Proper rest is an important part of any weight training regime. It’s the third element that needs to be in place – along with exercise and diet – if you want to make the best progress. This article looks at some of the issues relating to rest, breaks and layoffs in weight training.
We all need different amounts of sleep to be at our peak. Some folk get by quite happily on six hours’ sleep a night whilst others need a good eight or nine hours to feel properly recuperated. How much you need to sleep at night is a very individual thing. The key point is that you get enough sleep so that you’re not too tired to work out effectively.
Remember that workouts break down the muscles and it’s during the rest periods between workouts that they’re built up again. A good night’s sleep helps with this process.
That said, as a general rule of thumb, less than five hours is probably too little sleep and more than nine hours is probably excessive. Personally, I need about seven hours’ sleep to be at my peak but I’m generally okay anywhere beween six and eight.
Overtraining is at least as much of a problem as undertraining. The muscles need time to grow. But, as with sleep, the ideal training frequency depends very much on the inividual. Age, fitness and genetics can all play a part.
When I was in my late teens to mid-20s, I trained six days a week (Monday-Friday evenings and Sunday Mornings) for up to two hours a time on a two-way split (so each body part was being trained three times a week) and I coped fine. In retrospect – and with the hindsight of experience – I was probably overtraining. My body didn’t seem unduly strained and I made decent progress, but I think I might have made better progress if I’d trained fewer days a week and/or had shorter workouts.
Now in my 50s, that sort of regime would kill me. I currently train either four days a week throughout or four days one week and three the next (ie. seven out of 14 days).
You need to figure out what sort of training frequency suits you. It is easy to be lured into thinking more is better but that’s not necessarily so. Don’t be afraid to reduce the hours you spend in the gym and see how it affects your progress.
Taking a break – maybe a full week off – once in a while is no bad thing. These days I take a week off every 12 weeks. It allows my ageing joints to recover a bit and I’m always extra keen when I restart.
Once you become obsessed with weight training, the impetus is to keep on training but I think a break from time-to-time is a good thing both at a physical and psychological level. Don’t be afraid of it – your muscles and strength won’t disappear if you take a week off every three or four months and it may be of benefit.
Contrary to what I said about breaks, above, layoffs are the enemy. Sure, if you get an injury you may have no choice but to take a layoff and that’s okay, but be careful of layoffs for any other reason. One week can easily become two, which can easily become a month, which in turn can easily become three months and then, before you know it, you’ve given up.
Take this cautionary tale from one who knows. I took a 20 year layoff (from my mid-20s to my mid-40s) and I bitterly regret it.
I think a week off every three or four months is beneficial and maybe two weeks off for a summer holiday, but I’d be reluctant to take longer than two weeks off.
I have taken six weeks off once in recent years due to illness and it was hell to get back into it again. My bench press in particular seems to suffer a great deal. My squat and deadlift come back to where I was within two or three weeks but it takes me six weeks or more to get my bench press back to where it was. I’ve no idea why that is.
Adequate rest and recuperation is an essential part of a weight training regime, just be careful to avoid lengthy layoffs.