Week after week, your alarm goes off at 6 AM, and it’s time to get your workout gear on and grind at the gym. Your motivation is high, and your lifts are strong, but for some reason, you’re not seeing the results you’d hoped.
After weeks, maybe even months, of training hard, your body will likely signal that it needs a bit of a break.
While putting away your lifting shoes and letting the dumbbells collect dust isn’t the kind of break we’re talking about, a de-load or rest week now and again is never a bad idea.
If you haven’t considered taking a week of lifting, it’s time you do. While the thought of staying away from the gym might be enough to give you a panic attack, there are a surprising number of benefits that might outweigh the anxiety.
This article covers why taking a de-load week is essential and the benefits of taking a break from lifting.
Let’s get started.
Why Recovery (Or De-Load) Weeks Are Important
Does the thought of taking a break from workouts make your heart race? All your time and dedication to getting your dream body is about to go down the toilet in a week.
Stop right there. Before we go any further, we want to be clear that taking a rest week isn’t about losing your gains—it’s about supporting and strengthening them.
While lounging on the couch all week eating takeout might be a quick way to pack on the pounds, a de-load week isn’t about avoiding all activity.
It’s about hitting the reset button on your gains and giving your body a chance to rest, relax, and rejuvenate; an opportunity to catch up and support muscle growth and repair to enhance your gains.
Heavy lifting might stimulate muscle growth, but if you want to get the most out of your training program, you also need to give your muscles ample rest because the recovery period is where the growth happens.
During a de-load week, you want to avoid lifting and cardiovascular exercise completely. The idea here is to reduce stress on the body and provide the proper foundation to support growth—sleep, vitamins, minerals, and low-impact activity.
Our bodies can recover and respond to workouts between training sessions. Still, heavy or intense resistance workouts put a tremendous amount of stress on your body—and it’s not just the musculoskeletal system that’s affected.
The entire neuromuscular and immune systems take a hit from weight training. When you gift yourself a break from the intensity, you allow these systems to get back in balance and support optimal functioning.
Additionally, if you lack motivation, stepping away for a week is a great way to pick up that vigor and motivation back up, which leads to greater drive, intensity, and results.
Plus, when you break up your training every 8 to 10 weeks, you can set more manageable goals and reassess after each block for greater improvement.
Three Facts About Taking A Week Off You’ll Want To Know
- Levels of testosterone and growth hormone increase during the recovery period 1
- A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) declines by 7% after three weeks of inactivity 2
- A few rest days up to a week can have a beneficial effect on enhancing maximal strength 3-5
Five Reasons To Take A Week Off Workouts
Are you curious why taking a week of training can be beneficial? Here are six reasons.
1. It can address stress levels
Intense training is a form of stress on the body, which can lead to elevated stress hormones—cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Studies show that moderate to high-intensity exercise (60-80% VO2max) causes increases in circulating cortisol levels, likely due to a combination of hemoconcentration and HPA axis stimulus (ACTH). In contrast, low-intensity exercise (40%) does not increase cortisol levels to the same degree 6.
Chronically high cortisol levels will not only be detrimental to your performance and recovery but can also result in serious hormonal imbalances that can lead to a slew of nasty symptoms.
Use a de-load week to catch up on sleep, errands, housework, and anything else you’ve been neglecting, and use it as a time to reset your cortisol and reduce stress.
2. Get more sleep
Does your alarm go off daily at 5 AM for your workout? Take this week to catch some extra shut-eye. Sleep deprivation impairs cognitive performance and has significant implications for growth and recovery.
Research shows that hormonal changes resulting from insufficient sleep include an increase in cortisol and a decrease in testosterone and Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, which favors a proteolytic environment 7.
As such, sleep debt impairs the activity of protein synthesis pathways and increases the activity of degradation pathways, leading to loss of muscle mass and hindering exercise-induced muscle recovery.
Give yourself this time to get back on track with your sleep schedule and get 7-9 hours per night. And once you get back to training, figure out how to maintain the sleep you need.
3. Avoid burnout
Are your adrenals working overtime, and you’re constantly tired and not seeing the results you want? It could be because you’re over-training and under-recovering.
Going hard and pushing yourself is great, but your body can only sustain so much pressure until it eventually needs a break—and if you don’t give it one, you risk burnout and long-term damage. If you’re not keen on stepping away for weeks because of burnout, stop it before it starts.
4. Boost strength and muscle growth
Want to maximize muscle growth? Take time off training. Most lifters are under the impression that you get strong by lifting weights, but you get stronger by allowing your body to recover from the damage induced by weight lifting.
Your body needs that time off of training to rebuild muscle tissue and let training adaptations occur. Don’t be surprised if you return after a week only to feel stronger and better equipped for higher intensities.
You’d be surprised how much more efficient your body is when it’s not constantly trying to recover but actually does recover.
Are your workouts not feeling the same as they were? Do you find yourself struggling to drag yourself into the gym?
A motivation hump happens, and irritability and mood changes are one of the first signs you may be heading into overtraining territory.
Giving yourself a week from the gym may not entirely reverse overtraining, but it can help to reset your motivation levels and get you back to the peppy, hyped, I’m ready to kill this workout frame of mind you were previously in.
Taking a week off training may be a bit of a mental battle, but rest assured, you’ll step back into the gym stronger mentally and physically—and to your surprise, you most likely haven’t lost any strength or mass.
If you have something like Pre Lab Pro® in your stack, you can use it to your advantage once you’re back in the gym.
With a curated stack of powerful workout ingredients, Pre Lab Pro® boosts energy, increases work capacity, and protects your gains. In combination with de-load weeks, it’s the best supplement for helping you achieve your dream body.
- Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA, Nindl BC. Recovery responses of testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1 after resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2017;122(3):549-558.
- Coyle EF, Martin WH 3rd, Sinacore DR, Joyner MJ, Hagberg JM, Holloszy JO. Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense endurance training.J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol. 1984;57(6):1857-1864.
- Pritchard HJ, Barnes MJ, Stewart RJC, Keogh JWL, McGuigan MR. Short-Term Training Cessation as a Method of Tapering to Improve Maximal Strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(2):458-465.
- Weiss LW, Coney HD, Clark FC. Optimal post-training abstinence for maximal strength expression. Res Sports Med. 2003;11(3):145-155.
- Weiss LW, Wood LE, Fry AC, et al. Strength/power augmentation subsequent to short-term training abstinence. J Strength Cond Res. 2004;18(4):765-770.
- Hill EE, Zack E, Battaglini C, Viru M, Viru A, Hackney AC. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008;31(7):587-591.