No days off. This is a popular phrase and it has multiple interpretations, depending upon with whom you speak. I’m going to describe The Lifetime Athlete version of this term. Honestly, my perspective on “no days off” comes as much from what I’ve learned from others as it stems from my personal experience.
In discussing my philosophy of “no days off” I’m going to initially say what it is but before going too deeply, I’ll also get into what it is not. OK, put simply, “no days off” means that I neither believe in nor do I recommend taking many, and in ideal circumstances, any days off from training.
Having issued the aforementioned statement, I want to briefly highlight what my view of “no days off” is not.
- It’s not going hard all the time. The use of high workload (the product of training intensity, duration, and density) has a place, but it really needs to be used sparingly and strategically. This is true across sports, athletes, and age groups, although we all recognize that youth typically allows us more margin for error here. When you examine the work of Stephen Seiler, PhD on polarized training, he shows that for much of the year most of the world’s elite cross-country skiers, runners, rowers, and cyclists do as much as 85% of their training at an easy, low intensity. These patterns also exist reliably in the strength, speed, and power sports. Athletes spend the bulk of their time working submaximally, in periodized training systems, until they really ramp up the effort during focused cycles.
- It’s not about sacrificing sleep. I’ve based my model for lifetime athleticism around lifelong health. Sleep is one of the major constituents of wellness and longevity. I don’t endorse training late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, at least on a regular basis. We live in a time of cultural confusion, in which there is a pronounced dichotomy regarding sleep. On the one hand, you’ve got all the articles, research, and verbiage which regails the value and necessity of sleep. On the other hand, we are inundated with a macho warrior ethos in fitness that encourages 4:00 a.m. sufferfests. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in being a warrior, just an intelligent one. Being tactical and protecting sleep wins out in the long run. We have to recognize that military operators are trained with specific performance goals in mind, but unfortunately long term health isn’t necessarily the primary objective.
- It’s not about training through sickness or injury. This may be the most important point. When you take a million-mile view, illness or injury is usually the result (barring unforeseen accidents) of training or lifestyle error. When an athlete overtrains, is sleep-deprived, suffers from high stress loads, and consumes poor nutrition – he/she is much more susceptible to breakdown on a systemic or tissue level. So, in a nearly perfect world, you don’t need days off because you don’t go over the edge. That stated, life does happen to Lifetime Athletes, so we accept that while we strive for “no days off,” sometimes we have to take a total zero day in the training ledger. But we must admit it probably was preventable.
- It’s not really about being perfectly consistent. Just damn close. This relates to the previous comments. When we do most things well, such as smart training, sleeping, eating, and lifestyle management, we tend to be able to be very consistent with training. To the tune of only a handful of missed days in an entire year. This is the most impressive characteristic of the thousands (literally) of Lifetime Athletes I’ve known over the years. In the long run…the healthiest, happiest, and highest-performing athletes were always the most consistent in training. A supremely gifted 19-year-old can be an outlier and not fit this rule, and we’ve all either known personally or known of such individuals. But with the stacking of each decade, those people become less and less common until they are literally nonexistent in the latter decades of life.
So now I can get into what “no days off” really means to me.
- It’s making training a habit. When behaviors become automatic, they get done without any waste of cognitive energy. There is no motivational obstacle to overcome and there is no decision-making fatigue. This is what James Clear refers to in his book Atomic Habits. Regarding training, it’s what I call “toothbrush training.” In all probability, you probably don’t fret or worry about brushing your teeth, you just do it. Consistently, without much thought, effort, or concern. When training becomes like brushing your teeth, it turns into a daily habit that almost always happens, and that provides a satisfying feeling of completion in your day.
- It’s having a plan. Hope is not a plan. Don’t hope that you might get your workout in if you are lucky. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you might eventually, possibly get around to thinking about maybe starting your workout, if the stars align. You are not a victim. View yourself as an athlete. Learn how to prioritize that, knowing that your training makes you a better employee, spouse, parent, organism, health-care consumer, and contributor to society. Protect your training time and don’t feel guilty about it. Encourage others to do the same. Work with a coach to turn the vision of what you want to be and what you want to accomplish into a plan, a program, and a system that works for and fits YOU.
- It’s taking what you get on some days and feeling good about it. Let’s face it. Some days you are gonna be squeezed for time. Energy will occasionally be low. What I’m not saying here is that come hell or high water, you just stick rigidly to your plan and bull through. That’s a good way to get hurt, exhausted, or frustrated. Instead, keep your plan just a little flexible and dynamic. Accept the occasional curve ball and then knock it out of the park by opening your mind and seizing the training opportunity that’s presented. If you are in the airport…walking around, carrying your luggage and hitting a few lunges is commonplace these days. Nobody’s gonna give a flying rat’s ass what you do and you can count that as your workout of the day. Can’t get to the gym? Bang out some exercises with household objects like buckets and wrenches or whatever you’ve got. Hurricane outside? Hit some calisthenics inside. There is always a way. #createthewin #nofrigginexcuses #getitdone #candocountry!
- It’s not just exercising…it’s training. Too many people just casually use the word exercise. We all know what it is but it connotes bland, boring, and banal. Give your exercise more meaning. Give it a purpose. Train for something. This could be a sport in general, a definitive performance marker, a body composition goal, or just being able to do your chores, live independently, and play with your grandkids.
There you have it. NO DAYS OFF clearly laid out in a way that explains the concept and empowers you to always strive to be the best version of yourself. Everyone so richly deserves the athletic existence. An athletic body, mind, and spirit that is robust, resilient, and most capable. Athletic blood vessels that are elastic and plaque-resistant. Athletic neurons less prone to dementia. Athletic skin, hair, nails, and teeth that are vibrant and more youthful. Science supports everything I’ve said. We just have to apply our common sense and try to take no days off in training – which is not a chore or punishment but a celebration of life.
Thank you for reading and send me your comments, questions, or inquiries if you want to work with me. Have an awesome day and enjoy your workout! It’s your right, privilege, and responsibility!