Don't Lay Off, Lay Back! Alternatives to Workout Layoffs

Lay Off

Follow these fundamental suggestions to avoid layoffs from training.

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Okay. So the mere thought of discontinuing your workouts fills you with disgust, and you're loath to consider taking a week or two off altogether. The truth is, though, your training is just not progressing, and the part of you that's still rational knows darn well that what your body cries for is R-E-S-T!

What do you do?

For those who truly do feel depressed by the thought of absolutely no training, the viable solution is very often simply to pull back a bit in your scheduled workouts. In other words, lay back and don't lay off. Train easier, lighter. Forget about working to max. Give your muscles a break and allow them to coast on poundages, sets and reps that you can enjoy and they can breeze through.

I almost hesitate to say this because I am totally persuaded that everyone must occasionally take a complete layoff from training, but very often the case can be made for getting greater benefits by easing up without taking a total break. In my own case, for example, I've found that training at 40 to 50 percent of capacity when my body gets stale does me more good than completely laying off-most of the time.

I'm honestly not sure if I gain from this approach because I've been training for so very long (since 1963) or because I'm just so psychologically attuned to the regularity of planned physical training that I'm convinced that ongoing workouts must be better than none at all. Still, I cannot deny that when I lay back I feel a hell of a lot better then when I lay off. A number of my students have discovered this as well.

Remember that most of my students are serious combat martial arts practitioners. They train with weights in a most disciplined and dedicated manner, but they are neither bodybuilders nor competitive weight-lifters. They are, however, people who like to stay in top shape and who appreciate the feeling of well-being that comes from regular physical training.

Often my students become stale because they combine heavy combat arts workouts with their weight workouts, and their bodies rebel against the overwork. At such times I always suggest a layoff; but serious students are serious! They look at me as if I'd told them to stop looking at girls for a week or two! No dice. They're fanatics, and they will train. And because we both know they will, I always tell them, in effect, "Okay, train if you must-but ease up!" Sometimes I sit down with them and go over the routine, modifying it in writing to give them a tangible guide for their next few trips to the gym.

So far-and without exception- my students have felt better, gained better and made more steady and consistent progress by laying back during periods of staleness and training slumps. I suggest that you try it.

Here are the basic guidelines I give to my students. Please follow them, and don't misinterpret my advice to lay back as meaning to work with five pounds or less or cut five minutes off your training sessions. That will do about as much good as switching to a weight-loss program of diet soft drinks while retaining your eating habits in all other respects.

How to Lay Back and Keep Training Effectively:

1) Cut your workout time by at least one-third. If you can cut it in half, that's even better. For a healthy, serious trainee who spends between 1 1/2 to two hours in the gym, that means reducing workouts to very comfortable, brief sessions.

2) Do no heavy work whatsoever. If the last reps of a set feel heavy, you're only grinding your stalemate to an even more pronounced halt.

3) Keep it interesting. Wherever possible substitute for your regular exercises movements that work the same muscles. This will bring variety to your workouts. For example, do alternate dumbbell curls instead of barbell curls, or try standard military presses if you've been doing behind-the-necks.

4) Deliberately work with poundages that do not tax you. In other words, make sure that you finish your sets with a feeling of ease and enjoyment. No sweat, no pushing, no forcing reps.

5) Ease up on your training pace. Your total workout time-including rest between sets-should never exceed an hour. Forty to 45 minutes is even better. Breathe, stretch, walk around between sets and generally allow your body to coast.

6) Never do more than three sets of any exercise. It's almost always better if you keep it to one or two. Remember, the idea is to take it easy, not get a tough workout.

7) Work each exercise from absolute full extension to absolute full contraction. This helps your circulation and improves lactic acid removal.

8) If possible, get a good massage after your workouts. If that's not feasible, then do some very mild stretching for about five minutes at the end of the session.

9) Be sure that you get sufficient sleep and rest.

10) Watch your diet. The effect that good nutrition can have on the body-and mind-is incredible. Don't neglect this vital aspect of training.

To the foregoing I'll add a very important caution:

Don't be in a hurry to go back to your regular, hard workouts. Give yourself time to recover. If you've worked your body to the point of staleness or overexertion, it needs time to spring back. Generally that takes a good two or three weeks, sometimes four. Remember that you're not trying to add weights or progress at all during lay-back training. You just want to keep your body therapeutically active.

The signs that your lay-back is working will be improved energy, plus feelings of increasing strength and psychological well-being. If you don't experience them after a week and a half, then you really should discontinue training completely. So far, as I've said, my own experience and that of my students has been that the lay-back approach is 100 percent effective. That, of course, is no guarantee that it will always work for us or that it will necessarily work for you; but the prospects look good.

So much of good training involves a commitment to ongoing experimentation, altering approaches through trial and error. I hit on this method of getting through stale periods because, frankly, I love training, and because I don't like the feeling I get when I stop even for brief periods.

Naturally, when your body is actually ill, you should discontinue training completely and consult a physician immediately. It is sheer idiocy to burn up your body's resources in training when you need them for healing.

The Recreational Solution

There's one other method of laying back that I recommend. It involves discontinuing weight training and following some alternative exercise-producing activity. Obviously, your choices are limited only by your preference and imagination. There are many activities-such as cycling, swimming, climbing and combative sports, for example-that keep the body active and vigorous and that can be very enjoyable ways to forget the weights for a few weeks and still get the physical benefit of exercise.

Since there are very few activities that can compete with weight training in terms of the intensity of muscle fiber breakdown, all I'll say is to follow whatever activity you select vigorously enough to enjoy it, but not as though you were trying to medal-out in the Olympics.

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