Working out can be kind of addicting. But, we all know that rest days are important in growing muscle regularly. But, what about taking a whole ‘rest’ from working out itself? You know, more than just a rest day, perhaps even a rest WEEK!
I am a huge fan of the idea of taking a break from working out every now and then, and most people in the fitness community agree.
So, how often should you take a break from working out?
Truthfully, you should take a break from working out (aside from your typical 1-2 rest days a week) every 2-3 months. And this break should be roughly a week or so. This is needed, otherwise, your muscles will inevitably stop growing due to overtraining.
While that was a simple answer, this is a complicated question. Scroll down and follow along with me as I go more in-depth and look at some of the science behind this all.
Taking a Break From Exercise is NEEDED For Muscle Growth
“You don’t grow muscle in the gym, you only grow muscle outside of the gym”.
That’s one of the most important quotes in the bodybuilding world that a lot of people don’t really grasp at first when they start lifting.
While we all love working out, rest is needed for muscle growth. Your muscles can ONLY GROW when you’re NOT working out.
When you’re sitting there in the gym lifting weights, your muscles are breaking down and not growing.
When you are resting at home and letting the protein you ate go into your muscles- your muscles are finally GROWING.
This is somewhat common knowledge in the lifting community. This is why most of us normally take 1-3 rest days a week anyways.
However, after a few months your muscles need a serious break, here’s why:
The Stages of Muscle Hypertrophy
It’s going to get a little complicated, so bear with me here.
Generally, there’s this idea of the ‘6-12’ week golden zone for muscle growth.
(I cover this muscle hypertrophy stuff more in-depth on my Smolov Bench Program and Smolov Squat Program articles if you’re interested)
The idea is, if you work out consistently on a program for 5 weeks you will see very little-to-no muscle growth. Yet, once you hit that 6th week all the way to the 12th week, you’re going to be seeing significant muscle growth.
If you have been lifting for a long time, you, unfortunately, know how true this is.
You can work out consistently for a month and feel like you’re doing something wrong because no muscle is coming.
But, when you keep pushing through, that muscle eventually comes.
Here’s a graph kind of explaining this process:
But, when you follow the graph, you can see that towards the end, around the 12-14 week mark- things start to stagnate.
You don’t grow muscle at a consistent pace anymore. You’re no longer in that 6-12 week ‘golden’ period if you will of growing muscle.
Once 12-14 Weeks Has Passed, It’s Time to Rest
Once you’re out of that 6-12 week golden phase, you’re no longer growing muscle at a good rate.
So, what do we do?
Well, there’s a reason that most Powerlifting/Bodybuilding programs end at that 12-14 week mark.
It’s time to rest for a week and find a new program. The whole idea now is that you’re going to give your body a full week to ‘reset’ and recover from the near non-stop recovery it has been doing for the past 3 months.
While our bodies are insanely tough and work extremely hard 24/7 (even making overtraining nearly impossible) it is always a good thing to give them a break here or there to let them fully catch up.
It’s like when you have a cold and you take a few days off to just eat and watch TV. You know the cold will go away much faster when you just relax and stay at home- right? And you also know the cold will still go away if you go to school/work, but it will take a little bit longer.
It’s the same concept here. Sure, you could skip that rest week, but you’re going to see delayed muscle growth and it will take a while for your body to get into that new muscle growth phase.
It’s Also a Mental Release
Let’s all be honest, training for 12-14 weeks nonstop can be somewhat exhausting mentally.
Aside from all the time you spend in the gym, the intense bulk cycles, and everything else- there’s a huge factor of the mental strain of actually lifting weights themselves.
People often cite this as your ‘Central Nervous System’ being exhausted. The truth is, what we do in the weight room is literally pushing our bodies to the limit.
It’s different than a sport where you may be running around here or there and need to have blood flowing through your body faster and you sometimes need to use your strength.
Strength training is so intensive because you’re forcing nearly full activation of every major muscle group, repetitively, nearly every day for months.
And it’s not just ONE major muscle group, frequently you’re targeting multiple big muscle groups and smaller, individual ones. This taxes your central nervous system and your mental capacity intensely.
I, for one, struggle to load on those 45lb plates onto the squat rack near the end of my program. It just feels like a dread as it’s just so much work sometimes.
While we bodybuilders usually tough it out, taking a week off can seriously reenergize us. It can almost like ‘reset’ not only your physical and mental abilities to lift but your love for the sport.
As I said above, lifting can be difficult, time-consuming, and aggravating. And sometimes we can forget why we’re doing it in the first place. But, when you take that week off, it can almost rekindle that spark for the sport that we all have deep down.
Conclusion of How Often Should You Take a Break When Working Out?
Well, there’s the verdict. Aim for every 12-14 weeks or so, just as your program is ending, to take that much-needed break from working out.
Give yourself about 1-2 weeks off to recover, reset your central nervous system, let your muscles fully rebuild, and re-energize for your next program!
Good luck out there. Thank you for reading! And please tell me in the comments below how often you take a break when you are working out- do you take them more frequently, or less frequently?- I want to hear about it!