Taking a Break From Exercise

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While exercising consistently is important for building endurance, improving strength, and losing weight, there almost always comes a time when you have to take a break. The great news is, it takes a lot more than a week off to undo all your hard work, so don't be afraid to rest if you're feeling tired and sore. In fact, taking a week off from working out can even be beneficial if you structure it properly.

What Is a Workout Break?

There are different reasons that you may need to stop exercising for a certain period of time. If you've been injured or have been diagnosed with an illness, your doctor may tell you not to work out. That's different than taking a break.

A voluntary workout pause—or a workout break—is your own choice. It is generally a response to your body's cues. It is a dedicated amount of time when you choose not to work out.

A workout break is different than a rest day (although rest days are important too). A workout break may last one or two weeks and is an intentional respite, or time away, from your usual routine.

You may need to take a break because you're tired, busy, or have other temporary priorities that need your full attention. Maybe you're bored and in danger of burning out or overtraining. Or maybe you plan to go on vacation or have some other life events happening that take you away from your workout routine.

Impact on Fitness

Try not to worry about losing progress you've made. Research shows that it takes at least a few weeks for detraining to happen.

  • Studies on recreational soccer players showed that three to six weeks of inactivity did not result in changes in aerobic capacity and muscle strength.
  • Extremely fit exercisers will experience a rapid drop in fitness during the first three weeks of inactivity before it tapers off.
  • It takes about two months of inactivity to completely lose the gains you've made.

If you're concerned about the impact of taking a break, it can be helpful to consider what not taking a break can do. Medical experts provide two different terms for athletes who may be doing too much:

  • Overreaching is when your training becomes excessive and performance lags as a result. Overreaching can be short term or long term.
  • Overtraining happens when overreaching is not addressed. Overtraining syndrome (OTS) lasts longer and involves more serious performance setbacks along with more severe symptoms such as hormone changes, depression, fatigue, and systemic inflammation.

Endurance athletes are at a particularly high risk for overreaching and overtraining. The endurance mindset encourages runners, cyclists, swimmers, and others to put in more and more hours of training to get stronger and faster. But at a certain point, performance suffers. Some researchers suggest using the term "paradoxical deconditioning syndrome" rather than overtraining syndrome.

When you are overreaching or overtraining, it feels like your fitness progress is moving backwards instead of forwards. The more you train, the slower and more fatigued you become.

Benefits of Taking a Break

If you need to focus on a work situation, enjoy a family vacation, or manage a life event, taking a break allows you to restore balance to your life. Studies have suggested that achieving better work/life balance can not only improve job satisfaction, job performance, and organizational commitment, but it can also improve life and family satisfaction.

The same goes for workout/life balance. And the balance between work and health varies from one individual to the next.

If you feel that you may be overreaching or overtraining, taking a break is essential. Listening to internal cues is important, but it is also important to listen to a coach or trainer that may be working with you. They may notice performance declines that suggest a break is in order.

Overtraining usually results from an imbalance in training: too many workouts and not enough recovery. Both the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend rest and very light training as the best therapy for recovery from overtraining.

Signs You Need to Take a Workout Break

If you're not sure whether or not taking a break is the best decision, there are a few signs that you can look for. These common symptoms indicate that a rest period may be warranted.

  • Dreading your workouts
  • Fatigue or physical exhaustion
  • Poor performance
  • Soreness that won't go away
  • Feeling unmotivated or bored
  • Lack of progress in your workouts

Don't forget how long it took you to get to where you are. A day, week, or month off doesn't need to deter you from your fitness goals. Taking a break may be just what you need to get back to your workouts with more energy and enthusiasm.

How to Take a Break From Working Out

There are a few things to consider when you take time off from exercise. Your workout break duration may depend on a few factors. And you should also consider alternate activities to keep your body healthy and active.

Duration

You may be surprised to learn that taking a few days or a full week off from training won't necessarily hurt the gains you've made. Sometimes it's good to take extra days off to get rid of every bit of fatigue in your body.

Think about marathon runners. They will typically peak during training about two weeks before the marathon, then start tapering down so they are fully rested for the race.

Many seasoned exercisers and athletes regularly schedule a week off every eight to 12 weeks.

There's no hard and fast rule about how many rest days to take or when to take them. The key is to listen to your body, for signs of overtraining, and to your mind, for signs of boredom or exhaustion.

Alternate Activities

During your workout break, try doing other active things that work your body in a different way. Things like playing paddle ball on the beach, taking long walks, and snorkeling are a fun way to keep moving without having to worry about doing long workouts.

Remember, you don't have to be completely inactive and, in fact, this may be the perfect time to try activities you usually don't have time for. Leave the routine and the heart rate monitor at home and try:

  • A long, easy bike ride
  • A yoga or Pilates class, or something else new and different, like boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, dance, or climbing
  • Leisurely yardwork
  • Stretching
  • Tossing a ball or Frisbee with a friend (or dog)

How to Return to Exercise After a Break

Even if you only take a few days off, you still may get sore when you come back to your workouts. How sore often depends on genetics, how long you were out, and how intense your workout is. If you've taken a longer break, it's important to ease into your workouts so you avoid injury and misery.

It may feel like you're starting over, but it won't take very long for your body to get right back to where it was before your break. Your body remembers how to exercise. It just needs a little time to get used to working out again.

Whether you are starting to run again or heading back into the weight room, getting back on track is always possible, no matter how long it's been since you've worked out. It's tempting to want to make up for lost time and jump into an all-out workout routine, but that's the last thing you want to do. Not only will you risk being very sore, but you may also even risk injury.

Follow these basic principles to keep your body strong and healthy as you ease back into your workout routine.

  • Give your body time. It may take up to three weeks to get back to where you were, depending on how much you did before and how much time has passed. Use the first two weeks to get a feel for your body and your workouts.
  • Start simple. If you had a routine you followed before, try a lighter version, using lighter weights and less intensity.
  • Take extra rest days. Coming back to exercise means you're going to be sore to some degree. Plan extra recovery days so your body can heal and grow stronger.

Each week, gradually increase the intensity until you're back to your usual routine.

A Word From Verywell

Giving yourself permission to take a break from exercise can be scary, especially if you have worked hard to get to your current level of fitness. But athletes at every level need rest and recovery. Taking a short break from training can be just what your body needs to get to the next level of performance. It may also help you to maintain your current level of fitness.

If you're thinking about taking a week off from exercise, chances are good that your body is sending you a sign. Explore other activities, connect with family, focus on other priorities in your life. Then come back to your workout program, recharged and ready to recommit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often should you take a break from working out?

    The answer to this question will be different for everyone. It depends on your training volume (workout frequency and workout intensity). If your total workout volume is high and more focused (that is, most of your workouts are targeted on one goal), then you may need a break more often. But if you participate in a variety of fun activities and your volume is lower, then you'll need breaks less often.

  • Is working out every day bad?

    Not necessarily. Doing the same workout every day can lead to boredom and overuse injuries. But doing different types of workouts at different intensities is a great way to increase your overall activity level without burnout.

  • Will not working out for a week affect me?

    If you've been exercising hard for a while, taking a week off may give your body the rest and recovery that it needs. You are likely to return to exercise with renewed motivation and commitment. In fact, if you've been dragging lately, it may be just the thing you need to reinvest in exercise.

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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