“Make yourself better…”
That should be the goal of every workout. Which is most often translated to work harder.
No doubt there is no way around hard work, but there are times when you need to work smarter and not harder.
For example the days that you feel physically drained, or scaling back for a big performance (e.g.- tapering for a race or athletic competition), or deloading following a heavy training cycle.
During these times it’s important to lessen the physiological toll, but still find ways to make yourself better.
Here are some ways to improve your game, without smashing more weight or more reps.
Dynamic joint stability is a combination muscle strength and neuromuscular control. It optimizes position, limits movement inefficiencies, and allows the prime movers to work at their best.
Since the focus is to back off workloads, the training focus should be on developing the neuromuscular adaptations.
By using slower and pause tempos, along with drills that emphasize stability in weaker positions, you can create a potent training stimulus while using lighter loads and decreased volumes (ref).
For example, try pause squats to build squat strength, while backing off the workloads. Drop to the bottom of your squat while keeping tension on and hold for 3-seconds, then drive quickly out of the bottom and repeat for a total of 3 reps. For weight it should be less than 50% of your max to emphasize a strong position and moving quickly out of the hole.
Or for shoulder work, try 50m overhead carries to build strong positions and stability using lighter loads: [Video: Overhead Carry]
Accuracy, agility, coordination, and balance…the often ignored aspects in a training program. Those are the skill based components largely reliant on the brain’s ability to efficiently make a movement happen.
You can make big improvements without a huge physiological toll by focusing on skill development. Especially for those movements that always to give you hang-ups.
Obviously the olympic lifts are highly technical moves that require some practice. But even things like wall balls, muscle-ups, double unders, toes to bar, burpee over bar/box can be improved by building the skill of the movement.
The best way to approach this type of work is one-minute at a time, with a training approach called an EMOM (every minute on the minute). Set a micro goal of reps to complete each minute, using a weight that’s well under max capacity, and leaves you with about 30 seconds of rest. Then repeat every minute for the number of desired sets.
If you’re not careful it can turn into a soul crushing workout, but if programmed the right way it’s the perfect recovery day strategy. That’s because it keeps you moving forward with mini-goal sets to avoid the monotony of skill based work. Just be sure you’ve got adequate rest built into the minute, and stay under the threshold of failure, you will get lots of quality practice on a specific movement.
Check out the Goat Day Training Day for a way to attack your limiters.
Keep The Ball Rolling
The reality is that you’re not going to detrain in a week. Significant physiological changes take 3-4 weeks of downtime to set in.
It’s more likely if you’ve been hitting it hard, a bit of extra recovery time will more likely improve your capacity.
Although, it’s important that you don’t lose your mojo during these down times.
Complete a good warm-up, even on off days, and you will notice it’s much easier to pick things up after the time off.
(We help dial that in here: The Perfect Warm-Up Plan)
And for the training days you can’t get your body in training mode, a quality warm-up will many times get the ball rolling. If you’re still not feeling it, you can take the rest of the day off without the regret from doing nothing.
Remember the key to success is consistency. Small changes added up over time will yield big long term gains.
So even on those off days you can still make improvements, adding to the net gain over time.