One of the most important but misunderstood secrets to smart fitness is the necessity of taking a break. Taking a break means (gasp!) stopping all exercise for several days or even a whole week.
If you are like many people, the thought of completely stopping your exercise and fitness routines seems shocking. All you have heard is how important exercise is, how you should be working out nearly every day of the week, and how to stay motivated and not lose momentum.
Now we’re telling you to stop?
Yes, you should stop.
Why you need a break
Exercise is crucial: it is essential to your health and well-being.
But so is rest.
Exercising every day with no breaks can be detrimental to your overall fitness progress. It’s called overtraining. When you overtrain, you do not give your body time to recover and heal from the stress you place on it while exercising.
Overtraining makes you more vulnerable to muscle strain and injury. During normal exercise of all types, small tears in your muscles are normal. You may also from time to time notice a sore joint or some stiffness. Typically, these small inconveniences settle down with a good night’s rest and an ice pack. But over time, these slight injuries can accumulate and intensify because your body doesn’t get enough time off to fully recover. The result can be a full-blown injury or major slowdown in progress.
Your nervous system needs a break too. Following an intense workout schedule week after week takes its toll on your nervous system. When your nervous system gets overloaded, you may find that you feel irritable, weak and unmotivated. If you continue to ignore your body’s plea for recovery, you will probably find that your symptoms only worsen.
Whether you are working for fat loss, muscle strength, cardio improvement or a combination of all three, recovery is vital. Your body must have a break from the stress.
Sometimes your body will begin alerting you that it’s time to schedule a rest time.
Common symptoms of needing time off include:
An actual injury or illness
A halt in progression—hitting a plateau that won’t budge
Feeling bored, unmotivated and/or dreading your workouts
A higher than normal morning pulse
Lack of appetite
What about deconditioning?
A common concern about taking a break from working out is deconditioning. After working so hard for so long to build strength and endurance will taking a few days or even a whole week off cause you to lose ground?
No, it will not.
It takes a lot more than a week off to reverse all your hard work. It would take two months of inactivity to lose what you have gained. In fact, muscles can’t even build up without rest. Many people find that they come back fresher and more motivated after they have taken a break period…
AND, often our Members tell us they LOST weight over Recovery Week – their bodies “let go.” On the flip side, don’t worry if you notice a slight weight gain during your time off. It is likely only water retention or extra glycogen (energy) being stored by your muscles (which will be great for your workouts when you return!)
What to do during your break
You don’t have to be a couch potato during your break. Try some low-impact, gentle activities such as taking a walk with your dog, working in the yard or riding your bike. The key is intensity. De-load enough of the intensity so that your body truly recovers.
Keep eating healthily as well. Recovery Week is not the time to indulge all your cravings! Be sure your body continues to get all the nutrients and water that it needs. You will still be building muscle while you rest.
How long should your break be?
I recommend taking a whole week off every six to eight weeks – I’ve found six to be a sweet spot for me. Others suggest taking a break week less frequently than this. It has a lot to do with how intensely you are working out. For those who have a light training program, taking less than a week off may work well. But if you are training intensely, you need a whole week to recover both physically and mentally.
Try experimenting with different ratios. You should be able to eventually figure out what is best for your body.
Taking break weeks is crucial to your fitness success. An over-taxed, overtrained body will not progress. Avoid plateaus and frustration by letting yourself recover on a regular basis. You’ll love the results!