I think I learned about this concept from Pavel Tsatsouline. The idea is to give yourself a rest every fourth week. You push yourself and then you rest. Whenever I’ve seen this protocol, it’s given that you do a percentage of the weight you were handling in the previous weeks. I typically just stretch, do joint mobility, and throw more kicks and punches.

Recovery is a really important thing. It’s tough to get it perfectly correct. You want to push yourself. If you don’t, you don’t improve. If you push yourself too much though, you get run down. Devitalized. It’s a balance. The easiest way I’ve found around this is to simply employ this back off week. Each week leading up to the back off week, I push a little harder.

  • Week 1: 4 sets, lighter weights
  • Week 2: 4-5 sets, medium weights
  • Week 3: 3 sets, heavy weights
  • Week 4: joint mobility more athletic movement type stuff

By the time the back off week comes, I’m starting to feel a little run down. This way, I don’t worry about overtraining. I don’t worry about holding back. I know that I will push and then give my body an entire week of recovery.

It also helps with boredom. While I’ve made my program enjoyable, I’m basically doing a similar thing each time, a circuit of 4-5 exercises. Having a week break from this is nice.

But what to focus on during the back off week?

As I said, I like to do more movement stuff. Kung fu stances. Stretching. I’ve thought about putting together a yoga asana routine. Sometimes I life some weights or do exercises I haven’t done in a long time just to experiment and see how they feel. An exercise I’m considering now is the hack squat. This gives me a chance to experiment without being in my routine.

I don’t have any rules or much discipline during my back off week. Recently, my back off week came when I was in North Carolina visiting my wife’s family. I did more walking and stretching and that was it.

Changing things up

A long time ago I wrote about an extended rest period I had while I travelled in Mexico. It was a nice reprieve and I came back and was able to re-analyze some of the things I had been doing. That’s the benefit of the back off week, and that’s the benefit of taking breaks at work, too. In nature there are down periods. Consider the season of winter. If you were a pioneer in the American West, you’d be preparing for the winter. If in the winter you were ill-prepared, assuming you survived, you’d be thinking about how to do it better next time. That’s kind of where this is going, giving yourself the chance to improve.

Are we taking enough breaks and giving ourselves space to think?

I think that we don’t take enough breaks these days and we push, push, push without really understanding the consequences of our actions. I can tell you that my heart PVCs are related to this attitude. Now, I’m all for progress but push, push, push doesn’t let you reflect and doesn’t help the focus, focus, focus. The back off week, at least in the construct of my training plan, lets me reflect on how things have been going and then focus on what I want to do next week—what changes do I want to make.

So, work hard for several weeks on end, then take it easy and reflect and focus your energies on how you can do the next several weeks even better. It works in training, give it a try in real life too, as much as you are able.

Try this out and let me know how it goes.