Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Perfect Rest Week for Maximum Muscle Growth


It is good to take a rest week every 2-3 months of training. This will actually improve muscle growth and physical performance. If you are resting enough between workout sessions, your body does a good job at recovering in between exercise routines. It does, however, build up a tally of accumulated physical stresses that need it needs recovery from. Resting for a day or two helps with regular recovery, for longer rest periods allow for a deeper recovery where the body can focus on thoroughly repairing tendons, ligaments, nerves and muscle tissues. 

I personally take a rest week when I hit a plateau, just before my next workout program. I find that I come back stronger than before after each rest week and that these rest weeks seems to 'lock in' my physical progress. I have experienced nice muscle gains during these rest weeks.

Rest weeks are great to strengthen joints, decrease the volatility of muscle size and improve long-term strength. They also prevent over training syndrome that can accumulate if you don't rest enough from intense exercise. Click on the link above if you think that you might be over trained. In extreme cases, some athletes have had to take up to 6 months off because of severe fatigue.
Taking a rest week every few months stops your body from burning out and keeps it growing stronger.

This rest week allows for recovery for more than just your muscles. It lets your immune, central nervous, energy production, digestive, sleep and hormonal systems recuperate to optimal operational levels.


The perfect rest week

You should experiment to find out what works best for you. I find that following the schedule below helps me to maximize recovery and keeps me from going insane and losing touch with my training routine.

Day 1: Absolutely nothing

Don't do anything physical at all on this first day. This will signal to the body that it can start recovering. I usually still go to the gym on this day and shower - just to keep the habit of going to gym every day. I usually eat the same amount of food that I would on training days (except my post workout shake). A lot of recovery happens the day after your last exercise session, and this requires nutrients.

Day 2: Steam room

On this day I will take a nice, long steam before using the shower at the gym. Since my body is not using too much energy, I reduce my overall caloric intake. I don't reduce it enough to cause a deficit, though, because that could hamper recovery. Too little nutrition can lessen muscle growth. I follow this lower calorie (but not too restricted) eating plan for the rest of the week.

Day 3: Warm up and stretch

On this day I get some active rest, just to remind my body that exercise still exists. I do a light warm up, stretch out all of my muscles (static stretches, 3 sets of 10 seconds for each muscle) and do a light cool down before hitting the shower.

Day 4: Skip the iron

Now that my body is totally relaxed, I skip the gym on this day and get as much sleep as I can instead of hitting the gym. I often struggle to fall asleep that night since I feel quite rested, but I force myself.

Day 5: Another warm up

I do a light to moderate warm up at the gym and sit in the steam room or sauna to raise my body temperature. Sweating can help improve recovery.

Day 6: Go out and live

Instead of visiting the gym, I do something that I usually don't have the time to do. I go to the movies, catch up with an old friend, or take a long walk down my road. As long as there is no intense exercise here, anything (outside of the gym) goes.

Day 7: Nothing but rest

I take a day of complete rest. I don't exercise or visit the gym at all. I usually spend this day prepping my meals for the next week.


The come back

If you have rested well during you rest week (and previously trained hard enough to deserve it), you should come back bigger and stronger. I often experience more muscle gain during my rest week than on my average training weeks. It still amazes me how much stronger I am after this resting period - even though I have basically been doing nothing. You should experience the same benefits from regular breaks. This time also rekindles your fire for fitness. Not only do I come back stronger and bigger, but more determined than ever before. The rest benefits your mind just as much as your body.

What the rest of the web says about rest weeks

I am not the only one who advocates the whole rest week idea. Russell Yeager from Bodybuilding.com says that smart bodybuilders take rest weeks regularly. He advises, though, that you should spend the entire week completely outside of the gym. He says that this should be a part of every serious bodybuilder's program. Russell does not do any form of exercise during this period. He recommends taking a rest week every 8-10 weeks, and says that it is impossible to maintain the best level of intensity every week without a good, prolonged rest period. Russell notes that he finds it easier to plan his programs into 8-10 week cycles and break up his goals accordingly. He says that getting lost in the motion of working out every day makes it easy for people to lose sight of their short-term goals, level of intensity and determination to improve. According to him, the people at his gym who haven't taken a rest week in over two years are looking the same and lifting the same weight as they did two years ago. He warns against feelings of guilt and laziness for people who attempt their first rest week without mentally freaking out.

Your muscles are stimulated during exercise, but only grow when they are not being exercised. For this reason, finding the right balance between rest and training is essential. I believe that physical progress can be chalked down to three elements: training, rest and nutrition. Any one of these three elements can sabotage your advances if you don't look after them properly. If muscle growth is your primary goal; a bulking diet, for example, is crucial for development. Rest is no different.

Livestrong.com also touts the rest week as an essential period for serious athletes. It says that the importance of an entire week of rest depends on the intensity that an individual is working out at. For example, people who train at moderate or low intensities will benefit more from a day (or a few days) off every week and don't need an entire rest week because the stresses placed on their bodies aren't that high. It adds, though, that weight lifters and endurance athletes need a full rest week every now and then to fully recover from the physical stresses that can accumulate. They note the fact that failure to take these rest weeks often enough can lead to a lack of physical progress and even lead to a decline in performance and bodily transformation. They say that many endurance athletes take these rest weeks after their competitive seasons, while many bodybuilders take rest weeks every 4-8 weeks.


How often should I take a rest week?

As you can see, different sources recommend different times. I recommend once every 2-3 months, bodybuilding.com recommends every 8-10 weeks and livestrong.com recommends every 4-8 weeks (for bodybuilders). The truth is that the best frequency depends on you.

It depends on a variety of factors like: 


The intensity

The higher the intensity, the more often you will need a rest week.

The form of exercise

Casual forms of exercise require less rest weeks; but weightlifting, intense sports and endurance exercise requires more.

The length of time you have been training

Newcomers need to rest more regularly, but probably won't be able to achieve the right level of intensity to deserve an entire rest week (a day or two of rest should be fine for these people). As the intensity increases when your body is able to perform better, the need for rest weeks will rise.

The amount of rest that you usually take

If you rest every second day, you probably won't need a rest week in a very long time. People who work out 6 days a week will need rest weeks more often.

Your own body

This is probably the most important point of them all (especially for experienced athletes). As you progress further into your chosen exercise regime or sport, you will realize that your body does not respond the same way as everybody else. You will start to realize what your body needs - outside of the standard guidelines. Some people need rest weeks more often, while others don't need them as much. 

Personally, I have trained long enough to know when I need a rest week. It is not as simple as saying that I need a rest week every 2-3 months. Sometimes I need a rest week sooner, while at other times I know that my body hasn't accumulated enough stress to justify a full rest week. If you are new to the idea of taking a rest week, try taking one every 8 weeks until you start getting a feel for whether you need them more or less often.


A great way to tell whether you needed a rest week is by judging your physical progress when you get back to your exercises. If your strength/ endurance/ speed/ output have not increased, you probably took a rest week too soon. STAY STRONG!