Q: Sometimes if I take a weeklong vacation and don't really work out, I feel and see changes when I come back to the gym. It is good to give my body a week "off" once in a while?
A: Taking a few days or even a week off is a good thing and can be very beneficial to your body's physical and mental progression—and you won’t lose all of your hard work.
Constant exercise, whether it is cardiovascular or muscular training, places serious stress on your body on both a physical and neuromuscular level. Without rest, this can have a negative effect on the immune system, which may produce fatigue, physical illness, or injury. Rest and recovery must be incorporated into every fitness program.
But you have to take into consideration what sort of shape you are in when you enter the weeklong break. If you just began a workout regimen, taking seven days off will slightly decrease your general fitness and you can expect your body to work harder in cardio classes or on the treadmill or elliptical when you return. However, if you have been on a consistent fitness regimen and healthy eating plan, taking a “stay-away-cation" from the gym is much needed.
With all of my clients, I implement a three- to seven-day recovery phase about every eight to 10 weeks. The length of the time off depends on their training schedule and how many days a week they are working out, as well as what outside stresses they may be dealing with at the time. This rest period allows the body to recover on both a physical and mental level from all of the stresses that have been implemented on your body while training, thus helping allow the body to avoid burnout and the ever-popular plateau.
Think of it like this: You place a Band-Aid on a wound, allowing it to heal. Your muscles and joints act in the same manner; muscles have to recover before they can get stronger, while your cartilage, tendons, and ligaments will enjoy the time off to rest. So consider your week off nothing more than a much-needed Band-Aid.
When you head back to the gym after your vacation, consider a few things:
1. Spend a little more time concentrating on flexibility by incorporating a solid warm-up and cool-down period.
2. Don't attempt to run a marathon on your first day back. Work at 50 to 75 percent of your maximum intensity level. Remember, you not machine.
3. Avoid the sauna or steam room after a workout. The combination of extreme heat and exercise exhausts the body's ability to cool itself, placing additional stress on the heart. Instead, opt for a cool shower and save the sauna for your next day off.