This research explains why.
Moreover, fundamentally, people who set up their weeks with lots of growth are going to see vacation as a partly negative interruption. There’s no need to “get away” from what you’re looking forward to.
I first noticed this in my teens, when the idea of going on even a short trip without bringing my guitar was unconscionable. I loved playing; and I was consistently every day becoming better. The thought of going a single day without practicing was intolerable. I mean this precisely and literally. It’s not hyperbole. It’s not exaggeration. It’s not a rhetorical device. I would have just as soon skipped a dream vacation if I couldn’t pack at least one guitar. A single day without it was agony. I mean it. I can’t even narrow down the time frame of the photo included above, because it could’ve been any given day of any year, any trip, home or away, from ‘96-‘99.
I began noticing this more and more over the years as I came to love my weeks more. Even really paradise-like trips or family visits which I definitely wanted to do lost their dream-like luster when it began to dawn on me how some of my beloved growth and learning was going to be forced into a break time. NOT having access to my equipment, my rock climbing gym, my kids’ activities, my home library, etc., is not an upside. I’m gaining new skills I like every week. I’m having awesome experiences every week.
And then I started to notice that peers and clients who were in the midst of breakthrough or skill growth/learning just straight-up won’t take vacations while at that point. And they are a lot happier, healthier, and more resilient to stress.
Last week I asked about this with several of my peers in the strength coach, athletic, fitness model, bodybuilding, personal training, and nutrition communities. Some of their responses:
“There is no break during prep.”
“No.” (Answer to “can someone be taken seriously if they never go more than four consecutive weeks of on-plan?”)
A lot of the discourse centered on 16 weeks of targeted progress. What would an expert consider acceptable adherence if a person wants to see dramatic body composition improvement over the course of 16 weeks? The consensus is 16 weeks. Not just consensus. Unanimity. You didn’t misread that. Sixteen weeks of all seven days being productive. There are no off days if you want to expect to make progress. I could not find a single peer in my whole network who disagreed.
Does this mean people shouldn’t have holidays or weekends or breaks? No. But if you want to expect progress in a given time frame, regular steps backward don’t make sense. Obviously.
I was chatting about this with a client recently; and we were talking about how we just feel better when we exercise and stay active on vacation. My body feels better than when I was a teen or in my 20s, thanks to how I eat and workout. Why would I take a break from feeling good? Emotionally, likewise, I just feel better than any prior point in my life, thanks to the way my weeks are set up. Why abandon that? Seriously. Why?
One of the coaches I queried about breaks put in the caveat that if someone trains and eats on-plan during travel, that person may still expect progress, albeit possibly less. Personally, I have only tracked food tightly a few times during trips. But I think I'll start, given these recent conversations and reflections on the nature of progress/growth and breaks. I've increasingly wondered over they years, "why would I take a break from the very things which help me feel my best?" I don't have a single good reason. I just did it because that's what people do, not because it's what's best or most sensible. And as I drill down into the logic, I really don't see a good reason to discontinue anything which we find is providing benefit.
Sixteen weeks of tight consistency is rare. We all know it. Even two consecutive weeks of rigor in programming is outrageously rare. I have observed tens of thousands of members, peers, clients. I KNOW that people, as a rule, will not exert in healthy lifestyle sufficient effort. We have a chasm to face in our "all-in or all-out" narratives. But there's even more to it than that. The incessant break in consistency is paired with a second and bigger problem: the desire to look and feel virtuous. People will say things like “for how hard I worked, I would expect more progress.” Now, think about this. We've all said or thought something along these lines at some point. But really dwell on it. What is even the point of that sentiment except to look or feel virtuous? If you worked hard enough to make progress, you progressed. By definition. There’s no opinions or feelings needed.
We know that only two weeks of immobilization loses so much fitness that it takes six weeks to recover SOME of the ability: https://www.medicaljournals.se/.../10.2340/16501977-1961. Not all. SOME.
Consistent and regular investment in fitness dominates. We all know this elsewhere. No one says, “for how hard I invested in retirement last week, I should have a lot more built up.” There’s no “should”. No one cares about a few “good” days. Either your lifelong track record of retirement investment is sufficient or it isn’t. Likewise with fitness, your cumulative consistent track record is sufficient or it isn’t. There’s no place for “should.” There’s no place for virtue-signaling.
And if you’ve come to love it, there’s no reason to abandon productive structure. Skill development and growth is proven better at stress management anyway. We will certainly hit points where we have to escape overwhelm. There are places we’ll want to see and go. But there really isn’t ever a great time to repeatedly cease doing the productive things which help us learn and grow. We can and should take breaks from negative influences. But I’m not seeing a great substantiation for taking breaks from positive ones.