In an effort to break out of my apparent rut of unoriginal and derivative thinking (according to, I’m certain, a well-intentioned critic) may I propose that the traditional light day/back-off day be completely discarded as a training concept. We might even have to rethink the efficacy of the unloading week in the traditional four-week mesocycle.
So, what, you ask should we do instead? Just go all Bulgarian max-out every workout, every week, all year, until our joints swell and spontaneously disassemble in one spectacular PR effort? No. What I’m thinking is a change in perspective rather than training strategy.
In my experience, “light days” are taken exactly that way, that is lightly. Athletes put in less effort, sometimes don’t show up at all, treating them as optional, or think of the day as a kind of active rest. It is true that their function is to unload the athlete but still give them work in the motor patterns they need to keep “grooved in,” so it is a form of rest. It’s the word “light” that bothers me, and all that it implies. So let’s start calling it a “speed day” instead of a light day.
Rather than emphasizing the qualities of strength and consistency at heavy weight (still trying to move the weight as fast as you can) on a speed day we concentrate on moving lighter weight even faster, focusing on the speed and precision of the movement. At these lighter weights a lifter can address the nuances of technique at speed.
This idea of a “speed day” can be expanded to a “speed and technique week” in the traditional four-week training block often called a mesocycle. The load is still reduced, but the focus of the athlete is maintained and the emphasis shifted to fast and precise technique.
The time for a truly light week, even time off or active rest, is just after the biggest meet of the year. Otherwise the “light week” is the time to get fast, precise and faster yet.