You’re planning to go out of town. You’ll miss a bunch of training sessions. You know that you’ll detrain while away, and you’re also busy with pre-trip planning.
Here comes the dilemma: “Since I’m going to take a break anyway, should I try to train before I leave? Or might as well not bother – just skip training and restart when I get back?”
And if you’re new to lifting and thinking of starting, you might ask: “Is it worth it to start my training now, or better to wait till I get back?”
Why train if you’ll detrain thereafter?
It’s understandable why pre-break training may seem futile. When you take a break, it seems like you’ll lose all the “gains” achieved in the previous sessions. So why waste the time and effort? Why not just restart afresh when you get back?
While it’s true that you’ll detrain (depending on how long you’re out of training for), you’re not actually wasting the effort that you put in.
In fact, in every situation where you’re going on break, you should train right until you leave.
Here are 3 reasons why.
#1. It’s a great time to attempt a PR
Setting a date to attempt PRs is a good way for you to have a goal to train towards.
If you tell us that you’ll be taking a break, we typically like to plan for you to attempt PRs before you leave. This usually applies to more advanced lifters who’ve been training a while – it’s a good time to quantify their progress.
Having sufficient runway time is important. If you know that you’re going out of town, do let us know as soon as possible – the longer in advance we know, the better we can plan.
Telling us a couple of weeks out isn’t sufficient time to prepare.
Of course, this will depend on the duration of your break. If you’re only going miss a session or two, it’s easy to scale down and work back up again. If you’re gone for a while, then we plan for PR attempts.
PRs are also a nice way to end a training cycle. In normal circumstances (no break), you’ll take 1-2 light weeks after a PR attempt before you start building again. So if your break coincides with your downtime period, you can start “new” when you get back.
What if you’re not interested in chasing PRs, and just want to maintain your strength and continue your fight against aging-related processes like sarcopenia or osteoporosis? If that’s you, you should definitely train, right up till the date you’re leaving. This is because of the next reason:
#2. To minimise detraining (and get back faster)
Extended training breaks will lead to some degree of detraining. The longer your time off from training, the more pronounced the detraining effect. You can’t avoid it. But what you can do is to minimise detraining as much as possible.
It’s important to understand the Stress, Recovery, Adaptation cycle. When we train, we impose a training stress on the body. After that, the body will recover from the stress applied, and then adapt to that stress by increasing our baseline of performance.
Normally, we would repeat this process over and over, to keep increasing our performance baseline and get stronger. Taking a break means no training stress.
So we try to time it – we apply the stress as late as possible before your break. This means there’ll be an tiny uptick as your body recovers, which will occur when you’re out of town. Training as late as possible also shortens the time between your last session before leaving and your first session back.
Depending on how long your break is, detraining will start occurring at some point because there’s no new applied stress. Still, the goal is to minimise your detraining. Even if you’re away for weeks, that little uptick just prior to leaving means that you’ll detrain ever so slightly less. It also means that you’ll get back slightly faster as well.
What if you’ve never trained before (so detraining doesn’t matter)?
#3. For newbies: Stops procrastination
If you’re thinking of postponing your start to after your break, don’t do it.
Psychologically, starting now kickstarts your training. It prevents “I’ll do it tomorrow” syndrome, because we all know that tomorrow never comes.
It’s also easier to continue something that you’ve done before, instead of starting fresh, because of existing training effects. Having practiced the movements before, it will be familiar to you, making it easier to get right back into training.
One more fact: new lifters make their fastest gains when starting out on the Novice Linear Progression (NLP). This rapid initial progress of adding weight to the bar every session is actually very exciting – it keeps you motivated to get back in the gym. You can expect similar, albeit slightly less speedy, gains when you restart.
Generally, you’ll be restarting at a higher level. So it’s always better to get started now, and hit the ground running when you get back.
Bonus #4. It keeps you accountable
Imagine that you tell your coach about your planned break. The first thing he’ll ask is, “When are you leaving and when will you be back?”
This creates accountability. You know that your coach will expect you to train before you leave and be back in the gym when you return. Perhaps your lifting buddies will also be looking forward to having you back in the gym when you get back.
Other people’s expectations are psychologically powerful. Knowing they’re there encourages you to restart when you get back, instead of putting it off.
Then there’s the money factor. Our coaching fees do expire for a good reason – to ensure that you train consistently enough to make progress. If you’ve paid good money for coaching, it’s very likely that you’re serious about training. If you miss training sessions, you’ll not make progress and forfeit the fees – sounds like a bad deal to me.
Also, lifting isn’t just an individual achievement. We sometimes forget that the best lifting takes place in the presence of community. It’s more fun to train when you compete with friends, when you’re part of a community, when you have something other than just training to come back to.
Training right up till your break
We understand that missing training sessions is unavoidable – life happens. What we can do is to plan to minimise detraining as much as possible by training as late as possible before you leave and as early as possible after getting back.
At Hygieia, most of our clients actually want to squeeze in a session right before they leave. We’ve even had clients that come straight from the airport to the gym – talk about training as soon as you get back! To me, this is awesomely inspiring and we’re very fortunate to be able to work with such lifters.
If you’re thinking to stop or not start training till after your break, don’t do it. Time your last training session to be as close to your break as possible or start training now before your break; you’ll be glad you did it.