Staying consistent with your training is one of the toughest tasks out there – for all but the most dedicated gym rat/student/young PT who has all the time in the world to spend in the gym.
Work gets really fucking busy!
Other responsibilities distract you, you fall out of routine and all of a sudden the spell is broken. You haven’t been to the gym in weeks, and it seems pointless to start again.
Best wait until things quieten down.
After all, if you can’t smash it in the gym and get your PBs, what’s the point?
I get it; if you can’t do a thing properly, why bother doing it at all?
And if that was the way you wanted to train for ever, then I agree – why bother?
BUT if you are in a situation where you have a temporary setback, but you look forward to a time when you can get back to training properly, then this is a
If you do NOTHING for 6 months (or even longer), you will de-train significantly. You will lose strength, lose muscle, get rusty in your technique. Moreover, coming back to training will feel oh-so-painful for the first few weeks, as you struggle to get back up to speed. Several weeks or months are spent just getting back to where you were when you left off. It could be up to a year before you are in a position to make progress again.
But what if you could avoid all this?
You can – with maintenance training.
The magic of maintenance training
What is maintenance training?
Honestly, whatever you want it to be. You just need to keep doing the occasional training session. If you can manage once a week, that’s brilliant.
What you are doing is giving your body that little reminder every 7 days or so, a reminder to keep the juices flowing, not drop too much muscle or too much strength because, yes, you will be using it every few days.
If you do a sport that is quite technical, such as triathlon training or olympic weightlifting, then you are able to keep your technique and mobility ticking over as well.
Most people need surprisingly little training to stay at or around 90% of their best loads.
Eventually, when the time is right to get back into proper training, you simply step it up from 90%, instead of having to drag yourself back from 70% or less.
Maintenance training does require a shift in mindset in order to be a success.
You need to understand that you won’t be – and probably can’t be – performing at your best. There is no point setting stretch goals that you can’t possibly attain.
Added to that is the fact that whatever is keeping you from training – be it work, responsibilities, family – is probably a source of stress. This will also impact on your training.
I highly recommend focussing on goals that are behavioural or procedural. For example, have the goal to get to the gym once per week for 1 hour.
Or have a goal to work on a weakness (e.g. shoulders) for 5 minutes at the end of every workout you do.
Or, if you can’t get to the gym at all, have a goal to do a 20-minute home session once per week.
By achieving these goals, you can still get that feeling of success and being productive, even though you are not at full strength. You keep a mindset of goal-setting and good habits.
You CAN improve during maintenance training
You might even learn something from relaxing and looking around for other things to focus on. The last time I had a lengthy period of ‘maintenance mode’ in weightlifting, I actually improved my technique significantly.
Looking back, the reason was that without any pressure to be hitting PBs, or even attempting PBs, I turned my focus to technique improvements as goals for their own sake, rather than a prerequisite for bigger numbers.
It’s a subtle shift, but one that really bore fruit.
Something else that worked well was that I decided to focus on a weak area – overhead pressing strength – because I only needed to spend 10 minutes on it. Just 3-4 sets of overhead press before work and I was done. That was my training for the day. No epic squat sessions, no feeling completely knackered after training.
My overhead press improved during my maintenance period because I was actually doing it more often than before. Switching the focus to an area that is often neglected but can be done quite quickly is a great idea.
If you have a long term approach to training, maintenance mode is ideal.
Handle those difficult times, keep a decent amount of strength within reach, and appreciate the training sessions you do get.