Experienced lifters know the importance of rest between sets, which can be anywhere from 30-90 seconds, depending on how quickly you recover. They also know that rest days from weight lifting — even during the week — are important, and structure their sessions so they can train one body part while the others are getting a rest. But, did you know that it is even more important to take an entire week off from strength training?
Some refer to rest weeks as de-load or recovery weeks. Whatever you prefer to call them, they are necessary. This is an opportunity to give your entire body rest from lifting heavy weights, and even from high intensity cardiovascular workouts that put a strain on the body and the mind.
Rest weeks are unfortunately over looked by many weightlifters — especially newbies — because they think the few days during the week that they rest (if they rest) is enough. They have the “no pain, no gain” mentality. They feel that the more they do, the better and stronger they will get and the quicker they will reach their goal. Actually, failing to take longer breaks will affect your progress in a negative way.
This magic of building muscle does not happen while you are actually lifting the weights. Instead, it happens while you rest. Surprised? Yes, I was too! When you lift weights to build muscle, you are tearing the small muscle fibers. Quick science lesson…After you workout, your body begins to repair damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it pulls the fibers together to form new muscle protein strands, or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth. Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. All of this happens while you are not working out! This machine — called the body — is truly amazing!!
I know a whole week away from the iron may put some into withdrawal! But you can make it an active rest week where you're engaged in your favorite sport or in low intensity cardio like walking, yoga, or your favorite aerobic DVD a couple of days during the week. But, no lifting or HIIT! And, don’t forget to continue to eat balanced meals of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It’s important to continue to feed those muscles while they are repairing. This simply means DO NOT restrict or lower your calories because you are not working out as much! In fact, it may be a good idea to eat at your TDEE along with making good food choices during this rest period. If you are cutting during your recovery, you may want to decrease your deficit from 10% to 5%. You want to make sure any losses that week are not muscle. Remember, the whole point of recovery week is for your muscles to have a chance to repair. So, don't plan to run a marathon during this time!!
If you've been lifting weights and/or doing high intensity workouts and have not taken a rest week, you are well overdue for a much needed break. It’s a good idea to plan a rest week every 4 to 5 weeks to let that muscle rest, repair, and grow. Then the weeks following your rest, you will feel refreshed, energized and ready to take your performance to the next level.