As important as it may be to exercise consistently in order to better your health and overall fitness, there will always come a point where you simply need to take a break. Wether it’s because you got a busy week, going on vacation, or even because you’re getting bored, taking a break from exercise has many benefits, and may even help you reach your goals faster. Today, I will talk about taking breaks from exercising and why you should be taking breaks from exercise every now and then.
First and foremost, a common fear about taking a break from training is undoing all of the hard work. Let me just cut that fear short and let you know that it isn’t going to happen, or at least not as soon as you may think.
In fact, “It takes about two months of inactivity to completely lose the gains you’ve made […] [and] Aerobic power can decline about 5% to 10% in three weeks, […] Muscular strength and endurance last longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months” (Waehner)
So with that being said, it’s ok to take a break. Taking a few days off or even a week from your normal routine might be just what you need in order to fully repair your body and continue on with your journey.
There’s no principle to follow as to how many rest days to take or how long, it simply comes down to listening to your own body.
When to Take a Break
The main reason you should be taking rest days is because of overtraining.
Some signs of overtraining may include:
- Fatigue or physical exhaustion.
- Soreness that won’t go away.
- Dreading your workouts.
- Poor performance.
- You’re not able to progress in your workouts.
- You feel unmotivated or bored.
- An injury or illness.
- You can’t stand the thought of exercising.
If you’re experiencing one of these symptoms, you may be overtraining and should probably take some rest days in order to fully recover. You’ll only damage your body if you’re too persistent, listen to your body’s signs!
However, this doesn’t mean you should be completely inactive when resting! This is a perfect time to do other activities you might not normally do, and it’s also a great time to focus on recovery exercises. It may even be a good time to try out new things and different ways of working out your body.
This ensures you’re not only continuing to do some activity throughout your day and burning calories, but also allowing your body and mind to properly recover. Some of these activities may include:
- Long walks
- Bike riding
Check out one of my previous blogs for some low impact exercises you can implement in your recovery days!
Nutrition During Resting Period
Nutrition is just as important during your resting days as it is during your working days.
“On rest days, your body generally needs less calories because you’re not as active. But instead of trying to omit a specific number of calories, simply listen to your body. It will naturally “ask” for less food through satiety and hunger cues” (Nunez).
Unless you want to over complicate things, just listening to your body’s hunger cues is the best approach into considering how much you should be eating during rest days.
You want to make sure you’re intaking an adequate amount of protein in order to maximize your muscle recovery. “Adequate protein intake supports the muscle repair that happens during rest” (Nunez).
“On rest days, you should also focus on:
- Carbohydrates. Eat complex carbs to restore your glycogen levels. Depending on your level of activity, you’ll need 3 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
- Water. It’s essential to drink enough water, even when you’re not working out. Staying hydrated prevents muscle cramps and delivers nutrients throughout your body.
- Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies offer healthy carbs and nutrients that support recovery” (Nunez).
Getting Back on Track
Getting back on track after taking some days off is possible, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve worked out.
As tempting as it may be to make up for lost time and jump into your regular workout routine, you might want to ease into it so you’re not at risk of being very sore, or even injury.
How gradually you go back into your routine depends on many factors (like how long you took a break for, genetics, how intense your workout routine is, etc).
I can’t really tell you how long it should take you, but I can give you some tips as to how you can get back on track:
- “Start simple – If you had a routine you followed before, try a lighter version, using lighter weights and less intensity.
- Give your body time – It may take up to three weeks to get back to where you were, depending on how much you did before and how much time has passed. Use the first 2 weeks to get a feel for your body and your workouts.
- Take extra rest days – Coming back to exercise means you’re going to be sore to some degree. Plan extra recovery days so your body can heal and grow stronger” (Waehner).
- Gradually increase weight – As each day/week goes by, increase your volume until you get back to where you were.
In addition, even if you do happen to lose some progress, your body has the ability to regain lost muscle and fitness in a much shorter time than it took initially. This is because of something many in the bodybuilding community call, muscle memory.
“Whenever we do strength training, our muscles acquire what is called myonuclei. These myonuclei are important when it comes to hypertrophy […] [as they] synthesize new muscle proteins and thus, our muscle fibers grow larger.”
“Upon a significant duration of detraining, we may start to “lose” our muscles, and we get weaker and smaller. And yet, the myonuclei stays in the muscle […] Your muscles will rapidly grow in size because the step of adding nuclei is “skipped”–they’re already there, ready to synthesize muscle proteins and build muscle fibers all over again!“ (fitnessflash.org)
In other words, after you have built muscle and later lost some of it during recovery, you will gain back that muscle lost much faster than you did gaining it initially.
Taking a break is an essential part of a training routine, not only for your body, but for your mind as well. You will not lose significant progress after days or even weeks of recovery (however, it is unlikely one would need more than a week for recovery).
This is the best time for you to focus on trying out other activities outside of your normal routine as well as emphasizing more in recovery-type exercises.
Making sure you continue to eat quality food while resting will maximize muscle repair and overall body recovery.
Taking a break does not mean suddenly becoming extremely inactive! Don’t get these confused, rest days are meant for overall mind and body recovery; don’t cheat yourself out.
After your recovery period is over, just start to gradually get back on track. How gradual it may be comes down to you, and if you happen to have lost progress, if any, fear not as it’s easier to gain back the progress the second time around!
How often do you take breaks from exercising?
When was the last time you took a break?
firstname.lastname@example.org. “How Fast Can Lost Muscle Be Regained?” FitnessFlash, FitnessFlash, 3 Oct. 2018, http://www.fitnessflash.org/how-fast-can-lost-muscle-be-regained/.
Nunez, Kirsten. “Are Rest Days Important for Exercise?” Healthline.com, 7 Aug. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/rest-day
“Overtraining.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overtraining.
Stecyk, Jonathan A. W. “MYONUCLEI ARE NOT LOST DURING MUSCLE ATROPHY.” Journal of Experimental Biology, The Company of Biologists Ltd, 1 Oct. 2008, jeb.biologists.org/content/211/19/iii.1.
Stefanov, Philip, et al. “How to Deload: Your Complete Recovery Week Guide (Updated).” Actionable Information for Extraordinary Results, 16 Oct. 2019, http://www.thinkinglifter.com/importance-taking-recovery-week-working/.
Waehner, Paige. “How Long Can an Exercise Break Last Before Losing Fitness?” Verywell Fit, 5 Nov. 2019, http://www.verywellfit.com/can-i-take-a-break-from-exercise-without-losing-fitness-1231204.
The reader assumes full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns, and nutritional advice before applying the content on this site to themselves. Samuel Navarro will not assume any liability for direct or indirect losses or damages that may result from the use of information contained in this post. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health.