Taking a week off from the gym isn't the end of the world, but there are a few things to consider during this week of rest. You can even take a nice vacation without losing much ground in your exercise program.
Plan your week off after a peak cycle of exercise or a minor injury like a strained muscle. The first couple of days are a normal recovery period, and the remaining period offers additional rest time.
The Big Week Off
Sometimes, a week off is needed to simply relax and reset. Working out 365 days per year is not normal and a vacation can help prevent burnout. Taking at least a day off every week may also help your body recover while you prepare for the week of exercise ahead. Rest, relax and spend the week engaged in self-care to renew your body and prepare for a new phase of exercise.
Taking a week off from lifting won't ruin your muscle mass, and the years of hard-earned gains are safe. It can even help by allowing nagging injuries to heal. This time is also valuable for strained and overworked muscles requiring time to rest and heal.
According to a December 2013 study in the journal Medicina Sportiva, muscle mass does not deteriorate until two to three weeks post-training and cardio reductions are most significant in the three- to the eight-week range.
Taking a break is also good for your mental health. Even the best athletes in the world need a vacation. Relaxing and deviating from your normal routine is a good way to take a mental break while restoring motivation to jump back into an exercise program. Even if you don't feel the need for a mental break, anticipating future burnout with a scheduled week off is prudent.
Unexpected life circumstances also may warrant a week off. Taking the time to focus on relationships and important aspects of your life is not bad and returning to workouts after a week off is not difficult. The body will retain muscle mass and a few days of workouts can put you right back on track. Resolving personal issues will also reduce stress and anxiety, making your future workouts more enjoyable.
Whatever the reason, a week off is a short window of time that will have minimal impact when properly managed. A few simple steps during the downtime will keep you limber and prepared to return to your normal workouts. Relax and enjoy the break while knowing your body will not see any long-term or adverse effects from a short vacation.
Changes to Your Body
A single week away from the gym will only have mild consequences. According to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, your cardio abilities will begin to diminish after two weeks and muscle gains can last for an entire month. Based on these findings, a single week off will not set you back.
What you do during the off week, however, can influence the way you feel. Eating poorly, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and engaging in behaviors that stress your body will have a noticeable impact. You will not lose physical fitness, but experiencing discomfort is a reasonable assumption after a sudden change in the diet and exercise lifestyle.
You might even gain a few pounds from fluctuations in stored liquids and food, but a reasonable diet and active cross-training as part of the week off can also mitigate weight gain through unintended exercise and calorie burn.
Ultimately, long-lasting physical changes experienced in a week off are minimal at best. While you may feel different from sudden dietary changes, a return to normalized behavior in the following week will encourage a quick recovery.
Maintain a Reasonable Diet
Eating is a difficult part of any vacation. Take a week off for a wedding, cruise or trip to a resort and sugary drinks consumed alongside buffet-style meals can pack a large number of calories into a short week off.
Indulging slightly is not all bad when done as a temporary act, but you can limit the effects while still enjoying your food. Limit the consumption of processed sugars at all costs. Your body can process a steak dinner and a glass of wine much better than a bag of chips, a pile of cookies and a liter of soda. Enjoy a nice meal; just push aside the sugars.
If you do intend to consume sweets, make it a special treat rather than a habit. Eat an ice cream cone, or better yet, enjoy a healthier bowl of frozen yogurt with fresh berries.
Harvard Health recommends setting exercise goals and rewarding yourself when those specific goals are achieved. A week off with a few special meals spread out throughout the week is a good reward for a previously reached milestone.
Active Vacation Ideas
You can take a week off from the gym while remaining active. A vacation does not always involve excessive lounging and large amounts of food and drinks. Spend the days in activity mode and go explore while maintaining your fitness. The week off remains fun and offers a change of pace and scenery despite remaining active.
Hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, snow skiing and outdoor sports are an excellent means of cross-training without using a gym. The activities will elevate your rate and help improve mood while burning calories. They are also fun and a great way to get outside during an off-week and even during your regular training.
Water sports are also excellent for activity. Water skiing, swimming and general pool games can all contribute to a high activity level during the week off. Play volleyball on the beach, disc golf or pick up a sport to get the blood flowing without ever thinking about the gym and any kind of structured workout routine.
Ultimately, an active week off makes it easier to return to an exercise program because the muscles and cardio maintain conditioning. Your body can continue functioning normally for a more seamless transition between the week off and the return.
Maintain Your Flexibility
Flexibility is a major concern when taking any significant amount of time off from exercise. A simple stretching routine can help maintain your flexibility while preventing injuries when you return to workouts. This is also important during active vacations. Stretch out before any intensive activities, just like you would in the gym.
A week off of exercise can also function as a retreat of sorts. Incorporate mild yoga and meditation into the break to help relax and work on limbering your muscle groups. Yoga can also help build core strength, according to the American Council on Exercise. Although you are outside of the gym, doing the routine as a form of meditation and relaxation will benefit the body.
Also, consider soaking up the time off with treatments like massage, steam baths and saunas. Enjoy the time away from the gym and treat your body well. Sweat, re-hydrate and cleanse while taking some time off the intensive exercises.
A vacation from exercise can still have positive health outcomes when wellness is a theme for the week off. Even mild stretching in the morning and evening will benefit the body. Pay attention to your body each day and simply loosen up to make your re-entry into exercise easier after the vacation ends.
Focus on Mental Health
Mental health is often overlooked, but running an intensive exercise routine for a long period can lead to burnout. Working through the same routine repeatedly in any venue is a recipe for eventual burnout and loss of mental clarity.
Adding variety to the exercises and shifting perspectives frequently is one effective method of combating this burnout issue. Taking time off is another productive means of really resetting the clock for your brain. Exercise is an excellent means of maintaining mental health, but pushing too hard is associated with negative consequences.
In the week off, approaching and combating burnout really depends on the individual. Meditation and solitude are useful for some individuals, while others prefer group settings and excitement. Regardless of the approach to taking a mental break, the desired outcome is the ability to relax the brain and focus on aspects of life other than exercise.
Set New Goals
A week off is the perfect opportunity for self-assessment. Take some time to think about where you stand in your exercise routine and what you want to achieve as an athlete or individual. Set new goals and map a path to reach those milestones. Reflection and assessments are important, and maintaining an objective view during this process will help to set realistic goals.
After setting goals, work to attribute timelines against specific outcomes. For example, losing 10 pounds of body fat in a week is not possible in a healthy manner, but losing that amount over several months through regular exercise and healthy eating is entirely possible. Focus on achievable goals in the short run with the big picture goals set against the year or dates that correlate with specific events.
Setting goals for the next month, three months or six months is a good approach to working through phases. You can always revise the goals later if circumstances change. Goal setting isn't necessarily a static practice and adapting to achieve positive results in reasonable increments drives results while mitigating potential burnout.
Making the Comeback
The re-entry after taking a week off from the gym is very important. Rushing back into the gym ready for a full force workout is possible, but not necessary.
Start slow for a few days to prevent injury and really focus on perfect form during your lifts and other movements. In the first two days, you are essentially reminding your body about the process and acknowledging any changes experienced after the week off.
In many cases, it will take a day or two of cardio and healthy eating just to clear your system and normalize everything. Take your time, stretch thoroughly and do a few light workout sessions before increasing the intensity. Working on a system of peaks and valleys is often used by athletes training for competition. They will start slow and work towards a peak that coincides with a big event.
After a few days, you will settle right back into an exercise routine and can essentially resume activity in the same manner as before the week off. According to the American Council on Exercise, adequate rest might even improve your athletic abilities because the muscles will have time to recover from stress.
- American Council on Exercise: "8 Reasons to Take a Rest Day"
- Ohio State University: Wexner Medical Center: "Should You Take a Break From Exercise"
- Harvard Health: "Sticking With Your Exercise Program"
- Harvard Health: "Health Benefits of Hiking: Raise Your Heart Rate and Your Mood"
- American Council on Exercise: "Building Core Strength With Yoga"
- Medicina Sportiva: "Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations for Muscular Hypertrophy"