Have you ever considered that taking a week off from lifting could help you lose weight, one up and even build more muscle? If you are on a weight loss or body building journey, you know how important weight lifting is for your goals. However, dedicating all your weekly free time to the gym, albeit an admirable effort, could be causing more harm than good to your gym endeavors.
In this article we are going to tackle how to tell if you need to start taking a week off from weight lifting, take a look into the benefits of taking a week off from lifting, why are rest days necessary, and what happens after taking a week off from training, etc.
Are Rest Days Necessary?
Yes, they are and anyone who tells you otherwise does not wish the best for your, you muscles, or your fitness goals. But, what exactly are rest days? The name basically speaks for itself. These are days where you take some time off from your usual workout regimen, giving your body, mind, and muscles a break from working out.
It should be noted that they are two kinds of rest days: passive rest days aka passive recovery and active rest days aka active recovery (18). In the former, you are not required to do any form of exercise at all. If you were to choose to lie in bed all day and binge watch your favorite show then this is completely fine.
On the other hand, in active recovery, you are still working out albeit at a low or moderate intensity as compared to your maximum effort. Some activities that people can do on active rest days include walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, hiking, and Tai Chi (3). So why are rest days necessary? These days are important for any effective exercise regimen because they give your body time to repair itself.
Taking a week off from lifting allows your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild after being broken down due to your efforts at the gym (19). This time is also essential as it prevents fatigue and can help improve on your overall performance while training (5).
How Can You Tell If You Need To Take A Week Off From Lifting?
Sometimes when you are training incredibly hard, your body can start turning against you showing you signs and symptoms that it needs you to take a break and stop putting it through so much. Here are some signs that you need to take a week off from lifting (4, 13):
This is the most obvious sign that you should consider taking a week off from lifting. Have you realized that your strength and muscle endurance has decreased? It could be that you can no longer lift for as long as you are used to or the weights that you have been easily lifting are starting to feel like boulders. If these are some of the symptoms that you are experiencing, then taking a week off from weight lifting could be a much needed break.
When in a plateau you will start realizing that no matter how much effort you are putting into your routine, your muscles are no longer growing. As stated above working out tears down muscle and rest days gives them time to heal, recover, and grow. Without this break, your muscles will keep tearing and may start burning.
In some cases, those going through plateaus while trying to lose weight may find themselves gaining weight even when they are supposedly doing everything right. Overdoing it at the gym puts immense stress on your body which responds by prompting the production of cortisol, making your body hold on to fat (1).
A compulsive need to workout
There is a start difference between dedication and compulsion. If you realize that you are always thinking about your next workout and probably doing so several times a day, you should seriously consider taking a week from lifting before you injure yourself.
A loss of appetite
A loss of appetite is very common especially in competitive athletes. A 2017 study revealed that this is caused by the stress they put on their bodies which leads to a hormonal imbalance that affects ghrelin and leptin, the hunger and satiety hormone, respectively (7). If you are not a professional athlete then a loss of appetite should worry you. This is because you are extremely physiologically exhausted that your body cannot be bothered to feel hunger.
Insomnia or restless sleep
Overtraining puts your body under constant and immense stress which keeps you from sleeping well and restfully. Sleep is not only important for weight loss, but also great for muscle building (9). Without it you may end up losing muscle (10) and gaining weight (11).
Loss of enthusiasm and lack of energy
It is not unusual to want to skip a gym session or feel too exhausted to go workout after a long day. However, if you constantly cannot sum up enough energy to go to the gym or exercise at home, it might be time to take a week or two off from lifting.
Moderate workouts are known to help build a strong immune system, lower the risk of diabetes, and even prevent certain cancers. Overtraining, on the other hand, has the opposite effects. Overdoing it with your weight lifting routine can make you susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours (6).
Increased risk injury and pain in muscles and joints
Taking a week off from lifting is essential if you want to prevent gym/exercise related injuries. Overtraining means that you are working out in a weakened state. This leads to aggravating old injuries or getting injured more often. Overused muscles and joints also cause joint pain.
Taking a week off from lifting could actually save your mental health. In most cases people use exercise as a way to deal with mental health issues, however overdoing it can have the opposite effect. Frustrations from not sleeping well cause this poor performance, high expectations, as well as the habit of not eating enough, plateaued progress, and increased stress levels (2).
This might be because your body is in a catabolic state – burning and consuming muscle as energy – where it leads to utter dehydration. While this can be simply solved by drinking plenty of water, it is a sign that bigger trouble is on the horizon, and taking a week from weight lifting could be essential in preventing worse damage.
Being constantly fatigued is not normal. Take a break from your routine to allow your body to recover. In this case a passive rest week could be more beneficial than an active one.
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What Are The Benefits Of Taking A Week Off From Lifting?
There are some benefits to taking a week off from weight lifting; some mental and others physical and they are as follows:
It helps with muscle recovery and building
This is probably one of the biggest benefits to having a rest day or a rest week. Whenever we are engaged in strength training, the stress we put on our muscles ends up causing microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. The more you work out the more the muscle tears.
Resting gives the muscles time to heal, repair and grow. To anyone who may not be aware, when you take a rest day or a rest week, fibroblasts (14), through the process of muscle fibrosis, heal and repair the muscle tissue which in turn makes them bigger and stronger.
Prevents muscle fatigue
Muscle fatigue is a decrease in maximal force or power production in response to contractile activity (contraction) (12). When we consume carbohydrates, they are later turned into glycogen which the body and muscles break down during exercise to use as fuel (8). Resting allows the body and muscles to replenish their glycogen stores which will be later used during the next workout session. Without it, the stores remain empty which then leads to muscle fatigue.
Reduces risk of injury
When you overtrain you are exhausted which means that your form could be off, may drop a weight, or miss a step, all things that could lead to injury. If you have been injured before you are more liable to overwork the problematic joint or muscle leading to re-injury. Taking a week off from lifting prevents all this.
Helps you sleep more/better
A rest week means that you are not pushing yourself at all (or as much as you are used), meaning that you are less exhausted, not overtired and can easily get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep that every adult needs.
It is good for your mental health
Weight lifting is not just a physical endeavor but also a mental one and as seen above, overtraining can lead to depression, lack of motivation, and moodiness. Taking a week from lifting can prevent all these factors and once you get back to working out, your mind will be clearer and enthused to get back to the grind.
What Happens After Taking A Week Off From Weight Lifting?
When you take a week or two off from the gym every 8 to 12 weeks, your muscles, tendons and ligaments get a chance to repair themselves and the glycogen energy stores in your muscles and liver are replenished (20). In men, their testosterone levels, which decrease during overtraining, recover. Your motivation for working out also increases and you may even find that your intensity levels have gone up (16).
If you are worried about losing your gains by taking a week off from training, you should rest easy. While your aerobic conditioning will reduce (15), your gains can easily survive a weekly break. Loss of muscle is said to only become visible if you take a two to three week break from weight lifting (17).
Does taking a week off from lifting help?
Yes, it does. It is not only helpful to your muscles but also to your mental health.
Does taking a week off from lifting help painful joints?
Yes, it can. Overworking your joints during exercise can cause them to flare up and ache and thus resting for a week or two could help. However, if the pain does not subside within two weeks, it is advisable to see a doctor as you may have injured yourself (13).
The Bottom Line: Is Taking A Week Off From Lifting Weights Good?
Yes, taking a week off from lifting is absolutely beneficial for your physical and mental health. For active bodybuilders they are advised to take a weekly break from weight lifting every 8 to 12 weeks. If you are not an active or competitive bodybuilder, you do not need to wait this long to take your breaks.
A rest day or two every week is better to prevent overtraining. If you feel that this is not enough, then taking a week off from weight lifting could work for you too. Always do what works best for you and your body. Weight loss, toning and muscle gain is not worth causing injury to yourself.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 Exercise Mistakes That Can Actually Halt Weight Loss (2019, livestrong.com)
- 5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You Feel Depressed After a Workout (2019, verywellfit.com)
- 11 of the Best Activities to Do on Active Recovery Days (2018, self.com)
- 12 Signs You’re Overtraining (n.d., mensjournal.com)
- Are Rest Days Important for Exercise? (2019, healthline.com)
- Can Too Much Exercise Decrease Your Immunity? (2020, verywellfit.com)
- Changes in Stress and Appetite Responses in Male Power-Trained Athletes during Intensive Training Camp (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Glycogen (2017, sciencedirect.com)
- How Sleep Adds Muscle (n.d., sleep.org)
- Lack Of Sleep Can Make Dieters Lose Muscle Instead Of Fat (2010, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain (2016, nih.gov)
- Muscle fatigue: general understanding and treatment (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Overtraining | 9 Signs of Overtraining to Look Out For (2017, acefitness.org)
- Skeletal Muscle Fibroblasts in Health and Disease (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- This Is What Happens To Your Body When You Take A Break From Working Out (2016, self.com)
- Using A Recovery Week To Propel Your Muscle-Building Efforts! (2018, bodybuilding.com)
- What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Working Out for 2 Weeks (n.d., mensjournal.com)
- What Type of Recovery Workout Is Best for You? (n.d., livestrong.com)
- Why Rest Days are Just as Important as Working Out (2015, theactivetimes.com)
- Why you need to take a week off from the gym (2016, menshealth.com)