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Take Time Off to Pack It On

Take layoffs or languish

So many writers advocate scheduling layoffs from training every six to 10 weeks that by now you’d think the message would have gotten through to everyone. Your body isn’t a machine and simply can’t put out maximum effort indefinitely without a break. So how many of us actually do it? Based on my correspondence with hundreds of bodybuilders and serious weight trainees, I doubt that more than five to 10 percent ever intentionally take time off from the gym.

True, work, school, family duties, injury or illness will unintentionally provide the needed rest by preventing us from training, but those events are too sporadic and unpredictable to count.

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about layoffs. Scott Abel, a highly respected trainer in the Toronto area, advises his clients to take a full month off from all training after the exhausting process of competing in a contest. Quincy Taylor, one of the largest bodybuilders in history, makes a point of taking a break of two or three months every year so he can come back ready to make fresh new gains. Personally, I imagine any more than a week to 10 days would be intolerable. I was trying to remember the last time I took a whole week off from training, and it was in August 2001 for a family vacation to Cancun. Because I never gave my body and mind a chance to really rest and recover fully, it’s likely that I’ve been shortchanging my gains. Obviously I should know better, but I love working out so much that I was denying anything was wrong. I find the thought of not going to the gym and training almost unbearable.

We hear it all the time, but it rarely sinks in: Overtraining is far worse than not training enough. I think it was my wife, Janet, who finally convinced me that was true. She occasionally misses workouts during the week if other duties demand her attention and rarely visits the gym on weekends. I, on the other hand, never miss a workout even if it means coming to the gym at some insanely early or late hour, and weekends just mean more time and opportunity to train. Now here’s the kicker. Over the past couple of years Janet has added a lot of muscle size in her back, shoulders, arms and legs. I’ve grown, too, but her progress has been much better overall. People constantly tell her she looks bigger, and I can’t even recall the last time I heard that.

For a while I was scratching my head, trying to figure out how someone who didn’t train as much as I did could be making better gains. Then it hit me, and the only phrase that seemed appropriate was, ‘Duh!’ My wife was budgeting for recovery and growth, and I wasn’t. I was training longer and more often and had less to show for it. And I’m supposed to be the expert, not her! That’s certainly given me a new perspective and spurred me to give new importance to recovery.

You can eat every two hours, use the best supplements and get a good night’s sleep, but if you train too often and never take layoffs, you can’t expect to grow very much. From now on I’ll view layoffs as essential for reaching my goals rather than as missed time from the gym, where I could have been making progress. The fact is, without some solid time I won’t progress. I hate the idea of not going to the gym as much as anyone who loves training, but the thought of all that training with nothing to show for it is bad enough to convince me that it’s the smart thing to do. IM

Editor’s note: Check out Ron Harris’ Web site,

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