Are you feeling run down and sore? Are you struggling to make gains in the gym? If so, it might be time for a rest week.
When it comes to exercise, many people think that more is always better. This isn't the case.
In fact, taking a break from your regular routine can do wonders for your body and mindset. This is especially true when it comes to weightlifting.
If you're constantly lifting weights and never giving your body a chance to recover, you might be doing more harm than good.
In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits of taking a week off from weightlifting and how to do a proper active recovery week instead to see better results.
What is a Rest Week?
A rest week is exactly what it sounds like - a week where you take a break from your regular exercise routine.
This doesn't mean that you will sit on the couch all week long. During a rest week, you should focus on active recovery.
This means doing low-impact activities that are easy on the body, such as walking, hiking, or playing low-intensity, non-contact sports.
Benefits of Active Recovery
While it might be a big detour from the norm, an active recovery week is essential for several main reasons:
It Will Not Interfere with Gains
One of the most commonly cited reasons that people refuse to take a week off is the fear of losing their gains. Here's the great thing about active recovery: taking a rest week will not interfere with your gains.
Studies show that taking a week off from lifting weights does not lead to any significant decrease in muscle size or strength.
One study compared the results of a periodic resistance training (PTR) program with those of a continuous resistance training (CTR) program. The researchers focused on muscle size and function in subjects.
The CTR group trained continuously for a period of 24 weeks. The PTR group followed a routine where they performed three cycles of six weeks on (training) and three weeks off (not training).
Researchers concluded that the results between the two groups were similar. That is, both groups gained muscle and saw improvements in muscle function. There was no significant difference between the two groups. 
So, if you're worried about losing your gains, don't be!
Reduced Muscle Soreness
Active recovery helps to flush out the lactic acid build-up in your muscles, which can lead to delayed-onset muscle soreness.
One study found that active recovery was more effective than complete rest when it came to reducing muscle soreness. 
Reduced Risk of Injury
If you're constantly lifting heavy weights, your body never really has a chance to recover. This puts you at a higher risk for injury.
By taking a week off from weightlifting and focusing on active recovery, you can reduce the risk of injuries such as strains, sprains, and overuse injuries.
Better Results Overall
We know it sounds crazy, but an active recovery week may do more for your results than continuing to lift week after week.
A study on rugby players found that those who took a mini break every four weeks had better results than those who trained nonstop.
The group that took the mini breaks saw significant improvements in strength, power, and speed. The group that did not take any breaks saw no changes in their performance.
How to Know When You Need an Active Recovery Week
There are some obvious signs that you need to take a week off from your normal strength training routine:
Exercising Consistently for Months
Hey, we get it - The gym might feel like your place of Zen after work, but if you have been working out hard for two to four months, it's time to give yourself a break.
Recovery is Getting Worse
If you notice that you are sore much longer than usual or that you just aren't bouncing back as quickly, that could be a sign from your body that it's time to rest. Increases in fatigue are also a tell-tale sign that you need an active recovery week.
Not Seeing Any Gains
Are you noticing that you're no longer setting personal records, or the tape measure isn't showing a difference? You’ve plateaued and it's time to rest for a week.
Mental Health and Mindset are Different
Are you unmotivated to get to the gym? Do you lack enthusiasm when you see that it's Leg Day (your favorite day) and don't bother pushing yourself during the workouts because of this apathy?
If you feel like your overall mood and mindset toward fitness is low, you need to listen to what your body and brain are telling you: take a break!
How to Take an Active Recovery Week
Now that we've established how important active recovery is, let's go over how to take an active recovery week and some specific ideas of things you can do during that week.
Plan for It
Take a look at your training schedule. If you've been training for months on end, plan to take your recovery week the Sunday or Monday after reading this.
Trade In Lifting for Something Else
In lieu of lifting, for one week, consider doing one of these activities instead:
- Go for a walk or very light jog
- Do a mobility workout
- Go trail walking or go on a light hike
- Go for a swim
- Do some light stretching at home
Take it Easy so You Can Push Harder in the Gym
Remember, the goal of active recovery week is to move your body in a way that feels good without overdoing it. So, don't push yourself too hard! A little bit of movement goes a long way.
- Yang Y, Bay PB, Wang YR, Huang J, Teo HWJ, Goh J. Effects of Consecutive Versus Non-consecutive Days of Resistance Training on Strength, Body Composition, and Red Blood Cells. Front Physiol. 2018 Jun 18;9:725. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00725. PMID: 29967584; PMCID: PMC6015912.
- Bieuzen F, Bleakley CM, Costello JT. Contrast water therapy and exercise induced muscle damage: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 23;8(4):e62356. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062356. PMID: 23626806; PMCID: PMC3633882.