So you’ve had a great week: you ate really healthily, you exercised almost every day, and you’re feeling good. Now, because you’ve been so good, you’re thinking it’s fine to take it easy next week; to relax and let loose a little since you’ve just had a super healthy week. “You deserve it,” you tell yourself.
Unfortunately, while a little break here and there might be all well and good, it’s important to be strategic about your fitness routine if your goal is to see results. While everyone goes through ebbs and flows of exercise and health, it’s important to know what implications certain, well, “flows” may have for your overall health and physical development. It’s also extremely important to know how to maximize your time inside the gym (and outside), and how best to live a life of moderation and balance due to your understanding of your habits and your body.
Going through a great and healthy week (or few weeks) is awesome. It feels good, you feel good, and you definitely do deserve a reward. But too often do we reward ourselves by slipping on our diets, or taking a few (or, worse, more than a few) days off from exercise. This can set us back, sometimes dramatically, in our journey to a healthy life. Why? It all comes down to the way our bodies adapt to change. Muscular and cardiovascular adaptations both require rest, but once that rest time nears about one week without any activity, these adaptations halt, and even reverse.
Your body requires consistent stress – eustress, the good kind, to be specific – in order to continue to build up and strengthen itself. And when relatively untrained individuals begin to train consistently then halt, these adaptations and improvements in cardiovascular health can begin to deteriorate after just two short weeks. And while well-trained individuals may find that it takes longer for adaptations to reverse, it still only takes around four weeks for strength to begin to decrease.
So how can you prevent this from happening without necessarily clocking in hours upon hours at the gym every week?
First, due to the fact that physical adaptations don’t take a long amount of time to reverse, it is extremely important to focus on consistency in the gym and in your training, above anything else. Training for four days in one week, one day the next week, then seven days the following week will not have the same positive health effects of training four days a week consistently for three weeks. The first schedule is still much better than nothing, but the consistent schedule will be able to promote and encourage the most adaptation with regard to strength and cardiovascular health due to continued and consistent stress on the body, as opposed to sporadic and irregular exercise. This also allows you to have scheduled days off, ones for your body to recover and strengthen, and still leaves time for you to have some fun and reward yourself.
Second, if you know that you cannot make it to the gym three or four days in a given week and you have no choice but to deviate from consistency, it is imperative that the intensity for the one or two days that you can go to the gym be much greater than usual. And if you’re strength training, you should work all muscle groups in these two days to help keep your muscles stimulated, and to mitigate strength decreases and muscle atrophy. This will allow your progress to continue to move forward, regardless of your schedule.
The last thing to keep in mind is that there will always be times where it’s hard to stick to your diet or to get up and go to the gym when you’re feeling unmotivated, but the key is often to power through. After all, so much of health and fitness is about the recognition that exercise is going to be difficult and that it is truly a life investment. And if you’re able to overcome small challenges and stick to your diet or go to the gym in order to maintain consistency, even when you’re not quite feeling it, that’s a huge win.