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The Wisdom of Maintenance Training

A lot of fitness industry personalities scoff at the concept of “maintenance” and say you need to chase progress. It’s coming from a good place, but it can lead you to a bad one.


I’ve worked in the fitness industry for a long time. First as a personal trainer, then as a writer for a few of the major fitness magazines. I’ve been to the world’s greatest gyms and picked the brains of the greatest trainers. Whatever the training modality a particular expert espoused, there was a dominant, overriding philosophy that pervaded the entire industry: Move forward. To try to maintain and stay where you are is death. Only by reaching for more of your goal is: strength, speed, power, flexibility, size, etc., can you guarantee progress. In one way, it’s a practical application of the old adage, “Shoot for the moon; if you miss, you’ll still be amongst the stars.”

I always understood the heart of this concept; trainers and coaches are desperate to fight complacency in their clients. Pro athletes also need to follow this rule as an absolute. The biggest problem with “maintenance” too is that your average Jane or Joe will leap into its arms long before they’ve built up a base level of strength and conditioning that can sustain them for very long.

But for a weekend warrior to chase constant progress is a practice that is destined to meet with disappointment and/or injury. Without being able to dedicate many extra hours to proper recovery and nutrition and ensure optimal sleep every night, a constant barrage of hardcore workouts will take its toll on you. Sore muscles will cramp and seize up. Joints will start to ache and beg for rest. Cravings will run wild and send you running for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

So where is the happy medium? That’s the million-dollar question. A lot of people will hit the panic button and choose an easy workout (or skip one altogether) at the first sign of discomfort. This is why so many trainers err on the side of pushing their clients a little further. Answering the question ultimately boils down to being honest with yourself. If you’ve truly been pushing hard for two to three months, you’ve probably earned a week or two of maintenance. Here’s how to do it: take a few easier workouts where you cut the weight in half. Do light cardio followed by stretching. Take a yoga class, get a massage, an acupuncture treatment, or see a chiropractor.

Maintenance isn’t as sexy as trying to set personal records, but it’ll help keep you healthy, away from your doctor, and ensure your long-term progress. Go earn it with some hard work then hit the reset button. Afterward, you’ll be more excited and ready than ever to get back at it and go hard.

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