe a period of maintenance is required. I’ve seen this multiple times during the last few years. A client will be firing on all cylinders, smashing training and making progress. Then, a big deal at work loads up there days, or added strain at home with a sick loved one pushes their reserves to the limit, or the aftermath of a big push towards being in great shape for a holiday leaves them with little remaining motivation to keep pushing after the break. What happens next is critical to your fitness and wellness. Often what happens is that the client needs to take a break. The thought of showing up every night to power through those 300 rep workouts is too much. There simply is not enough in the tank for that. Training becomes yet another stress, rather than a release. The standards and expectations of their coach become stressful instead of motivational. The thought of watching game of thrones with a glass of Malbec becomes far more appealing than energy systems weight training. And so the client puts membership on pause, stops training. The thought being that its only for a little while, but that’s rarely the case.
Over the next few weeks the time they had carved out for training in their week quickly gets filled. Leisure, work, commitments, drinking, whatever it may be, time rarely stays empty for long. Building that time back into your daily routine is tough and often the effort to do so is insurmountable. Months go by with little to no training. Nutrition starts to slack because, as any fitness enthusiast will tell you, eating is best when training is consistent and when one goes to pot, so does the other. Soon the hard fought gains in physique and fitness have evaporated and the individual feels they have fallen back down the steep hill of performance. Returning now becomes even harder. Not only do you have to overcome the inertia of behaviour activation to get training again, but now you have to face the fact that you’re less fit and training will feel much harder again. In addition, it is common to feel shame about the fat you’ve regained (although I wish this was not the, case it often is), and embarrassment about the weights and workouts that will crush you, when previously you dominated them.
I have come to recognise this all too common pattern. There must be a better way. Turning to the world of athletic performance, where I spend much of my coaching time, there is a clue to what that better way might be, and it’s called maintenance.
You see, athletes do not train hard all year round. It is not possible or productive to try to do so. Using a technique called periodisation (planning training into blocks over time), athletes plan periods of intense, committed training to make progress, periods of rest and recovery and periods of maintenance. Take the pro’ ice hockey players I work with year round for example. The season finishes and the first thing we do is give time off to recover physically and mentally from the grind of the season. Then we start off season training which is actually the most aggressive part of the year from a fitness perspective. With no demand from games and team training, the players will focus on pushing hard in the gym to become better athletes. Once the season starts, however, the demand from team training and competition is so great, that pushing hard in the gym as well would be too much and result in burnout mentally and fatigue physically. So we back off the gym work and have a long period of maintenance. Doing just enough to keep the performance gained in the summer, but not enough to be stressful, or become fatigued
You must see the parallels to normal life here?
Many people fail to approach training in this seasonal approach. With regular people not benefitting from seasons in their work or personal lives, training becomes a push hard all year round affair, which is horrendous physically and mentally.
Instead, I suggest utilising periods of maintenance, which could be a week long or three months long, to help you balance life and your fitness habit. When life loads it up and training hard becomes a chore, back off, train a bit less, get in the gym and run through the motions, take the pressure off. Wait until life backs off a little and then get after it again with renewed vigour, motivation and energy.
Unlike athletes, you don’t have the benefit of knowing when you’ll need a de-load or maintenance period, so be vigilant and act before you’re too deep in the hole.
I’ve used this strategy recently with a few clients in need of a lighter load. The results have been stupendous. Not only have those clients maintained the fitness, and physique progress they worked so hard for, and the habit of going to the gym a few times per week, but they’ve enjoyed training much more! The lower pressure environment and the zero expectation approach to each session has allowed them to enjoy their training, and for it to be a release rather than a burden. Not only that, but some have even hit PB’s during their maintenance periods as a result of staying consistent and only pushing when it feels right.
These clients are now perfectly poised to attack training again once it feels right for them to do so. When life calms down and the desire takes them, they could once again begin going harder and being more disciplined.
The important thing is that this only happens when the clients has the desire to do so. If they live in maintenance for the rest fo their lives that’s also ok. Think about it, if you’ve achieved a level of fitness and physique you’re happy with, and you do not compete in anything, why would you put immense pressure on yourself to improve? Maybe a focus on enjoying training and keeping it a consistent factor in your life is better? Even if you chose to take this approach for good, if your training is well planned and you do the right things you will improve by default slowly over the long term.
Let’s say these clients I use as examples above stay on maintenance for 6 months. After 6 months they’ll be a little fitter, a little stronger and basically the same physique. But if they don’t train at all for 6 months they will be fatter, weaker, less fit and less healthy. When you expand the time horizon from which you view this effect from the next few weeks to the next few years or even decades, periods of maintenance during the inevitable times when life loads it up are a game changer.
If you’re interested in training with us at Thrive, why not check out the programmes we have on offer?