When you just start a new exercise program or get back into it after a circumstantial break (e.g. vacation or injury), you usually feel pumped, motivated and ready to go! The fridge is full of delicious meal prep creations, the alarm is set for nice and early starts, and your gym outfits are pre-planned for 2 weeks ahead. Every workout feels like a party, and after your sweat sessions, you feel energised and ready to face the world with confidence!
Typically, during this ‘gym honeymoon’, you find it relatively easy to stick to 6 weekly sessions and a cheeky LISS cardio bout on your scheduled day off. It feels like nothing is holding you back, and everything else can wait while you’re working on building the best possible version of yourself!
However, slowly but surely, tiredness is creeping in, and you may feel that:
- Gym sessions are no longer as enjoyable, and you have to practically drag yourself there to get started on your workout
- When you do convince yourself to start a workout, it ends up being a disappointing session with subpar performance
- You are unusually irritable, and even the slightest inconvenience can make you furious and upset
- You are oddly tired, beyond the usual ‘been running errands and didn’t get much sleep last night’ situation. You could fall asleep anywhere, anytime, and there are no sound medical explanations for that.
- You are getting down with colds and other minor illnesses much more frequently than usual
- You have reached a plateau
In addition, early starts/late finishes may start to add up, putting pressure on you and making you feel like you’re missing out on amazing activities everyone else seems to have time for. This may not even necessarily be the case but can sure feel that way!
So, what should you do in a situation like this? It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the above are very clear signs that…
You need a break!
And we don’t mean a day of ‘taking it easy at the gym’ or ‘an active recovery day’. What you need is a proper break to recharge and rejuvenate!
Of course, you already have built-in rest days in your program. For the duration of your intensive training block, this is likely to be enough to shake off the soreness and carry on. However, over several weeks the effects of such a rigorous schedule start adding up, which leads to soreness and fatigue you can’t shake off as quickly.
Remember: elite athletes take extended breaks regularly, and so should you!
Benefits of taking a break
The biggest fear most people have when taking a break is losing their progress. However, you may be surprised that taking a few days, or even a full week off your normal gym schedule is unlikely to hurt your progress unless you have just dabbed into exercising. This is exactly why professional athletes (whose sole income stems from maintaining peak performance, so the stakes are high!) do not hesitate to schedule a week off every 6-8 weeks. You may not need it this frequently, or your body may request a couple of extra days off each month – listen to the signs your body gives you, and you’ll just know when it’s time for Netflix and chill instead of heading to the gym.
For a recreational athlete/fitness enthusiast, a few days extra days off here and there is all that’s needed to:
- Let the body repair and rejuvenate. Over time, muscle fatigue and soreness accumulates, and taking a break can be extremely beneficial to reverse these effects and return to optimal performance.
- Give your mind a break. Sticking to a consistent rigorous schedule can be extremely taxing on the brain. It takes a lot of focus, motivation and willpower to maintain an intense fitness regime, which can be unnecessarily draining at times. By taking a few days off, you are giving your mind an opportunity to recharge and calm down. Use the time off as a nice distraction and really enjoy it! Read a good book, meet up with some friends or go to that sip and paint night you never had time for – whatever rocks your boat and helps you relax.
- Prevent injuries (or repair existing ones). You may have some existing injuries – or may not even be aware that something nasty is brewing for you. Either way, taking additional time off is always a good idea to take care of wears and tears in your body.
Beat that guilt
Sometimes, you know that you need a break – and are even aware of the amazing benefits of doing so – however, the irrational guilt is crippling in. You may feel like you’re letting yourself down, and aren’t being strong, committed or disciplined enough.
These feelings can be fuelled by flicking through social media and the messages it often promotes, such as ‘go hard or go home’, ‘no pain no gain’, and ‘rest is for the weak’. None of those are true or healthy!
In reality, every serious fitness enthusiast, being that professional or amateur, schedules breaks into their regime – because they are not optional! Just like any complex machine, your body needs regular maintenance and repair, and scheduled breaks are a great opportunity to achieve that.
So, by taking extra time off, you don’t suddenly become lazy, and neither do you sabotage your goals. It’s exactly the opposite – you need breaks to progress and thrive!
Ready for a break? Here are some tips
Now that you know the amazing benefits of scheduled breaks, you are probably after some tips on taking them in a way that supports your training the most! Below are some tips to help you time your breaks better:
- If you wake up one day feeling super sore and tired after a few weeks of consistent training, it may be a good idea to take an extra day off. This may be all you need to recover, regain motivation and get back into it!
- If you have just started training or going through a particularly intense phase (e.g. competition prep), you may need to schedule in 2 rest days into every week. More isn’t always more – train smarter, not harder! Rest, recovery and proper nutrition are where the magic happens.
- If you’re consistently tired and fatigued, take a few days, or up to a week, off and see if that helps. You can stay active (e.g. going for walks), however, don’t do anything out of guilt – instead, pick activities that bring you true pleasure.
- Sometimes, e.g. due to an injury, you may need to take a prolonged break – and that’s ok too. If that’s the case, make sure you have realistic expectations – taking several weeks/months off can decrease your overall fitness and lead to some muscle loss. However, your health comes first – so do what you must do, you can always jump back into it when you’ve recovered! On a prolonged break, it’s generally recommended to keep active in any way that doesn’t aggravate your injuries – e.g. you may still be able to do upper body workouts if your knees are sore (needs to be discussed with your doctor, of course).
- It takes around 2 months of complete inactivity to seriously affect your progress. However, even after months off, you will probably find that your muscles are quick to gain the strength back. Your aerobic fitness and endurance can take longer to come back though.
Rest isn’t optional – it’s an essential part of any balanced fitness regime!
There are no hard and fast rules on how frequently to take breaks or how much time off to have – so the best advice we can give you is the following: listen to your body and don’t ignore the signs of fatigue and tiredness.
Taking a break here and there will help your body recover, and your mind – to avoid boredom and keep enjoying the routine. Be patient, consistent and responsive to your body’s needs!