Holidays recovery : Active rest and contrast week(s)

For most people reading this, it is the Christmas holidays, but this is valid for any period post competition throughout the year. Here in Quebec, the last provincial competition was held in mid December and the next important one will be in March – leaving us about 10-12 weeks of preparation after the holiday. That means, until the preparation starts, we have about two weeks – filled with family dinners, limited gym hours, late nights and other fun stuff. This time of the year is not optimal for intense training – but you can use that time to clear your head and rest your body.

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Taking some time off training during the holidays can actually be quite beneficial in the long run. At this time of the year, the athlete’s body can be quite beat up (read : tired, but for some people, they can carry overuse injuries such as tendinitis etc.). The athlete’s mind is most likely not focused on the training goals as much as it is on attending the 1001 family dinners and gathering. After all, we all know we progress the most when we are 1) rested 2) focused on training and 3) not injured.

Now, I know some people really don’t like to take time off- They may feel guilty, lazy or feel like it will slow them down. However, taking a few days off can be quite powerful. If you come back with the hunger to succeed and the desire to train hard, you will progress a lot more than if you tirelessly grind with a less than optimal motivational drive or a really beat up body.

Credit Bruce Klemens
Credit Bruce Klemens

That being said, it is a good idea to stay active. For one, it will be easier to get back into it. That is, a week or two without the resistance of weights might make the beginning of the upcoming preparation quite painful. In order to limit tiredness, soreness, pains associated with flexibility problems (some people lose flexibility and tense up when they don’t train), the feeling that the bar is very heavy and body aches associated with training, it is a good idea to not stop training altogether.

So how to approach it?

Throughout the year, the coach and athlete have to make difficult programming choices. We have to prioritize what we ”think” will make the athlete progress the most. In other words, a good preparation is a preparation based on the best bang for the buck exercises. Holidays is the perfect time to train every little things we might have skipped, pushed aside or not have had the time to train. We call this ”contrast weeks”.

By doing something new, you are keeping active, replenishing your motivational drive and you will look forward to train again (without feeling the competitive pressure that is normally associated with a normal preparation). The athlete gets to do all the fun stuff that is usually pushed aside.

Credit Bruce Klemens
Credit Bruce Klemens

Here are my programming guidelines :

  • Snatch and clean & jerk exercises can be limited to 1-2x a week during that time. We snatch and C&J year round – so it’s time to introduce novelty in order to really contrast and shock the body. This is a time where we are just looking to maintain technique – but also prevent the athlete from feeling that everything is heavy in January.
  • Strength movements such as squats and pulls should be done 2-3x a week during the week. I like to use different sets and rep scheme during that time – to make it interesting and shock the body. For this reason,pulls will be heavier than normal and squats are higher reps than normal. It’s the time of the year where 10 reps squats fit in, for example.
  • Working differently (either with different exercises or different sets and reps scheme) is the goal. Contrast means doing things you don’t normally do. For instance, my athletes are going to be rowing, benching, pressing, lunging, etc. this week. This will help balance the body, recover from the competition they just had and they get to do all the fun things they have been wanting to do. Ya, they do like the bench press so they get that reward for the holidays.
  • Some people may want to run, row, do crossfit wods, etc. That’s fine too. If you are not used to cardio training though, I would recommend doing it lightly and not push too hard. It is easy to get injured when the body is not used to the stimulus. Running a 3k is probably smarter than running a 10k.
  • Kettlebell training! Kettlebells are a wonderful tool to use during downtime. They require a lot of shoulder stability and core strength -two things that will help a weightlifter. They are a wonderful prehab or rehab tool – Use them if you tend to have shoulder imbalances/problems.

Here is an example of what a contrast week could look like. Squats and pulls I used sets and reps we usually don’t use to make it interesting. I added a few bodybuilding exercises and a kettlebell complex to please my athletes. It is just an idea but they are thousand of ways to make your contrast weeks. Remember it should be fun rather than feel like intense training:

Power snatch + Snatch

4×1+1

 

70-75%

Power clean + hang clean BTK

4×1+1
70-75%
Jerk
4×2 75%
Muscle snatch + ohs

4×3 50-60%(1 rep : 1+1)
Snatch deadlift

3×3 110-120% of snatch
Back squat

60%x10
65%x8
70%x6
75%x4
80%x3
75%x4
80%x3
75%x4
70%x6
65%x8
60%x10
Lunges or  bulgarian squat

5×10 (5+5)


Pick:
front / back / overhead
Front squat

4×8 60-70%
Bench press

x10
x8
x6
x8
x10

Bench press
x12
x10
x8
x6
x8
x10x12
Press

4×6

clean pull

4×4 115-125% of clean
Plank + weighted hyperextension

5×1 min
alternated with 15 weighted hyperextensions

Russian twists (weighted)

5×10 
good morning

5×7
KB COMPLEX

1 ARM KB ROW
1 ARM KB CLEAN
1 ARM KB PRESS

5 rounds on each side – 10 reps each movement

Finish with windmill 5×6 with a lighter bell.

*the % for pulls should be adapted to you if you have a weak or very good pull. The better your pull is in comparison to your sn/cl the higher the % obviously.

The contrast week will make you sore, so you don’t need to max out. The goal is to get increased blood flow, stay healthy or work on imbalances, and have fun. At the end of the week, you will be so hungry for normal training that you may set new PRs sooner rather than later. The first week of the preparation should be an introduction microcycle – % should be lower, reps and sets higher.

 

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

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