Most coaches of speed-power athletes plan at least one day of rest in to the training protocol. This is generally regarded as a time tested method of ensuring physical readiness for the upcoming week. In my just a thought blog series, I’ve promised to throw out some of the stranger training ideas that pop in to my head. I don’t necessarily think they’re valid so much as I am curious about them. In this installment, I’d like to examine the role of the rest day in the training plan and whether or not they are really necessary or not.
I’ve heard of some distance runners going months without taking a rest day. MONTHS. They’ll often follow what might be considered there biggest training load day (a Saturday long run) with a shorter easier run on Sunday. I’ve even seen some top Olympic Weightlifters practice multiple times a day, 7 days a week, lifting loads that most oxes would shudder at and they seem to pull it off just fine. And now that my own training has been more chaotic than organized due to business responsibilities, I’ve often gone 10+ days straight with some form of training each day. I do this and I’m far from over-trained. In fact, I’m waaaay under-trained at the moment. How can this be you might ask? What’s the common denominator in all these circumstances? Well, it’s all about total training load throughout the week and dispersion of efforts on successive days. For the distance runners I mentioned who are using 7 day microcycles and competing at the world class level (i.e. Chinese women of the 90s, current Kenyans and Ethiopians, etc), volume and intensity with volume are the keys to their success. The extra day allows them to up their volume even more. For the weightlifters I referenced, they’re on the other end of the spectrum. They may only do 400 lifts in a microcycle. Many athletes do that in a single session. And even though 65-70% of those lifts are occurring above 85% of their 1RM loads, they can still pull it off because the density in a day is quite low. They’re essentially performing 40 or so sets of single or double repetition lifts and taking 8-12 hours to do so.
On a related note, I try to set up training plans where the athlete is working relatively hard every day. This can be pulled off by switching the biomotor demands, recruitment type emphasis, metabolic emphasis, and CNS intensity among other factors on successive days. For example, you could train with some hard sprints, plyos and heavy weight work on one day and then potentially follow it by a very hard metabolic workout on the next day. Because the recuperative resources for these two sessions are on opposite sides of the spectrum, many athletes can pull this off with no problem at all. This means that by organizing successive sessions appropriately you can actually pull off greater total training loads. Now why couldn’t this be done to a greater level to pull off a 7 day microcycle?
If someone has the cajones to try it, this is how I’d propose it would work: you reduce the total training load on each day by 10%. That means instead of doing 20 sets in the weight room and 10 sprints, you do 18 sets and 9 sprints. And don’t forget to scale the volumes accordingly for the warm-ups and cool-downs just to be safe. Then add in a seventh consecutive training day at training load equivalent to 80-90% of a standard 6 day microcycle session. If we do a quasi-quantification to compare the more traditional 6 day microcycle to this proposed 7 day microcycle, it would look like something like this:
- 6 training days * 100% load every session = 600 load values
- 7 training days * 90% normal training load ever session = 630 load value
This is a 5% increase in training load. While seemingly small, this could certainly add up over time. Heck, one of the primary reasons athletes resort to performance enhancing drugs is because it allows them to handle greater training loads. Could this be an equalizer of sorts? You wouldn’t even necessarily have to forgo rest days completely…perhaps just make them less frequent. Going on a 10 day cycle (with a rest day every 10th rather than 7th day) would produce about a 3% greater training load over the course of a year. It could also mean you might be able to get in 5 heavy hitter high intensity sessions (at 10% reduction in training load of course) in that 10 day period as opposed to only 4 in the traditional setup. And I’d bet it might be more effective too because you’d be handling a higher total training load with what would essentially amount to decreased density within a given session. Would it be worth it? Could you handle it psychologically? I’m not sure I’d ever try it but I’d love to hear if anyone ever does.