For a long time now, I have embraced the philosophy of “No Days Off.” The basis for this idea is that while you might be taking a day off training/practicing/visualizing, your opponents and competitors are not. They are out there working hard and gaining an advantage on you.
This isn’t to say that you should go hard every day without fail. To do so invites the likelihood of burnout and injury. No, the answer lies in a training technique called periodization. Periodization is a way to train your body so that it can continually improve (kaizen) while reducing your overall risk of injury or burnout. Keep in mind that sometimes we need a physical day off to rest our body and physically recover, but on those days, you can still be mentally engaged.
So, how does periodization work? I like to start with a macro (big) outlook and then break that down into a micro (small) outlook. Start by taking a year at a glance. That year can be broken up into 4, 3-month segments. Each of those segments (training blocks) will change with respect to how hard you train. The overall goal will be to train increasingly more (harder/more challenging) in 3 of those segments, and then reduce (but not eliminate) the training in the 4th segment.
Further breaking this down, each 3-month training block will ramp up slowly in training amount and intensity. You will start out with a manageable amount in the first monthly, and then increase the overall time/intensity in the next blocks, and then reduce the time/intensity slightly (recovery) in the 3rd block. This third block will still be more (time/intense) than the 1st month, and that will be where you pick up from in the next block.
Next, you can break each month segment into 4-week blocks. Similarly, to the 3-month segments, you will work increasingly harder in the first 3 weeks of each month, and then the last week of the month will be an easier week. We call these “easier” weeks, months or periods recover times. Recovery times are when your body adapts to the training load placed upon it using the lessened training to repair itself while allowing you a mental break as well to help reduce burnout.
Finally, you can break down each week into 7 days. These are the individual blocks of training that comprise your workouts. You will want to have easier days and harder days, but what I have found is that as long as I have easier days and my overall training cycle follows the general pattern laid out above, then I can continue to train without any days off.
Remember that not all training is doing the exact thing you’re training for. Examples of easier training days would be going for a slow walk, doing an easy swim, yoga, stretching, meditation, etc.
Most people make the mistake of training medium on all the days they workout. But, that is not what you want to do. You want to go easy on your easier days, and you want to go hard on your harder days. The changes in effort are what will help your body to adapt and improve. If you go medium on what is supposed to be a hard day, you won’t get the increased benefits/improvement. If you go medium on what is supposed to be an easy day, you won’t get the recovery aspects and you increase your chance for injury and burnout.
So, consider the training principle of periodization as you plan your way to success. Just as with goal setting, planning it out and writing it down will give you a much higher likelihood of achieving it. I love being active and I love improvement, and this strategy allows me to do both. Listen to your body and adjust as you need, but I can promise you that when you are training, especially on days when most people do not, it will give you a great feeling and motivate you to keep improving.