Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Back-off Week

Even the world's best athletes need to back-off periodically.

Below is an article I saw on the Catalyst Athletics web site. They have some good stuff on there from time to time. I have been involved in training long enough to know the wisdom of what is being advocated here. For many years I would find myself in a cycle where I would train by constantly adding more volume while trying to increase the intensity every workout. Injury would inevitably result, so I would rehab and start the whole cycle over again.
Mike Gray writes a nice article on the benefits and challenges of scheduling in back-off weeks. Wisely used, these planned periods of lower volume and intensity prevent overuse injuries and allow for the CNS to regenerate and recover. Even though I know this, advocate it, and implement it with athletes I coach, I have trouble doing it myself. It is really hard to back off, even when I know it is smart. I guess that is why  it is good to have a coach, or at least an advisor who can be objective and honest. An old saying attributed to the Chinese is "He who would be his own physician has a fool for a patient" comes to mind. We could say "He who would be his own coach has a tough job." Be smart. Plan for adequate recovery. Get some outside feedback and opinions when necessary.

The Back-off Week

Mike Gray
February 18 2013

Also known as the de-load week, the back-off week is by far my least favorite week during a training cycle. Coincidentally, as I write this I am wrapping up one right now. If you would have asked me last week at this time I would have told you I couldn’t wait for the damn thing to start, but that was last week and I felt like hell because I thought my body was used as a human pry-bar for the last 3 weeks.

The back-off week is a funny little animal in that you know you need it, yet it can literally be one of the hardest weeks in your routine because it’s hard to get motivated for it. This is a typical day for me in my back off week.


Snatch - 65%/2, 65%x2, 70%x2, 75%x1, (80%/1)3

Snatch Pull - (95%/2)2, 100%/2

Back Squat - 70%/3, 75%/3, (80%x2)3

Now looking at that one would think “how hard can that be?” and honestly it shouldn’t be, but that’s the point in a back-off week. Odds are its going to be hard because you need to back off. The week before that I was hitting doubles in the snatch @ 85+% for multiple sets, and yet a single at 80% this week feels like it’s welded to the platform. It’s a very hard thing to understand but this sport doesn’t allow you to hit PRs on a week to week basis for very long as many of you have already experienced. Your body can only take a beating for so long before you start to get diminishing returns on it. So as the old saying goes, you need to take step backwards to keep taking steps forwards.

I want to leave you with some tips and thoughts about the back off week to think about and/or implement in your own training.

1. Always plan your breaks or they will plan you, I can promise you that.

2. If you feel slow, beat up or sore as hell during your back off week then you timed it well.

3. You earned it, so enjoy the week, but it doesn’t mean you get to take it lightly. Warm ups and recovery need to adhered to as if it were a normal week.

4. Be brief, Be bold and Be gone. Meaning get in there get to business and get out. These weeks tend to be much shorter so use the time to catch up on other things in your personal life that might get pushed to the side in a normal training week. If you need to get married, I would use this week.

5. Don’t add to the program. By Thursday you should be feeling pretty good. Trust the program and finish the week out as it is written and just know that by Monday you will be feeling even better.

6. Stay out of the gym if you can. I just caught myself doing this a few minutes ago. Off day, yet I was walking by and just poked my head in to see what was going on and next thing I know I am messing around with some dumbbells. It’s time away and respect it for just that.

7. Clean out your gym bag and wash your knee sleeves. Yes, it’s you that has the awful-smelling sleeves, not the guy next to you.

8. If you are having a great 2-3 weeks of training and everything is flying and you feel unstoppable, that is the time to start thinking about your step backwards. It’s better to slow down (notice I didn’t say stop) on your terms than something else’s.

So in closing, remember that even Wolverine sleeps and that guy recovers from everything, so we as mortals should remember that even if we feel superhuman for a bit, recovery is a much-needed time in our training.

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