Backing Off

As we talked about in the last post, there has to be a balance of work and breaks, or you will burn out.  In training, too, you can’t go full-throttle all the time. One way to look at this is to think that the most important workout is the next one. If you beat yourself up to the point where you don’t want to return, sooner or later, you won’t come back. It’s better to intentionally taper for a week than wait for burnout or injury. To that end, the template that I’ve been using for the last month is a simple way to build in back-off weeks. I got it from Josh Hillis, but since it’s been published by Dan John here  I don’t mind sharing my experience with it.

Week 1 – 1 set x 20 reps (back-off week)

Week 2 – 2 sets x 15 reps (put in the work)

Week 3 – 3 sets x 8 reps (should be getting harder)

Week 4 – 4 sets x 5 reps (push these sets)

As Jim Wendler says:

  • Start Too Light

  • Progress Slow

  • Set Personal Records (PR’s)

  • Use Multi-Joint Exercises

My first month back, I started very slowly with 65 lbs on the bar for the 20 rep sets. I have pushed to add more weight to the bar with every set and will break the 200# mark on all the lifts this week. Here’s what I did the last three weeks, as well as my plan for this week:

Week 1: 65 lbs. on all lifts (using bumper plates so that everything is the right height for deadlifting)

Week 2: 75 lbs set one, 95 lbs set two.

Week 3: 115 lbs set one, 125 lbs set two, 135 lbs set three.

Week 4: 155 lbs set one, 165 lbs set two, 185 lbs set three, 205 lbs set four.

This kind of lifting won’t set the world on fire, but it rebuilds the base so that I can push harder the next time around. I was sore the first week back, but I wasn’t scared to come back for the next session. Honestly, I think the AirDyne work beat me up more than the lifting! If you go with something like this with less of a strength base, I would drop the upper body work down to 45 lbs to start, adding 5 lbs per set. The lower body work can start with 65 lbs and you can add 5-10 lbs per set, depending on feel and how your body responds.

You can divide the split up however you like, but this is what I did:

Monday: Lift – Barbell Back Squat/Incline Bench Press. Finisher is farmer’s walk with two 70 lb kettlebells, done for the number of repeats as called for in the current week.

Tuesday:  AirDyne Intervals – 2 minute warm-up, 1 minute high intensity/1 minute recovery x 10. The first interval is about a 5 or 6 RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion – how hard it is on a scale from 1-10), building up to about a 9 RPE by the third or fourth interval, then dropping back down to a 5 or 6 and rebuilding. The last interval I go all out for as long as I can, then recover. Usually my all-out lasts about 10 seconds.

Wednesday: 20 minute easy session on the AirDyne for recovery.

Thursday: Lift – Snatch Grip Deadlift off a 4in box/Barbell Row. Finish with farmer’s walk.

Friday: Repeat Tuesday interval session.

Saturday: Off

Sunday: Off

This is paired with my HFT concept, trying to get between 5-7 days of HFT in per week. Frequently I will finish my workout with the swings from my HFT.

There are a few important points. First, there’s some flexibility built into the schedule. If something comes up and I have to miss a session, I can easily shift. I will move workouts into my “off” days first, then following that, I’ll drop the Wednesday easy session.  If I start missing more than three workouts a week, I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing.

Changes for next month:

  1. Add variety to the finishers. Monday will be farmer’s walks still, but Thursday will be pushing the sled. Wednesday will be a normal length dog walk, but with a 50+ lb. weighted vest. The point of these is to gas me a bit, and the 70 lb farmer’s walks were a good way to “wake up” but I need to start adding load.
  2. Reset the cycle with 75 lbs on the bar for the first set, aiming for 225 lbs on all lifts by the end of the next cycle.

Remember, taking back off weeks is a good idea to avoid burnout, stagnation, and injury. If your cycles are planned effectively, it can even be a form of planned overreaching.

Edit – Update: I hit 205 lbs for a triple in the incline bench press, so my calibration was just about perfect for this cycle. 205 for five in the squat was a cake walk, but my shoulders feel tight. I will continue working on my shoulder mobility. 


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