How do I keep my [exercise] progress? The principal of Maintenance

I recall a time when I was recovering from a serious injury due to a high speed motorcycle versus car accident. Pulling up better than expected after no more than 3 weeks, I returned to my first training session with my coach at the time greeted with what I thought was a typo.

It seemed that despite a fractured foot, sprained shoulder and stitches in my elbow, it was almost business as usual with the amount of weight I was expected to lift albeit the movements were manipulated to ensure parts of my body were still able to heal correctly. 

Whether it’s a break from normal training due to injury, a holiday or an up-coming sporting event that requires specific preparation, a period of maintenance might be helpful to ensure that you don’t lose what you’ve worked so hard to achieve; be that strength, speed or aerobic fitness.

The gold standard for training is to ensure that we progress. However we can’t always progress in every way, nor all of the time. 

Rather than stopping an activity completely, there are some methods to maintain our physical condition without the need to keep up the entire training program. This is often referred to as an “MVL” or minimum viable load. This may mean dropping your exercise frequency or duration by around two thirds whilst maintaining the exercise intensity.

If you’re strength training, you might drop your five heavy sets down to two.

If you’re running, you might take a shorter, slightly faster paced run.

Many professional athletes have a period of maintenance during their competitive season. If they are competing week in week out, the focus is always towards competition day and very small gains in strength or speed are expected week to week.

The principal of maintenance is a little like caring for a plant. An indoor, very high maintenance plant. We put in a lot of effort to ensure it grows and thrives. Once it reaches a certain level , we still need to water it, feed it, repot it and according to some of my more green thumbed friends, move it around the house and sing to it.  

If we plan to take a holiday, break or pivot from our current exercise schedule, having a period of maintenance for the progress we have made means that we can keep our gains, work on other things and at some point when we return to a full training schedule or to focus on progressing, we’ll be more likely to pick up from where we left off.