After spending months at a time working towards a certain goal -- whether it is muscle building or fat loss -- you might come to a point where rather than looking to continue building muscle, you simply want to maintain what you have. Implementing a period of maintenance after a few months of heavy weight work is a good idea because it will give the body a break from the stress that comes with higher-volume programs, helping ensure you don’t become over-trained as time goes on.
Ideally you should take two or three weeks at maintenance after every three- to- four months on a muscle building program to extend the recovery period and give your mind a break from constantly pushing yourself. Even this psychological factor alone can cause some individuals to burn out, so both mind and body rest are important.
If you’re strictly looking to give the body a break for a week, complete cessation of your weight training is a viable option since you aren’t going to lose much strength in a week’s time. If you’re thinking about staying at maintenance for a longer period of time, your best bet is to get onto a maintenance program that will help maintain your strength level so you can effectively back off training, without losing any of the gains you worked so hard to obtain.
Here is what you need to know about designing a maintenance weight training program.
Focus On Larger Lifts
The first thing you must do when designing the maintenance program is place more focus on bigger lifts. Since most people will be using this workout as a means to actually reduce how much time they spend in the gym, you want to keep the workouts short and to the point.
The larger lifts are going to work a number of muscle fibers at once, essentially reducing back on the total number of different exercises you will have to perform each session. If you spend time doing isolated exercises for each of the smaller body parts, then will wind up doing a much higher number of total exercises, really increasing the duration of your workout. Performing more of the larger lifts will also release more testosterone in the body because the lifts work a higher number of muscle fibers, which really helps with muscle retention.
If you were previously doing only one or two larger lifts coupled with three or four (or more) isolation lifts as part of your program, if you now switch over to a program where you are now doing three or more larger lifts such as bench press, row, deadlifts, and squats, you’re going to need significantly more rest time total throughout each individual workout. You likely were using one to three minute rest periods for the larger lifts and only one minute or less for the smaller lifts. As you increase the number of larger lifts in your workout, you correspondingly need to increase the total rest time you take. Making adjustments for this factor when designing your maintenance workout will be important.
Cut Back On Total Lifting Volume
The main point you will focus on when moving to maintenance is cutting back on your total volume of lifts. Cut back by one-half to two-thirds of your total volume without sacrificing your strength abilities. So, this means that if you used to do five sets of squats for your leg workouts, you can now drop that down to two or three sets instead. This will promote faster recovery between workouts as well, leaving you more reserves if you do want to focus on other aspects of your training such as cardio activities or sports-related training.
Maintain The Weight On The Bar
The one catch to reducing your volume is that if you are to maintain your strength level while doing so, you must maintain the weight on the bar. This is a mistake many people make and it will cause them to lose strength (and potentially size) as time goes on. If you were previously bench pressing 150 pounds, you must continue to bench press 150 pounds. Often, people will decrease the weight they lift by five- to- ten pounds and increase the total number of reps they are performing or drop the weight while trying to maintain the same volume.
While it’s not going to be as stressful on the body if you are lifting a lighter weight at the same volume, it’s not going to be as effective for keeping your strength levels up. Therefore, you need to identify your primary goal of your maintenance period. For most people, it’s reducing the total time commitment to their workouts while easing up on the intensity factor. To accomplish this, you’re much better off with weight maintenance along with a volume decrease rather than vice versa.
Cut Back On The Frequency
Another way you can go about decreasing the time commitment of your workouts is to cut back on the frequency. Rather than working a muscle group two to three times a week for example, you may drop that done to once a week.
This principle works great for those who are looking to create workouts where the focus is on one or two muscle groups while keeping all the others at a maintenance level. For example, let’s say you’re looking to really train your biceps and triceps hard but don’t really want to see much growth with your legs. Design your workout program so you’re hitting legs at least once a week, leaving two or three other full days to work the upper body, particularly the biceps and triceps harder. This will not quite be following the objective of a true maintenance workout as you’ll still be really stressing certain areas of the body, but it is a great way to bring up lagging body parts.
If you are going to perform a full body workout program, aiming to complete it twice a week is a good plan for maintenance. If you’re on an upper/lower split, then you could reduce this to one workout for each, or consider doing an upper day, a lower day, and then a full body day.
Keep Your Protein Up
Apart from the actual workout program, one other thing you must be sure to do when aiming for maintenance is to keep your protein intake up where it needs to be. If calories are going to be reduced, the last thing you want to have happen is for the body to start turning towards incoming protein for energy while leaving less left over for the muscles to use for tissue repair and maintenance. Bumping up the protein slightly would be an even better idea, so give that some consideration.
If you are just doing maintenance to give the body a break or because your schedule has become overcrowded, you may need to reassess your total calorie needs to prevent fat gain. Decreased total training time will mean a lower daily calorie expenditure, so be sure to make adjustments where necessary. If you continued to maintain your eating habits while decreasing your training, problems will arise with the energy balance equation.
By keeping all of these factors in mind you should have the tools necessary to enable you to keep all of the gains you’ve made in the gym without having to keep up with the rigorous schedule you once had.