Ah summer. The time for vacations, beach trips, and in my world, something I call FOTTO, or Fear Of Taking Time Off.

Here’s how it plays out. Joe or Jane signs up for coaching, goes through the usual stages of the process, and comes out the other side leaner, stronger, and feeling much better. They’re doing things they hadn’t done in years and wearing things they couldn’t even squeeze into back in their heyday.

All in all, they’re wildly more confident… except in one key area: they’re anxious about taking time off out of fear they’ll regress or “gain all their weight back.”

Now it might sound trivial or even childish but this is a big issue in coaching, especially if you do a little digging. As such I’ve some (hopefully) well thought out opinions:

1) Time off is ESSENTIAL.

But what constitutes “time off” is highly individual. For some, it might be less structured exercise and nutrition. For others, it could be two weeks of couch surfing and Ho-Hos. The funky thing here is that there truly is no right or wrong answer. Well, except for the course of action that isn’t geared towards you.

Take some time and see what sort of “time off” you thrive under. The trick is finding what allows you to reenergize without losing all of your momentum. Or better yet, ask your coach. On MANY occasions I’ve told clients to do the exact opposite of what they think they “should” be doing.

2) Holidays should be restorative.

At least, that’s the plan. But how many vacations actually play out that way? Most of us head off on vacation eager for some time to rest and relax, but instead we end up cramming a laundry list of activities into “time off,” leading to “I needed a vacation after my vacation syndrome.”

Treat your holidays like you would anything else: be realistic with what you can do and what you will want to do. Taking your kids to Disney World for 16 hours to maximize “park time” followed by a workout sounds like a fine idea, but I can promise the lot of you will be drowning your sun-scorched Mickey Mouse ears in Jim Beam instead.

3) Time off can serve as the goal post or the 50 yard line.

Big life-changing goals take time. So, while 21-day fixes and “6 weeks to shredded abs” are all the rage, most of us will need a few months of dedicated consistency before we reach what we think our goals may be. And odds are you’ll want or need (or be forced) to take a break at some point along the way.

This needs to be handled differently than the stereotypical “12-week end date.” Some may treat this as a deload week, where most things stay the same but you simply reduce the volume of your workouts. Some may take a few days off entirely and keep their head out of the gym altogether. Either way, this is done with the intent to get back at it full speed after the time off.

Think of it less as “game over” and more as a timeout.

4) Some people feel better when they stick to their plan, even on holiday.

I know this seems blasphemous, but you don’t HAVE to gorge yourself on grandma’s cookies or your mom’s famous sweet potato casserole. I’m not saying you shouldn’t — I’m saying if it helps keep you grounded or “in a rhythm,” then it might be worth just spending time with the family and still being conscious of what you put in your mouth.

The trick here, don’t confuse “staying in a rhythm” with guilt or fear, because that’s a wildly different story. Make sure whatever choice you make is truly made by you, and not the fearful subconscious side of yourself. Easier said that done, I admit. But we all have an introspective side just waiting to come out. Use it.

5) The better shape you’re in and more stable your weight, the longer and more “unhinged” your time off can be.

Tragic irony, right?

Eat whatever you want on a vaca and you’ll still gain weight of course (often at an alarming rate) but typically it will “bounce off” just as fast once you return to your regular diet and exercise plan. But the inverse of this is true as well — if you head into some time off while out of shape (and especially out of rhythm), you may be in for a much slower bounceback. There’s nothing wrong with that, but make sure that whatever happens doesn’t catch you off guard.

And whether the bounceback is slow OR fast, make sure that you just focus on the basic daily processes. No depletions or deprivation or voodoo. You WILL bounce back.

6) Be realistic.

Don’t book a photo shoot right after a two-week cruise. And don’t expect to hit the gym every day if you’re going on a camping trip. It might sound obvious, but the whole “winners work to make it work” bullshit is pervasive in this industry, and tends to just lead to anxiety.

And then there’s a laundry list of other things to consider:

  • Whats your goal?
  • How long have you been training?
  • What kind of shape are you in?
  • How consistent have you been? Are you in a rhythm? Do you need daily exercise as a placeholder?
  • Are you beat up?

Oh, and pro tip: A week off won’t magically repair a blown disc but it can help achy elbows or barking shoulders.

Anyways, back to the list.

  • How long is the break?
  • How’s your mood?
  • How practical is gym based exercise? What about outdoor activities?
  • What’s your relationship with food, especially under stress?
  • What about slipping back into old habits (i.e., trips back home)?

As you can see, there’s plenty of individual context that has to be considered before giving hard vacation recommendations.

And this isn’t even getting into the possible professional side of things. Is your trip vacation or business travel? This is HUGE. (Just ask my clients). A holiday warrants a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT approach than a scheduled mid-week business trip. Total game-changer, which I guess I should cover in another post. Great. More shit to do.

But the fact remains, ebb and flow is a key part of the training (and recovery) process. Enjoy and respect all phases.