WHY EVERYONE NEEDS DROP BACK WEEKS
How do you keep your program and your body feeling fresh throughout the training season? Training your body is meant to be a life-long endeavour. Everything in life is better when we are healthy, energized, and can stay motivated. One of the easiest things you can do to train smarter and harder, to prevent injuries, to avoid over-training, and to increase motivation is to incorporate a drop back week into your fitness regimen.
Personally, I like to use a three and one week cycle. That means using three weeks to build on your fitness progress and follow it with one easy drop back week. Think of it as three steps forward, and one step back. The one step back is crucial because it is in the rest, when our bodies repair and grow. (By the way, it is the rest after working hard, not from being a coach potato!). These drop back weeks will leave you feeling refreshed and restored so that you can tackle some more challenging training in the next few weeks.
In cardio training such as with running and cycling, a drop back week usually means doing less training in duration or mileage. The majority find it most beneficial to drop their mileage to somewhere between 15-20% fewer miles during their down week. Then when you want to start the next 3-1 cycle, add a bit more to your first week of training compared to the previous week one, build for two more weeks, and follow it with another drop back week.
During down weeks, you will want to maintain your quality and decrease the quantity. It’s good to keep some speed training in, just simply shorten it. Shave some mileage off of your long runs and maintenance runs as well. Go somewhere different and enjoy the scenery while you are at it. Part of a drop back week is designed to refresh and re-energize you!
In weight training, it is also beneficial to have a lighter drop back week in your program. A drop back week in this case means decreasing the amount of the weights you are lifting when you are training for building muscle (hypertrophy). You may have a three week build by slightly increasing the weight every week and using heavier weights in the lower range of 8 – 10 reps. In a drop back week, you would decrease the weight by 25 – 40% and use higher range of 12 – 15 reps.
Drop back weeks help you to:
1. TRAIN SMARTER
The primary goal of the down week is to have fresh legs / muscles at the end of the recovery week so that you can go right into another three weeks of solid training. A person cannot maintain a grueling fitness schedule forever without getting burnt out or injured. An easy week after some tough training can make you faster, stronger and it helps you to train smarter in the long run.
2. PREVENT INJURIES
Reducing your training volume for a week can help you stave off injury by allowing your body to repair damaged muscle tissues, and it gives time for your bones to rebuild. Our cells are constantly replacing themselves. This is especially true when your muscles and bones are put under different stresses in exercise. Muscles tear when put under stress and then repair to build themselves to be stronger to withstand that stress. The repair is in the rest and recovery. This is why it is good to alternate easy and hard days or to train different muscle groups on different days to give them the time they need to rest and repair. Bones function in a similar tear and repair way except they are slower. Osteoclasts start eating away at old bone cells almost immediately after they are exposed to a new stress. However, the osteoblasts (the builders) of new bone cells, don’t start growing until a month later. A study in the military and stress fractures rates for military recruits peak about a month into basic training. You can be more vulnerable to injury if you don’t have some repair and recovery time each month.
3. PREVENT OVER-TRAINING
A recovery week each month can stave off overtraining and all the side effects that come with overtraining – such as deep exhaustion, lack of motivation, sore muscles, increased resting heart rate, sluggish workouts, decreased immunity, and slower recovery. Your drop-back week keeps your body and mind fresh so you can actually absorb the metabolic stresses of harder training sessions. Sometimes it takes discipline to have a recovery week and it’s worth it! Give yourself this habitual break, knowing that you will benefit more in the long run. Remind yourself of all the hard training to come and that this rest week will enable you to get the most out of the important workouts that lie ahead.
4. INCREASES MOTIVATION
Down weeks are useful for boosting recovery both from a physical and mental perspective. Having an easier week or adding a bit of variety or cross training can make you excited for the next block of workouts. It’s much more difficult to maintain motivation if your training remains the same week after week. Recovery weeks are the reward and they give you something to look forward to, which will keep your mind in the game of life-long training.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Sometimes you may actually feel sluggish and have lower energy during a down week. This is very common. Usually heavy legs and lower energy are at the beginning of the week (if at all). Your body is catching up from the past three weeks of training. However, by the end of the week, the usually the energy is high. You will likely find that the next week, your workouts are more effective and you feel mentally ready to tackle the next challenge.
WHEN TO DROP BACK:
It is also strategic to plan your drop back weeks in preparation for races, competition, events, busy times, or vacations. When you plan your drop back week during the holidays such as Christmas or vacations, you have more time to focus on family, friends and other fun activities. You also know that you’ve “earned” a drop-back week because of your heavier training in the weeks prior. Sometimes this may mean adjusting the time frame of your build weeks (you may have a two, four, or five week build, rather than a three-week build) so that your drop-back week coincides with your vacation, competition, or busy season.