21 Things I Learned From 21 Days Of Not Training
I was lucky enough to recently travel to Florida to have 20 days of winter sun spreading our time between Disney and Universal with a bit of Sea World and Busch Gardens thrown in too.
I became a decade older and was generally spoilt rotten.
I planned to train on the holiday I thought we were going on but it turned out I wasn't going to be spending 20 days by the pool in Lanzarote like I was told!
Never mind. When you are treated to the holiday of a lifetime you have to run with it.
I didn't train for 21 days.
Here's what I learned:
1) You do not lose all your gains or strength but lose some.
If you have a lot of gains to lose you won't lose them all. If you've just started training and only just started to see results you may be back to square one with your body shape but you'll still have some strength gains and they'll be back in no time
2) Performance decreases largely due to a loss of coordination rather than muscle loss
While you will definitely lose some muscle on alongholiday or break from training it is mostly what most think of as coordination that we lose. You essentially become less skilled at a lift so when you come home there will be a period of relearning or at least remastering a lift.
Sometimes the silver lining to this is that you can forget some bad habits. The bad news is that you need to be careful that you don't lose some of the good habits you developed in the build up to your holiday.
A good tip is to film your main lifts (including your set up) so you can make sure you are doing the same good things and making each rep look the same assuming form is good. Watch a selection of these videos before you lift and you'll be back in the same groove in no time.
3) What you've worked hardest for normally drops the fastest when training stops (my grip dropped off a cliff)
I have to work incredibly hard on my grip because I naturally have the grip strength of a 6 year old girl. Before my holiday I felt as if my grip potentially had never been stronger.
Upon my return it has returned to being something like that of a small 12 year old girl. Another 2 weeks of no training and it really would have been too much of a drop in performance for me to handle.
I'd recommend working on your weaknesses for a few minutes a day if you want to stop a huge performance drop.
Next time I travel I'm definitely going to take some small grip training implements that I can use for a minute or two each morning or night.
So if you've had to work really hard for some chest growth doing some press ups while you are away would be a good idea.
A full workout certainly isn't necessary but sometimes performance dropping limitation is necessary.
4) When you've been training hard for a while when you've stopped training you'll feel great for about 10 days into your holiday
When you first stop training and all the muscle soreness dissipates and the fatigue drops right off you feel fantastic!
Your legs don't hurt or anything! You might notice tighter or more mobile joints depending on how you react to not training. Things just feel good.
Then...after a few days...knees start to hurt because you aren't squatting, you feel your shoulders doing less and less, you start to notice a little less muscle on your forearms.
Little things just start to add up. You start to hurt because you are moving less. Which makes muscle soreness from the gym much more manageable in my eyes!
5) After 10-14 days you'll start to notice pains associated with NOT moving rather than training
6) The gym doesn't miss you but you might miss the gym
This one largely applies to Coaches. I work in a gym. I bring lots of clients to that gym. But when I'm away, it continues to thrive without me. It doesn't even close. Everyone is able to do their sessions and the world doesn't end.
This was a crushing blow to my ego from which I may never recover.
7) Strength endurance seems to take a bigger hit than absolute strength
For me, muscular endurance seemed to take the biggest hit when I'm away. Maybe this is because my body is more fast-twitch than most (I think) I'm not sure.
After time off I can pretty much squat and bench the same amount of weight but my rep work has absolutely taken a nose dive.
Before the holiday I could close grip press 100 for 8-10 reps, now 70-80kg is making me run out of steam after 6-8 reps!
8) Eating a ridiculous amount of food is an efficient way to provide progressive overload as you get heavier throughout the holiday!
Getting progressively fatter makes bodyweight exercise increasingly hard. Don't follow this path too rigorously if you want to remain in good health!
9) Alcohol isn't very good as a performance enhancer
You know those random PB's you get when still drunk from the night before? (Yes, I'm a beacon of health, fitness and restraint)
Well, they don't tend to happen when it's off the back of 5 days of cocktails and merriment.
Alcohol can contribute to your strength and muscle losses. It can also make you dehydrated as hell.
I think you should enjoy all the weird and wonderful alcohol you want if you are on holiday but make sure you are at least drinking an equal amount of water to stay ahead of the game.
10) Your family and children get to spend a lot more time with you if you don't spend 8-12 hours in the gym each week
Training hard and effectively for most goals takes a lot of time.
Travel, preparation, actually training. Chatting to people at the gym. Buying Flex Comic vests that no-one reads that show how hilarious we are.
It all takes a great deal of time.
When this time drops away and you get to spend more time with those you love it is incredible to the point that training is hard to get into again when you return because you crave that time with your family, friends or whoever you enjoy spending more time with.
There's no real way around this. Enjoy the extra time with people while you can.
11) If you immediately jump into training with any kind of purpose when you get home you'll be that sore you will consider whether it's possible to die of DOMS.
When you return to training again after 3 weeks it really hurts. Be ready!
12) Doing 4 pull ups on a monorail doesn't count as a workout and doesn't impress anyone on-board
I'm sorry Disney monorail users. I didn't think anyone was looking and I wanted to see if I had already gotten too fat to do a pull-up.
For the record...I didn't! I'll have to eat more next time!
13) Most Disney characters know how to gun show! Even the Seaworld or Busch Gardens snowman knows!
14) It's hard to face the gym again once you're home if you are suffering with the holiday blues
When you have a holiday that is incredible everything you did before you went seems a little grayer, a little harder and a lot more pointless.
It's none of these things.
You just have to work through the holiday blues and crack on no matter what. Set an example to everyone around you.
Show people how you get immediately back into training. The blues will pass and another holiday will soon appear on your horizon.
15) Trying to fit into your lifting belt after the holiday is a painful experience
American-sized portions man.
If health and leanness on holiday are your goals it's about keeping your food simple as possible. Most places across the world will cook up some chicken and veg for you. For me, I wanted to taste the decadence.
Totally worth it.
16) Visualization definitely helps you retain strength
Throughout the holiday I constantly practiced lifting in my head because the last time I had a big holiday every single lift felt alien.
When I returned this time most lifts felt pretty good; especially squats and deadlifts which I spent the most time thinking about.
So if you are worried about losing your lifting technique then visualize the hell out of it and you'll limit the amount of strength loss you'll have from rusty technique.
17) Rest doesn't necessarily mean all your niggles and injuries will magically disappear
If you've got a big or chronic injury rest isn't always the answer unfortunately.
18) Time away enables you to create some memories for a lifetime that wouldn't happen if you trained
These memories make all the time away worthwhile.
19) If you have a competition coming up having 21 days off certainly wouldn't be beneficial for anyone
If you have a massive competition coming up and you have a long holiday or trip away you absolutely have to plan ahead and look into how to get the work done otherwise your competition performance will take a battering (not to mention any weight class issues that may appear!)
20) If you can do even a little bit of body weight exercise (even 5 minutes) your strength retention is far better than if you were to do nothing
I did the odd lunge, some press ups and some pull ups. My leg and chest strength stayed pretty high.
I reckon the total amount of exercise I did over the holiday was maybe 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Do something if you can.
21) If you have the holiday of a lifetime and don't train....you probably won't regret it.
I certainly didn't!
If you aren't a professional athlete or you aren't competing in a competition soon or you are just training for yourself when you go on holiday then enjoy your trip and don't worry about training!
This is especially true for the holiday of a life time. You should forget about training in this situation.
If you HAVE to train or you fancy training then go for it but always remember that weights always feel heavier when you are on holiday.
As soon as you are home get ready to train again because you'll be out of the habit.
Start nice and easy with a couple of 'free' sessions then get back on programme.
Get back to the grind and get back to real life and by all means tell everyone about your amazing Florida experience!!
By Chris Kershaw
Chris is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, writer, man of small stature and reader of The Discworld Series with a decade in the industry.
He trains everyone from beginners to high level athletes. His favourite clients are people getting into the gym for the first time because they can make the biggest changes in their lives.
You can reach me through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org
My Instagram is Chris_Kershaw_Strength.
Thank you for reading!