How A Week Off The Gym Can Help You Progress
How to take a week off the gym.
What is a key difference between basic and more advanced training programs?
Look at a training cycle for an elite sports athlete, powerlifter or bodybuilder, and there will be periods of increased intensity and volume (accumulation phases) along with periods of lowered intensity and volume (adaptive phases) built into their programs.
Look at a training cycle for most recreationally-trained athletes and we see one speed, ie. the training volume and intensity remain the same.
Deloading and rest periods are important to facilitating long-term progression. Avoid these periods can be problematic, preventing adaptations and in some cases putting you into reverse.
Let's explore why people don't rest, how to implement it, and address the common questions that come with a deload or rest week.
Why don’t we want to rest?
Fear of losing progress.
The fear of losing all your progress because of a 168 hour (one week) rest from training is misguided. In fact, taking a week off can actually enhance your progress if done the right way, thanks to the principal of super-compensation.
It’s the same idea as a muscle grows larger and stronger after a training session. The sessions/training block provides the stimulus for adaptation, and then the recovery phase is where the magic actually happens. So not only will you not lose your progress from a week off, you should make more!
If you do lose your progress from one week of training, maybe you didn't need a break
Training is the meaning of life.
I’ve been there... what will I do for a week if I don't to the gym?
Don't worry, seven days off the gym won't cause your life to spiral out of control. More importantly, you can use the time to catch up on some work or study that has been placed on the back burner. Getting these tasks done will fulfil your need to make continual progress, even if it's not in the gym!
I find that a week off will actually revitalise me, and stop me from getting to the stage where I'm just going through the motions.
Don't realise the benefits of resting.
Generally these people fall into two categories:
The unawares - people who didn't know the benefits of resting. These people are often relatively new to training and might not have a huge amount of the knowledge. The unawares are more likely to take a break because of non-training related reasons, such as being busy or going on holidays.
The deniers - people who know they should rest, but convince themselves not to actually do it. These people opt against resting because they fear lost progress. They are more likely to need a break, but less likely to take it.
What to do on your week off.
You don't have to spend the week curled up in bed, afraid to let the world see you out of the gym. There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied while taking it a bit easier.
If you can’t stay away from the iron, use this opportunity to decrease the loads and work on technique. Paused reps and increased eccentric duration (with lower loads) are a great place to start. You can even pull out the phone camera and get some visual feedback. Just keep the volume low and resist the urge to hit a PB because you were feeling good.
A rest week is the perfect time to catch up on all the stretching, foam rolling and other work you have been putting off. You might even realise how much better you feel after some mobility work, that you will keep doing it once you are back and training hard!
I’m not talking about CrossFit, because that would actually kill your gains (jokes – CrossFit is good). Cross training means doing something different! Walk more, play social sport or do anything else you have been meaning to try.
Make sure you keep the intensity and volume low. This is meant to be a rest week!
What about diet?
You don’t necessarily need to cut calories to avoid getting fat on your week off. First of all, you won’t gain 3kg of fat by taking a week off training.
Keep eating well, but don’t stress too much about hitting macros or gaining weight. Accompany the week off from training with a break from fussing out nutrition and let yourself recover.
Your body is in recovery mode and making those sweet super-compensation gains, it’s best to avoid drastically reducing energy intake, which will support this process!
Here is the nutrition plan I like to follow for a deload week.
- Monday-Thursday: Normal training-day food intake.
- Ensure adequate nutrients for recovery and repair.
- Friday-Saturday: Low carbohydrate and higher fat intake.
- Mix up energy sources - less carbohydrates needed due to low activity.
- Sunday: Normal training-day food intake.
- Ensure fully fuelled for start of next training phase.
How do I know when to rest?
Lack of motivation.
Last week you wanted to train everyday, now you can’t bear the idea of another session. Mental fatigue can be just as limiting to performance as physical fatigue. I am certain that if you take seven days off, the motivation will return in spades next week!
Struggling to progress.
Weights you have previously lifted with ease are feeling heavier, or you cannot hit the usual number of reps. Play it smart. Take a week off now (you weren't making progress anyway) and get back into it next week!
Grip strength can be used as an indictor of central fatigue. If you are struggling to grip heavier loads (deadlifts, single arm rows, pull ups) then get a grip and take a break!
Taking longer to recover between workout.
If you are find yourself sore for longer than usual, this can be a sign you are not recovering as quickly as usual. However, this can also be a sign of improper nutrition, so look at the other signs above in combination with impaired recovery.
How long do I rest for?
Anywhere from 3-10 days, depending on your level of fatigue.
I like to use seven-day rest weeks. This allows a sufficient deload from training and also allows the program to start from Monday the next week!
My deload guide.
I tend to deload every 3-5 weeks, depending on the phase and intensity of training. Through trial and error, this is what I have found works best for me. I recommend you observe your own experiences and develop your own method. For the record, I would much rather be training, but now I am realising the medium-longer term benefits of taking a week off!
A typical deload week looks likes this:
- Monday: 30 minute walk and lower body mobility.
- Tuesday: 45 minute walk and upper body mobility.
- Wednesday: Upper body technique session (bench press, overhead press + pull up: 5 sets of 5 reps at 50% 1RM.
- Thursday: Lower body technique session (back squat + deadlift, 5 sets of 5 reps at 50% 1RM.
- Friday: 40 minute walk and lower body mobility.
- Saturday: 40 minute walk and upper body mobility.
- Sunday: Rest.
I find this is enough to keep me moving and motivated, while still deloading overall. I enjoy the technique sessions and focus on carrying any improvements I make into the next training cycle. After this week, I am refreshed and motivated to get back into the gym and continue my program!
Want more of my personal recommendations and advice?
Let me know how to contact you below.
If you are struggling to make progress, a short break might be exactly what you need. Use the information above to guide you and then observe the results to understand what works best for you!
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