Something most of my long term clients know about me is that I like to build in “recovery weeks” in to their workout programs every so often. But, why do I do this for my clients and even in my own workouts?

Well, personally I have noticed that the week after a recovery week I am always a bit more fresh and hit my workouts a bit harder than maybe I had been the previous few weeks. I like having quality workouts because it is a confidence booster for me. I also want to avoid any overuse injuries that can pop up from not giving my body enough recovery.

I feel the same way with my client’s workouts. I obviously don’t want them getting hurt due to poor exercise programming. But, I also want to make sure that each time they walk in to a workout with me or on their own, they are ready to crush it. With those outside factors (being sick, stress etc) aside, this is the best way I can ensure my clients continue to gain confidence in the gym. Being healthy can go a long way for your ability to stick to a program. Most obvious statement I have ever said.

The question for me (or you, if you are writing your own workouts) then is, “when do I schedule recovery weeks in to a workout program?” I can honestly say this has been one of the toughest parts of my job as a personal trainer these past 4 years. Scheduling recovery weeks is something that you can only master once you have worked out for years. This is something that you must go off of feel to get right. But, at the same time there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to program in recovery weeks of exercise.

I guess I should give you a definition of recovery weeks eh?

I consider a recovery week of exercise a week where you do one or more of the following:

  1. Exercise less days than you normally do.
  2. Exercise for less time each day.
  3. Lift lighter weights.
  4. Perform fewer reps.
  5. Perform ‘easier’ exercise modalities.
  6. Perform less impactful exercises. For example, swimming instead of running.

The first goal of a recovery week is to avoid overuse injuries from popping up. Such injuries as bicep tendinitis in your shoulder from too much bench press or random hip or knee pain from too much running. Little nagging pain is a precursor for a potential major injury in your future. By easing off the gas pedal for a week or maybe even two, to let things heal up you might be saving yourself months on crutches or months away from that bench press.

The second goal of a recovery week is to make sure your workout quality is at a level that will provide you with the results you want. Most people I talk to have lofty goals for their fitness and health. Nothing wrong with that! But, too often these people might not be ready physically to reach those goals. If you are constantly sore, fatigued, beaten up and have poor quality workouts it may be time for a week or two of easier exercise. Trust me, you won’t lose all your progress.

Before you start over thinking this recovery week thing though, you should first know if you actually NEED a recovery week or not. If you are one of my clients and you work out less than 4 days per week, I will very rarely program in recovery weeks for you, because you are already resting more days than you are exercising. If an injury is popping up, that is different story though. But, if you are someone who consistently exercises 4-7 days per week, never missing days or weeks and you feel sluggish in workouts, it may be time to recover for a week. And to be completely honest, even if you don’t feel sluggish and you tell me you haven’t taken a rest day in 4 months, you are feeling sluggish. Your body is not a machine. It needs some rest and you might be shocked at how you actually feel taking it easy for week.

Please don’t do this.

There are three times to schedule a recovery week in to your exercise program. I personally have used all three and use the first two with clients to keep them healthy and crushing workouts.

  1. Auto scheduling. Maybe every 4 weeks or every 6 weeks or every 8 weeks you have a recovery week, no matter how you are feeling. This is the safest way to do things and how I personally set up recovery weeks for myself. I have just found over the years that working out hard 6 times per week for 4 weeks straight, that my body is usually ready for an easier week. I have pushed this to 12 weeks once and ended up with hip, knee and shoulder pain that kept me on the shelf for a month….no lifting. With my clients who lift 3+ times per week and never miss workouts, I typically use this method to be safe.
  2. Go off of feel. This means that when you start to feel an “old football (or dance) injury” pop up you schedule a recovery week to keep that injury from getting worse. You would also use this method when you notice that your workout quality is tanking and energy levels just aren’t what they were a few weeks or months ago. This is a pretty solid method as well. I used to do this, but as I got to know my body and how it reacts to what I put it through in the gym, I found that every 5th week a recovery week helps me continue feeling pain free in the gym.
  3. Wait until you are injured. This is what most newbies to exercise will do, but they are not to blame. Exercise is a life long skill and it takes time to learn about your body and how it responds to different types of exercise. I also have done this and will never do it again. I hope you only stay at this stage once.

If you are an avid exerciser and never miss a day I commend you. You have developed a habit that more people need to have. But, there isn’t anything wrong with a week off your feet or taking some weight off the bar…someone could tell me that more often too.

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