In order to maximize muscle gains you need to take a well-deserved break every now and then.
Specifically I’m talking about talking a full week away from working out altogether.
This principle literally means that you do less and gain more! This isn’t wishful thinking, there are very good reasons as to why you need to rest your body completely once in a while.
Muscle Recovery – S.T.O.P.
I call it the Strategic Time-Out Period, or STOP. Let’s have a closer look…
The Psychological Effect
This should be self-explanatory. Sometimes you just feel like you need some time off. The mental benefit of knowing that there’s a week-long break coming up will help you stay focused and enthusiastic for each training cycle.
After your week off, you’ll be as excited as a noob about hitting the iron!
The Physical Benefit
Putting your feet up for a week may seem like a bad idea, but over the course of a few months you will experience more growth because of it.
After one complete training cycle your results may start to slow down. You won’t stop progressive overload totally, but the rate at which you are increasing weight and/or reps will probably be slowing down.
So, you want to know how often to take a week off from weight lifting? Once every 8 to 12 weeks is best.
Now check this out…
7 days is not enough for your muscles to atrophy i.e. at the end of your week off, you’ll still be the same size.
However, your body will be primed to respond to new stimulus all over again. It’s like you take a week off and your body says,
“Thank God! The maniac has stopped! Let’s just repair everything here and get back to normal. Ah serenity”
And just when it least expects it, BLAM! You’re back and the body is forced into adaptation mode all over again.
We all know that beginners get the best gains. Using the same principle that allows them to make such rapid gains is what you’ll be using here for new growth.
As far as strength goes, you’ll respond in 1 of 3 ways when you get back at it:
- You’ll be stronger
- You’ll retain your strength
- You’ll be weaker
Everyone responds differently but it actually doesn’t matter.
Ok, becoming stronger or retaining your current level of strength is fine. But so is getting a little weaker.
Getting weaker is due to ‘Deconditioning.’ Deconditioning simply means a loss of fitness due to a cessation in training. In this case it’s deliberate deconditioning as you are intentionally preparing your muscles for a new phase of adaptation. Remember that even if you become weaker, you’ll remain the same size while ensuring that subsequent workouts ignite new growth!
But doesn’t this go against progressive overload, the law of muscle growth?
Muscle responds not only to the ABSOLUTE load i.e. weights and reps increasing over time, but also to what I call the RELATIVE load. Relative, that is, to their current condition. This week off may (or may not) result in fewer reps, but as far as your muscles are concerned, there’s a new stimulus in town, a change in the environment to which they will HAVE to respond.
So, although it’s possible that you’ll take a slight dip in workout performance, the line on the graph of muscle growth will keep shooting upwards!
Hope that clears that subject up for you. Remember – S.T.O.P. – it’s very important.
I will be going into this and a lot more when I release the next incarnation of ‘Total Anabolism.’ It will be a much bigger, MUCH more in-depth book on training and nutrition. I just need a little more free time to sit down and get it done for you guys. It will, of course, be ABSOLUTELY free. I’ll let you all know when it’s ready for download!
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Great news about the total anabolism book, Mark! Sounds fantastic.
And nice post. S.T.O.P is very important. For me, it’s also great on the motivation. After a week of no training, I get back to the gym even more ON FIRE than I would be if I hadn’t stopped.
So thanks 🙂
I agree 100%, although because I’m currently in fat burning mode, I’m going to wait much longer than 8 weeks for my week off.
Something important to add, is that it is not a good idea to try to cut on your week off. You want to eat at maintenance levels for your week off.
I can’t afford to take a week off from my training. Whenever I take one or two days off, I feel I’m losing the little muscle I’ve worked so hard for. Why is this? That’s why I would never take a week off, unless I’m sick or I go on vacation.
Great idea and I recently (accidentally) took a week off due to being sick but after the first week I think that I was looking bigger than I was a week ago! Thanks for the tip – sure to incorporate into my plan. 🙂
Leonor. I don’t think you lost muscle, you probably felt weaker but that’s not the same. Why not try it next time and take measurements before and after so you can know objectively.
Thanks Flest, Javacody & Alex 🙂
Mark, I usually take time off training when I feel burnt out. Planned rest is something I haven’t tried in a while. Maybe I will do in a few months.
Thnx Mark…. i got ur point buddy…. its logical…
Should you stay at your current calorie level during the week off? Currently, I’m on a 3000 calorie diet 28/27/45 carbs/protein/fat. Is this okay during the week off or should I cut calories? Thanks in advance. I’m 5’10” 175 and around 10-12% BF and trying to shred down to 6-8%.
What you need to do is run your new stats through the formula in this article
In the section ‘ Calculating Calories Burned From Exercise’ you’ll input a ‘0’.
So YES, your calories should be a little lower during this week.
Hope that helps,
im actually going trying this for this week. i havnt been to the gym, i hope it works. my calf muscles are so small and terrible! i’ve been killing myself to grow them, doing donkey calf raises, etc. everything, it started off okay, and i had a little growth, but now its at a stand still 🙁 i am going to try anything. cross fingers for me! 🙂
I’ve been training hard for over 6 months now. I’ve had about 10 days off from training. I’m finding that i’m gaining muscle while not working out. My calorie count is still fairly high (eating healthy). I didn’t know it was possible for my body to respond this well. I was 188 lbs during my training (about 10 days ago) and now i’m 192lbs. I can tell my belly has gotten a little bigger but my pecs are really starting to show definition.
Is this possible? Or coincidence? Back to the gym today, i’ll post results on if i’m weaker or stronger or same.. Wish me luck!
@Dave. Not only possible but to be expected for a lot of people. Remember that the muscles recover first, THEN overcompensate afterwards. So this extended rest period often has the result of allowing full recovery and growth for many people. Personally, I come back stronger after my week off. Sounds like you may be the same.
All the best.
Hey Marc…love the site and love the info. Keep it coming.
My question to you is it possible for different body parts to react differently during a week off??? For me ……my chest is slightly smaller but my shoulders and arms are bigger or about the same as they were before I took last week off. Or is this just due to the fact that it has been longer since I have worked my chest (possible atrophy) vs. my arms and shoulders. During the last 3 weeks of working out, I worked one muscle group per day, and chest was on day 1 while shoulders and arms were on days 3 and 4 respectively. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance.
@Kris. Make sure that you are basing this on actual measurements. People sometimes ‘feel’ like a certain body part has atrophied because they are aware that they haven’t worked it in a while.
That said, if it is actually smaller then yes I would guess it is because you have begun to ‘decondition’ due to the longer lay off.
Another factor is to make sure that the intensity of your chest workout is equal to your arms and shoulders in the first place.
Hey, I just happened upon your site. I agree with the week off. It’s crazy. I had been working out like mad, trying all kinds of new things and I was seing some results but nothing major and I was working out 5-6 days a week. I love cardio, it’s my passion. However I do really good muscle training as well. High weight, low reps, sometimes. grouped muscle, muscle indurance training and etc. Hate to take time off. But around Christmas we made lots of plans and I took off for 5-6 days. (EVEN MY CARDIO) and when I got back to it I felt a little weaker first day in the beginning but about half way through my first cardio I felt great. The next day was weight training. I went up in all my weights, indurance was off the chain. (I was like, thats it?) Had a great work out the next two 1/2 weeks. checked my weight, was down 4lbs, and my body fat was down from 20.56, to 19% Wow. thats crazy. I was so happy. It was just what I needed to kick start my body again. ( In a weird way it was cool to feel that sore)
ps.. to last post. The bad thing is I had to have a surgery, related to my past brush with Breast – cancer. (all is good – just finishing some reconstruction) But it stinks because I was doing so great. I am 1wk and 3 days into recovery. I have started back lightly with some walking and did a little light weight with my legs today. still little sore and fatigued due to healing. But it’s driving me crazy to do nothing as I don’t want to lose what I have done. So here is the deal, I can do some cardio no high impact yet of course. And I can do legs, if I don’t strain to much. I can do light weigh for bi/triceps but no chest or back yet. Any ideas that can help me maintain some of my body until I’m give the ok to do everything. really trying to get my arms cut more. (missing my push ups 🙁 I’m eating well. but not sure how much less to eat as I was used to doing 1-2 hours of cardio a day (5-6 days a week) and about 5 hours a week weight training. 1-2 hours a week of yoga or pilates Be fore surgery (So aprox 2 hrs a day training in the am) and tue and thur eve I would do a jog with friends for 30 min to hour as they where traning for a 1/2 marthon. I’m 5’1 and weight about 117 and Im 38 yrs old any advice?