When you examine periodization—long-range plans for workout programs—you’ll notice the inclusion of days for maintenance workouts, also known as “active rest.”
What is active rest? It does not mean taking a week off, sitting on the couch and eating bonbons. Active rest is designed to help you recover from the intense workouts you’ve performed in prior weeks. The week of doing things differently helps you regenerate [aka recover], so you can take your performance to an even higher level.
Active rest is a proven method, and it works great—when you actually follow it. This phase of periodization provides optimal time to recover. It is also helpful if you have a heavy travel schedule, are changing your diet, have a nagging injury, are fighting a cold, or just need to recharge mentally and get back your training drive.
There are a number of ways to include maintenance workouts in your fitness plan. One is to keep the same intensity but lower the volume. Continue to work at a challenging level but perform only one set of each exercise. This is appropriate when you’re short on time or are experiencing major changes in your life affecting your diet, stress level or sleep patterns.
For example, if you have a summer job that changes shifts every few weeks, do a shortened version of your workout in the week your shift changes. The high-intensity/low-volume approach allows you to maintain your level of performance without overwhelming you during difficult times. You can get in and out of the gym quickly, but still get a challenging workout.
Another way is to keep the same routine but lower the intensity. This works well if you have sufficient time but need a change to help with other challenges—like diet, stress or a new job. When teams are on the road in the midst of a heavy travel schedule, they often do maintenance workouts. After a long trip, in an unfamiliar training environment and with your focus on competing the next day, you might not be motivated to perform your normal program—even though you have the time. So do your regular workout, even in the hotel fitness room, but don’t give it your max effort. Later that week, or when you get back home, resume your intense workouts.
A third way is to completely change your workout—do something totally different. This is a great choice when you’re bored with your current program or feel like you’ve reached a plateau. Go outside and perform a boot camp workout. Or do an entirely different circuit using only your bodyweight for resistance [learn equivalent bodyweight exercises here]. The workout will give you a physical and mental break from your normal routine and challenge your body in different ways.
To obtain peak levels of performance, you must be persistent. But that doesn’t mean never taking a break to let your body recover. Some young athletes believe that if they don’t work out hard every day, all their training will go to waste. Training in this manner often leads to injuries or burnout!
By adding active rest and maintenance workouts, you’ll improve your performance levels—and stay in the game. Once you realize that you can maintain, you’ll begin to see benefits in your performance on the field.