We know we're usually the ones telling you to work out, but every once in a while, you have to take a break. And not just a rest day, we're talking about a rest week. Seriously — seven whole days out of the gym, away from the studio, and off the track. And while that may sound excruciating for exercise addicts (ourselves included), it's so much more than necessary.
After every two to three months of constant, intense exercise, consider taking a full week break to take care of your body. Here's why.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but taking a week off truly allows you to recover both physically and mentally. You'll have time to sleep a little longer, foam roll a little more, and give your body some catch-up time — and some TLC!
Reset the Nervous System
"The biggest reason to take a rest week is to reset the nervous system after an intensification or accumulation phase of a strength program," said DIAKADI personal trainer Nicolette Amarillas. Read: if you've been building up and going harder and harder in the gym, you need a reset! "Deloading the muscles will help with recovery," she said.
Keep Yourself on Track
Going from one fitness program to the next can be exhausting, and you can start to lose motivation. Taking a week off is a great way to offset that mental and physical fatigue. "Rest weeks are also a great way to transition from each phase of a program," Amarillas said. "It allows some mental and physical downtime for [someone] who is working out five or more times a week. The mental and physical break also helps get [people] excited to come back!"
"A week of rest can help your muscles come back stronger and keep you active for life," said coach and Equinox trainer Caroline Jordan. "While it can sometimes feel hard to take a whole week off, it's much easier than taking months off sidelined with injury!" Jordan knows from personal experience treating clients with injuries that adequate rest is imperative to long-term health. "So you can look at a week of rest as preventative health — it's good for the body and its fitness future long-term."
"While it can sometimes feel hard to take a whole week off, it's much easier than taking months off sidelined with injury!"
After treating dozens of "high-performing, perfectionist women who need permission to rest," Jordan came up with the concept that "rest = investment in your fitness future."
Feeling sick of a workout that once made you feel excited to get out of bed? "Taking a week off workouts is not only a great way to prevent injury and improve performance, but it also helps keep you motivated and avoid workout burnout," Jordan said. "Workout burnout happens to all of us, especially when we forget to take regular time off."
Avoid Overtraining Syndrome
If you've been going, going, going without stop, you're setting yourself up for overtraining syndrome. In addition to destroying your immune system and body, you could also end up with mood changes (including depression and irritability) and overwork your heart.
Get the Gains
Exercising too much can actually sidetrack your progress, causing weight gain and muscle loss. Want to see the fruits of your labor? "Take those rest days," said trainer and injury prevention specialist Liz Letchford. "Your body needs them to recover from all of the breaking down that has been happening during workouts."
Amarillas reinforced this. "Strength can't be built with a program that does not allow for enough restoration of the muscles," she said. Rest well, and get the gains.
Reestablish Your Mind-Body Connection
How are you feeling? No, really . . . have you checked in with yourself? You may not notice certain sensations or feelings in your body until you truly take a pause.
"Strength can't be built with a program that does not allow for enough restoration of the muscles."
Giving yourself several days to check in with your body and how you're feeling can feed into injury prevention, more meaningful recovery, and a stronger return to your workouts.
Remember cortisol? It's the stress hormone that makes you retain belly fat — ugh. When you consistently push past your physical limits without giving yourself an adequate break, you end up messing with cortisol levels.
"Your body essentially has exhausted its capacity to fight, but you continue to put it in 'fight or flight' mode by exercising — especially high-intensity, long-duration exercise," Letchford said. "This throws your hormones out of balance, causing fatigue, poor performance, fogginess, and weight gain, especially around your middle."
Quick way to ensure that doesn't happen? A week of rest, recovery, and renewal. Go get yourself a massage, watch some Netflix, take a hot bath, read a book — you know the drill.
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