Q: If I take time off from my program, I'm going to lose all my progress and results… RIGHT?
A: It depends, but not necessarily. Planned rest or conscious deloading as I like to refer to it, can actually
deloading — a short, planned period of recovery; typically lasting one week and created with the intentions of aiding recovery, avoiding overuse injuries and realizing a higher level of performance
What you’re afraid of
The fear most people have when it comes to interrupting their fitness routine, is of experiencing the effects of the detraining principle.
detraining principle — the partial or complete loss of training-induced adaptations, in response to an insufficient training stimulus
It’s important to note that while “insufficient training stimulus” can certainly be referring to rest time in general, other components of the workout regimen can lead to detraining effects as well — factors like intensity, frequency of workouts and types of exercises selected.
You make gains while you rest
There are countless instances in which maintaining your workout routine is just not possible; vacation, work travel, sickness, injury or time consuming life circumstances, to name a few. Whether planned (which is ideal) or not, periods of rest, in all forms are essential: “No matter how hard you work, you don’t make gains during workouts. Gains are achieved during periods of recovery. Recovery is one of the most important and most ignored principles of training” (Coleman 2002).
Periodization shows us that supercompensation occurs after program volume is decreased (i.e. during rest). This is attributed to CNS (central nervous system) recovery and leads to enhanced performance.
supercompensation — the bodies’ adaptation to exceed the level of preparedness by rebounding from a fatigued state to a new, higher level of performance
When you get Too much rest
There is obviously a line between productive recovery and a detrimental amount of time off. The decline of performance has been studied separately for resistance training and cardiovascular training effects.
Resistance + Strength Training
When it comes to resistance training, strength gains can be maintained in a general population/beginner athlete for a little more than 3 weeks. An athlete, someone who has been training consistently for over 3 years, can expect to take up to 2 weeks off without a negative outcome.
Even before your 2-3 week timeline is up, your muscles can begin to appear smaller, but this is likely due to the glycogen and water stores shrinking inside of the muscle tissue. The good news here, is that once you resume training, these will refill and return to normal size and appear larger once again.
An accurate measure of general cardiovascular fitness, takes into account VO2max, heart-rate variability and time to exhaustion. This collective measurement seems to decrease anywhere from 4-25% after 3-4 weeks in trained athletes.
Taking up to 2 weeks off will allow for ample recovery and keep you from significant losses.
Varying Deloading strategies
The Traditional Deload — One full pre-planned week consisting of little-to-no training stress followed by 3 weeks of training with relatively high volumes and intensities. Not exceeding 40-60% of 1RM with an emphasis on mobility, soft-tissue work and non-strenuous body-weight exercises.
This has been found to work best for professional athletes (in order to minimize injury risk — as the main training objective), older/experienced lifters (to allow for extended periods of planned recovery), and for those with reoccurring injuries (providing relief from risk of pain and injury).
Minimum Dose Maintenance of Strength — Once per week dose of exercise was found to prevent the loss of neuromuscular adaptations. Volumes should be kept at around 1/3 of previously utilized training volume.
volume — the consideration and combination of both intensity and time
Minimum Dose Maintenance of Endurance — One strategy here is to attempt alternative training methods, which can provide maintenance activity if injured. Another option is to reduce training volume, up to 60-90% from the program’s volume. Lastly, you could opt for a strength-based training program which has shown to improve endurance and VO2max.
Still Within Your control
No matter your circumstances and choices, there are always a few variables within your control.
Staying active in general — Unless a serious injury is preventing you from any type of activity, try your best to keep moving with some bodyweight exercises, swimming, stretching or even taking a walk.
Keep tabs on your diet — Exercise helps control cravings and gives you a bit of leeway on consuming excess calories, but if you’re not working out, try your best to eat intuitively. My advice when clients are looking to change their eating behaviors is always to first begin to notice when you’re hungry and when you’re not. This simple practice has the ability to reconnect the mind and body and often results in avoiding emotional and mindless eating all together.
Ramp back up patiently — When you are ready to get back into your routine, avoid returning at the same frequency and intensity you had before your break. Allow yourself to acclimate and don’t expect yourself to regain performance immediately.