You might think that taking time off from the gym is anathema to someone who’s trying to stay healthy and fit. After all, we need discipline and consistency in our workout routine to get good results.
But sometimes, a planned or even unplanned break from the gym lasting a few days (or even an entire week!) can be beneficial. Even the most elite-level body-builders and professional athletes subscribe to this belief. Wondering why extended rest can be so effective? It’s a lot easier than you may think.
The Case for Taking a Break
Here are a few reasons why excellent sleep and recovery is just as important as a hard day at the gym:
You get stronger, faster, and fitter when you’re resting, not when you’re actually working out.
Training itself (whether cardio or lifting weights) is just the stimulus your body needs to trigger hormonal, structural, and neurological changes that make you fitter. But these changes predominantly occur during your recovery period, not during the actual gym session.
In fact, our muscles actually undergo a microscopic form of tissue damage when we workout. This is a normal response to exercise and not an acute “injury” per se. But it’s during the recovery period that you rebuild and repair your “damaged” muscles. This repair process is what makes your muscles stronger, bigger, and more efficient. By failing to rest properly (aka, overtraining), you’re putting yourself at a serious risk for true injury.
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You need time off in order to keep training hard.
Without proper rest, your body won’t be able to exert the same output during the next workout. This means the intensity of your workout will be lower, which can seriously slow and/or hinder your results.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
Taking some extended time off once in awhile can be an awesome mental “reset” (in addition to a physical one). By day 6 or 7 of being exercise-free, count on being super motivated to get back into the gym and ready to hit it hard.
How to Maximize Rest Days & Time Off
The harder you work when you’re at the gym, the more benefit you’ll get out of taking a few days off or even a week off every now and then. So, if you train hard on a consistent basis, plan to take an entire week off from your normally scheduled workouts at least once per quarter. You should also plan to take at least 1 to 2 rest days during your normal weekly routine. Doing so will help you see significant and efficient gains while also increasing your chances of enjoying a long and injury-free career in the gym.
Wondering what you should do with yourself during a de-load week? Dial down your nutrition, read a book, hit the sauna, or schedule a massage. You don’t have to be confined to the couch–but you shouldn’t be working out, either.
On these off-days or weeks, feel free to enjoy some active recovery like brisk walking, hiking, swimming, or yoga. Active recovery can help you avoid delayed onset muscle soreness and facilitate improved circulation of your blood and lymphatic systems.
But the operative word here is “recovery.” Avoid the temptation to go too hard on your rest days. Otherwise, you’ll never give your body a full chance to recover and regenerate.