For athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and individuals getting into regular exercise, can taking a workout break be beneficial if structured properly?
Table of Contents
Giving oneself permission to take a break from exercising is necessary, especially to maintain a current fitness level. To stay fit at every level and injury-free, the body needs rest and recovery, especially to progress in performance levels. Regular exercise is important for:
- Building endurance
- Improving strength
- Losing and maintaining weight
- Relieving stress
What Is It?
A voluntary pause/workout break is a dedicated amount of time when the individual chooses not to work out. It is typically a response to individual body cues when the person knows their mind and body need to take a break from exercising. A workout break is different than a rest day as it may last one or two weeks from the regular training routine. Individuals may need to take a break because the workouts are becoming boring and/or the possibility of burning out or overtraining.
- Studies on recreational soccer players showed that three to six weeks of inactivity did not change aerobic capacity and muscle strength. (Chang Hwa Joo. 2018)
- Extremely fit individuals will experience a rapid drop in fitness during the first three weeks of inactivity before leveling off. (Chang Hwa Joo. 2018)
- It takes about two months of inactivity to lose the gains made completely. (Jonny St-Amand et al., 2012)
Medical experts provide terms for individuals who may be doing too much:
- Overreaching is when the training becomes excessive, and performance begins to fall. It can be short- or long-term.
- Overtraining occurs when overreaching is not addressed.
- Overtraining syndrome/OTS lasts longer and results in more serious performance setbacks along with symptoms like hormone changes, depression, fatigue, and systemic inflammation. (Jeffrey B. Kreher. 2016)
- Overreaching or overtraining feels like fitness progress is moving backward instead of forward. The more training, the slower and more fatigued the body becomes.
- Endurance athletes have an increased risk of overreaching and overtraining. (Jeffrey B. Kreher. 2016)
- The endurance mindset encourages pushing more hours of training to get stronger and faster. However, at a certain point, performance suffers.
- Some research suggests using the term paradoxical deconditioning syndrome that can lead to overtraining. (Flavio A. Cadegiani, Claudio Elias Kater. 2019)
Taking a break allows the restoration of balance to focus on work or school, manage various life events, and enjoy friends and family time. Studies have suggested that achieving a better work/life balance can improve:
- Job performance and satisfaction.
- Life and family satisfaction.
- Fitness, life balance, and health vary for everybody. (Andrea Gragnano et al., 2020)
- Overtraining usually results from training too much and insufficient recovery.
- Fitness and training experts recommend rest and light training as therapy for overtraining. (Jeffrey B. Kreher. 2016)
Signs The Body Needs A Break
A few signs and common symptoms may indicate a workout break may be needed.
- Constantly unmotivated or bored
- Not looking forward to working out
- Poor performance
- Physical exhaustion
- Soreness that does not resolve
- Lack of progress in workouts
During the workout break, engage in other active things that work the body differently, like playing table tennis, for example, or activities that are fun but keep the body moving without doing hard workouts. Remember, the body doesn’t have to be completely inactive. Individuals can try out:
- Leisurely bike riding
- Easy yardwork
- Yoga or Pilates
Returning To Working Out
It could feel like starting over, but it won’t take long for the body to remember how to exercise. It just needs to get used to working out again. It can be tempting to jump into an all-out workout routine, but that is not recommended because of the risk of injury. Here are a few basic principles to keep the body strong and healthy while easing back into a regular workout routine.
- Start with a lighter version of the regular routine using lighter weights and less intensity.
Give The Body Time
- Use the first two weeks for the body to get used to the workouts.
- It can take up to three weeks to get back, depending on workouts before and how much relaxation time has passed.
Take Extra Rest Days
- Returning to exercise means the body is going to be extra sore.
- Plan extra recovery days so the body can heal and gain strength.
- Each week, gradually increase the intensity until it is back to regular performance.
Joo C. H. (2018). The effects of short term detraining and retraining on physical fitness in elite soccer players. PloS one, 13(5), e0196212. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196212
St-Amand, J., Yoshioka, M., Nishida, Y., Tobina, T., Shono, N., & Tanaka, H. (2012). Effects of mild-exercise training cessation in human skeletal muscle. European journal of applied physiology, 112(3), 853–869. doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2036-7
Kreher J. B. (2016). Diagnosis and prevention of overtraining syndrome: an opinion on education strategies. Open access journal of sports medicine, 7, 115–122. doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S91657
Cadegiani, F. A., & Kater, C. E. (2019). Novel insights of overtraining syndrome discovered from the EROS study. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 5(1), e000542. doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000542
Gragnano, A., Simbula, S., & Miglioretti, M. (2020). Work-Life Balance: Weighing the Importance of Work-Family and Work-Health Balance. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(3), 907. doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17030907
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