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Embracing Maintenance: The Overlooked Key to Long-Term Health and Fitness

Your workout efforts don’t always have to be about pushing yourself to the max, setting a personal best, or taking your skills to the next level. A maintenance phase can be a worthwhile addition to your training program for long-term wellbeing and for progress. After training intensely, a maintenance phase can be used to preserve your strength, power, and muscle mass.

The Pitfall of Constant Progress

It’s common practice to devote periods of your fitness journey to developing certain skills. For example, one popular strategy is to cycle through phases focusing on endurance, power, and strength. In each phase, four to six weeks are spent with the primary goal of improving one of these areas. It can be easy to get into the mindset of constantly working on getting stronger, increasing power, or building up endurance or simply continuing to chase new fitness goals without spending any time in maintenance after setting a personal best or finally unlocking a new skill. 

Risks to Skipping Maintenance 

While constant progress can be motivating and seem like a great plan in the short-term, it’s not always the best approach to your fitness efforts in the long run. It’s difficult to maintain the pace of continual improvements without facing challenges along the way, including: 

  • BurnoutExercise burnout can be a significant obstacle to any workout routine. The symptoms of fitness burnout can include complete exhaustion, a tendency to procrastinate working out, feeling more run down after exercising, irritability, and loss of interest in exercise. Burnout tends to be caused by exercising too frequently or intensely and not making enough time for rest. 
  • Overtraining — Failing to make time for body maintenance in your fitness plan often goes hand in hand with overtraining. This occurs when you’re pushing your body too hard in your workouts without giving it a chance to recover. With overtraining, you’ll actually start to see a decline in your performance, alongside symptoms such as worsening muscle soreness and stiffness, overheating, and recurring injuries.
  • Neglecting Overall Health — Overlooking maintenance can have a negative impact on both the mind and body. The pressure to keep outdoing yourself in the gym can take a toll on your mental health and take all the motivation and enjoyment out of your workouts. Pushing yourself beyond your limits to try to constantly meet new goals leaves you more vulnerable to injuries and keeps your body in a rundown state due to lack of rest, putting your overall health at risk. 

In order to prevent these obstacles from getting in the way of your performance and general wellbeing, it’s essential to prioritize balance when planning your training schedule. Make sure to include maintenance phases in between training sessions focused on improving specific skills. 

Physical Health Benefits of Maintenance

When putting together a training program, it’s easy to focus on short-term goals like training for a mid-year marathon, lifting in a new weight class, or increasing your running route by several miles. It’s also important not to overlook long-term goals, such as promoting overall physical longevity and ensuring you will be able to stay active throughout your entire life. Incorporating body maintenance into your exercise routine has several long-lasting physical health benefits, including:

Injury Prevention

Maintenance periods can help prevent several of the most common causes of injuries. According to the NIH, sports injuries are often caused by overtraining and increasing exercise intensity too soon. Maintenance periods can help you balance the duration, frequency, and intensity of your workouts, making sure that you don’t overextend yourself and get injured.

Promote Joint Health

Even if you’re not working towards achieving a specific goal in the gym, you will still see the benefits of regular exercise for your health. For example, sticking to a consistent exercise routine supports strong, healthy joints. Maintenance workouts encourage you to remain active without pushing yourself too hard — promoting the optimal function of key body systems like the joints and leading to long lasting benefits for mobility, flexibility, and physical abilities in general. 

Support Consistent Physical Shape

When you organize your training program in terms of extreme progress-focused cycles, your performance journey is typically marked by peaks and valleys that can be extreme in turn. When you overextend yourself to keep making continual progress, you’ll experience the peaks of bypassing benchmarks and setting new records, but you’ll also experience setbacks due to overtraining, burnout, and the unsustainable nature of this approach to fitness. 

You’ll likely cycle through periods of peak physical shape and periods where you are forced to take a step back to recover from injuries, setting you back in your journey. Making time for body maintenance as part of a sustainable training plan helps you remain in consistent physical shape and maintain a stable fitness level over time.

Additionally, if you plan for maintenance periods in between phases spent developing skills like strength or endurance, you’re more likely to be able to retain gains in those skills in the long run. 

Mental Well-Being and Maintenance

Maintenance isn’t just important for your physical health — it also offers several psychological benefits. Always looking ahead towards your fitness goal puts a lot of demand on both your body and mind. Maintenance workouts can help alleviate this pressure in a few different ways, including: 

  • Reduce Stress — When your exercise routine is structured around meeting goal after goal, there’s a lot of pressure placed on you to perform. There’s an expectation that you will keep performing at a higher level with each new objective, and the discipline it takes to keep to this schedule can be mentally draining. Maintenance periods remove the expectation of improvement. They can serve as low-stress periods where you simply focus on retaining your current fitness level and give your mind a break before moving on to the next phase.
  • A Sustainable Experience — From a physical standpoint, extreme goal-oriented training programs are often unsustainable due to the risk of injury and overtraining. From a mental health perspective, they are also often difficult to support long-term due to the intense stress and demand to make continual progress. A training program that includes both reasonable goal-oriented phases interspersed with maintenance periods provides you with a much more sustainable exercise experience. 
  • Enjoy Exercise — The constant pressure to perform and keep moving forward on your fitness journey can take all of the enjoyment out of exercise. This can derail a routine, sapping your motivation to work out and interest in performing. Embracing the importance of maintenance in a balanced training program can provide vital mental rejuvenation. Maintenance periods provide a valuable physical and mental break that can help you actually enjoy your training sessions again. 

Building Sustainable Habits

Maintenance periods offer both physical and mental health benefits. In addition, prioritizing maintenance can help you build sustainable exercise habits and see these benefits of a balanced fitness routine for many years to come. If one of your long-term health goals is to find a training protocol that gets results but is also manageable, maintenance is a must. 

The Importance of Consistency

Consistency is a key part of developing any sustainable behavior, habit, or routine. Research on how healthy habits are both formed and maintained has found that consistency is one of the most important underlying factors in sustaining lifestyle adjustments.

Viewing healthy behaviors as part of a routine helps individuals focus on long-term commitment to them. When the focus is just on performing a behavior to meet a goal, adherence to the behavior is often short-term. In order to see the benefits of exercise throughout each stage of life, consistently performing a sustainable fitness routine is more advantageous than targeting workouts toward a series of temporary goals.

Periodization Training

Periodization training is an approach to fitness that incorporates both sustainability and consistency. Periodization training divides training into phases, each carefully designed with certain key factors in mind. These factors can include training intensity, exercise types, number of reps or sets, workout frequency and duration, and amount of rest allocated between sets or exercises. 

The goal of periodization is to maximize performance by manipulating these factors to create phases that will improve physical fitness without overtaxing the body. Periodization is most successful when goal-oriented phases are alternated with maintenance periods focused on sustaining current skills and allowing for recovery to support future gains. There are several benefits to following a periodization training model, such as:

  • Fitness Phases Optimize Long-Term Performance — If periodization training is attempted with only goal-focused phases, the risk of injuries, burnout, and overtraining is much higher. It’s also more difficult to sustain short-term gains in performance without prioritizing recovery with body maintenance. Alternating between progress and maintenance phases is the key to optimizing long-term performance. 
  • Take a Holistic Approach to Health and Fitness — The aim of taking a holistic approach to health and fitness is to be able to focus on making long lasting improvements to overall well being and physical health. Periodization training with maintenance aligns with this approach by supporting long-term benefits in physical and mental health. 
  • Making Fitness Part of a Sustainable Lifestyle — Solely including goal-centered cycles in your training program can turn your routine into a short-term pursuit. The focus is on checking a box once a goal is met rather than developing healthy habits and strategies that will support health and wellness throughout the lifespan. With maintenance phases, exercise can become a regular part of a sustainable lifestyle.

Preventing Regression

A short-sighted approach to fitness focused only on meeting goals without a plan for how to retain those gains long-term can result in regression. Consistent upkeep can prevent the loss of hard-earned progress. That’s why it’s important to schedule maintenance periods in between your goal-oriented training cycles.

Even if you’re not moving forward during one of these periods, the benefit of maintenance is that you’re not taking any steps backwards. You’re not losing strength or flexibility. With maintenance training, you are able to uphold the progress you’ve made in the past and keep your existing physical fitness level stable so that you’ll be ready to make more progress in the future.

Don’t think of maintenance as a plateau — think of it as a strategic step designed to sustain and consolidate gains. 

Track Maintenance with WHOOP 

WHOOP can be a useful tool for tracking your fitness phases and the results you’re seeing from each cycle. WHOOP allows you to monitor long-term trends in your performance and determine how different training cycles and fitness strategies are impacting your progress. 

Use WHOOP to track your periodization and maintenance training to unlock insight into your performance journey.