Taking a break from training is something that will be a part of your Training Journey—whether you want it or not. But don’t fret—it can actually be a good thing!
Whether it’s because of exams, moving, or a vacation, taking a break can have a lot of benefits. When you take a break, it can actually help rejuvenate your training as soon as you restart. By planning in a break, it might even stop you from overtraining and actually hindering your progress.
Have you ever been stuck in a rut at work or one of your hobbies? What once felt great started to become a bit boring or even tedious. You might even have felt like you were moving backward. This happens because our brain dreads monotony and our bodies don’t take well to repeating the same effort over and over again without switching it up.
The same is true for your athletic training (even though your training plan might still be fun!). A training pause can help you recover, avoid overtraining, and allow you to restart your training with a newfound perspective.
The price of never taking a training break
Athletes often feel like they can never do enough—you might feel like you should do your exercises better, be faster on the field, or keep going a little longer while you’re out for your run.
But for some reason, you don’t make any more progress. If you put in the work, the reason is most likely not that you didn’t do enough. It might actually be that you did more than you should.
This is called overtraining syndrome: being stagnant or even having setbacks in athletic performance even though the work is put in. Overtraining can lead to high levels of fatigue, inflammation, or even depression.
Pushing yourself to the limit repeatedly can be beneficial if done for a short time. However, done over and over again, it can lead to setbacks and even health problems.
Taking regular breaks in your training can help you avoid that. Don’t think of it as chickening out—even professional athletes reduce or pause their training on a regular basis.
The benefits of taking a break
Even though it feels good (especially afterward), exercise is still a stressful event. And stress adds up over time, no matter if it’s beneficial (called “eustress”) or destructive (called “distress”). The difference between the two is if you can adapt to it or not.
Adaptations your body makes from workouts can only happen up until a certain level of stress. After that point, training can become detrimental to your fitness and even your health. When you take a training break, you allow your stress levels to decrease back to baseline.
The same is true for your physical fatigue. A well-known adage among coaches is “fatigue masks fitness.” This means that as long as fatigue adds up, we can’t really display the progress in our fitness that was made in a period of training. Only by taking a break can you clear the skies for your new fitness level to shine though.
So, while your performance might not be at the level you want, your fitness level might very well be up to the standard. You just don’t see it (yet)!
Another important factor here is your health: your joints, muscles, nervous system, and cardiovascular system are very good at adapting to stress (i.e., training). However, only up until a certain point.
Once that point is reached, the signal to adapt gets blunted. Then it is time to change it up and take a break. Otherwise, you might risk doing damage to yourself through overuse.
How long is too long a break?
A common fear among athletes is that they might lose all their progress by taking a break from training. However, you can rest assured the usual duration of a training break (like a one or two-week vacation) is not long enough for that.
The threat of losing your fitness gains is only there when taking breaks of longer than a month. However, in very high-level athletes, this window might be a bit smaller. But unless you are a professional athlete, odds are that you will be alright to enjoy a couple of weeks on vacation!
A new perspective on training breaks
Don’t look at pausing your training as a threat to your future performance or even a sign of weakness. See it as a smart way to let your body recover and allow yourself to display your new fitness level—after you make your return to the gym.
Don’t dread losing your progress as long as your training break is less than a month. There’s no harm in taking two weeks off. Quite the opposite: it might allow you to shake fatigue and get yourself motivated and ready again. Allow yourself a fresh start and see your training results go up again in no time!