Taking a Break From Exercise Without Losing Fitness

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While exercising consistently is important for building endurance, conditioning your body, 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.

Why Take a Break From Exercise?

One of the biggest reasons you may need a break is overtraining. Doing too much exercise or too much high-intensity exercise can lead to depression, fatigue, restlessness and poor performance 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.

You may also need to take a break because you're tired, injured, extra busy, or maybe you're bored and in danger of burning out. Or maybe you get sick, go on vacation or have some other life events happen that take you away from your workout routine.

Signs You May Need a 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.

  • An injury or illness
  • Dreading your workouts
  • Fatigue or physical exhaustion
  • Poor performance
  • Soreness that won't go away
  • You can't stand the thought of exercising
  • You feel unmotivated or bored
  • You have a trip coming up and you know you won't have the time or motivation for full-blown workouts
  • You're not able to progress in your workouts

Taking a few days or a week off may be just what you need to get back to your workouts with more energy and enthusiasm.

How to Take an Effective Workout Break

There are a few things to consider when you take a week off from exercise (or more). 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.

Impact on Overall Fitness

You may wonder how your workout break duration will impact your fitness level. The question is, whether you're taking a break by choice or because you have to. These statistics can help you understand how taking a workout break will affect your fitness level.

  • Aerobic power can decline about 5% to 10% in three weeks.
  • 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.
  • Muscular strength and endurance last longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months.

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.

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, snorkeling and other games 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 working in the yard
  • Stretching
  • Taking a long walk
  • Tossing a football or frisbee

Returning to Exercise

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 2 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.

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Article 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.
  1. Joo CH. The effects of short term detraining and retraining on physical fitness in elite soccer players. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(5):e0196212. doi:doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196212


  2. St-amand J, Yoshioka M, Nishida Y, Tobina T, Shono N, Tanaka H. Effects of mild-exercise training cessation in human skeletal muscle. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012;112(3):853-69. doi:10.1007/s00421-011-2036-7

Additional Reading
  • ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2017.