I have been lifting since I was in college, and I have not taken a significant break from lifting in a long, long time. Recently, I had to take a break from lifting after a surgery I had in November. I have read about the advantages of resting, but I always thought rest was for those who were injured. Sure, I’ve taken a week off here and there just because I was tired of the gym, but I’ve never taken more than 7 days off from lifting. I can tell you from personal experience that I will be taking more frequent breaks for the rest of my lifting career.
There is tons of literature that discusses the importance of taking time off from the gym. Most articles I’ve read say to take 1 full week off every 8-12 weeks. That’s pretty frequent, in my opinion, and I certainly haven’t been sticking to that rule. The research suggests that the time off allows the body to repair and to return to its “normal” state. Once you return to the gym, your body is primed for change. In my case, I had to take off 5 weeks or so, so muscle loss and deconditioning were major concerns of mine. With Leigh Ann’s help, we decided on a macro breakdown that would allow me to maintain my muscle mass during my inactive state. We kept my protein high, and I can definitely say that I didn’t lose much mass, if any.
In terms of deconditioning, even though I was, in fact, weaker after my break (strength decreases are inevitable when taking that much time off from the gym), I remained roughly the same size, and hitting the gym now after this much time off has actually helped with some muscle growth. Muscle responds to not only the absolute load (ie weights and reps), but also to the relative load. When I say relative, I mean relative to their present state. According to my muscles, they are being presented with a new stimulus after not being worked in 5-6 weeks, and they HAVE to respond.
In truth, I am actually lifting as much, and in some cases, a bit more than I was before my surgery. I eased myself back into lifting slowly, and after about a week, I was feeling better than ever, lifting more than ever, and seeing the results of my break pay off. I feel leaner, tighter, yet a little bit bigger than when I started my post-operative recovery. Winning!
Please be advised, though, that I followed my doctor’s orders, and this is a very important note, folks. I do not have MD after my name. I am not the expert here. As athletes, the desire to jump back into things with the same intensity is extremely powerful. I FELT fine, but I knew that my body was still recovering, so I fought the urge to lift heavy VERY hard. At 5 weeks post-op, I was lifting at only about 50-60% of my max, and I worked my way up each week. Now, within the last week or so, I’ve been crushing it. In retrospect, even though I felt like I could’ve gone heavy as hell right out of the gates, I’m very glad that I listened to my doctor. The last thing I want is to have to go back under the knife and take off even more time for being an idiot.
This break has taught me to really take some time to rest moving forward in my lifting career, even after I stop competing. There is something to be said for kicking back for a week or so after 8-12 weeks of hard work. I sometimes forget what a fascinating machine the body is, but I’ll never take it for granted again after this experience. Train, rest, GROW.
Beth is an NPC
figure competitor and has been competing for 3 years. When she’s not rocking the stage in her stiletto heels, she’s either at work as Project Manager at a Pharmaceutical company in Durham, NC
or she’s in the gym training clients or teaching spin classes. In her very minimal free time, Beth likes to sleep, eat, play with her dog, and spend time with her boyfriend and friends (who also like to sleep and eat).