You put in the hours, pumping iron, logging miles, sweating buckets, overhauling your diet, and (most important) staying consistent. And the results speak for themselves — every time you look in the mirror, a leaner, more athletic person stares back at you. You’ve even bought yourself a new wardrobe. So now what?
Some people will keep going, perhaps taking up triathlons, joining a hoops league, or training for the CrossFit Games. But others will want to take their foot off the gas and appreciate what they’ve accomplished. The key is not to leave it off for too long — 2 weeks of inactivity is all it takes to notice significant declines in strength and cardiovascular fitness, according to a recent study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. Indeed, the body is incredibly efficient at adapting to whatever demands (or lack thereof) are placed on it.
So now that you’ve crossed the finish line, how can you keep from backpedaling and losing what you’ve built? Just follow these simple steps.
Cut Back Gradually
Smart training plans (like those available on Beachbody On Demand) can allow you to work out 5 or 6 days a week with no ill effects (read: overtraining). But once you reach your strength and endurance goals, you can reduce your workout frequency without losing your hard earned gains, according to a study at the University of Alabama. The researchers found that adults aged 20 to 35 who worked out just one day a week not only saw no loss of muscle, but actually continued to gain it (albeit at a greatly reduced rate). Our recommendation: Start by reducing your workout frequency by a third, then a half, and so on until you find the minimal effective dose that’s right for you.
Keep It Intense
Even a single set of a strength-training exercise can produce hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth), according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. So if your goal is to hold on to what you have, one or two sets per move per workout should do the trick. The key is to keep them challenging; you should always feel like you stopped two reps short of failure. Take a similar approach with cardio. In a recent study in the journal Physiological Reports, a team of British researchers found that a single, intense, 20-minute interval workout every five days allowed participants to maintain levels of cardiovascular fitness built through much higher frequency training programs.
Dial In Your Diet
Here’s the one category where you might have to be more diligent than you were before you reached your goal. As you cut back on your workouts, you’re going to start burning fewer calories. To avoid the fate of the ex-athlete who balloons 50 pounds when he hangs up his cleats, tighten up your diet as you reduce your training time. “On the days you don’t work out, cut 300 to 500 calories from your diet,” says Dr. Jade Teta, founder of The Metabolic Effect, a fitness and nutrition coaching service focused on maximizing results with minimal effort. “Ideally, those calories should come from starchy carbs and sources of empty calories [i.e., junk food] rather than from protein or veggies,” says Teta.
These general guidelines are just that: General guidelines. Though lower frequency, more intense workouts seem to work for most people looking to maintain their fitness gains, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. “It’s going to be different for everyone,” says Teta. So be a detective: Monitor your strength, weight, definition, and overall sense of well-being as you tweak your exercise and eating habits, and be ready to adjust everything up or down accordingly.