Week off the Gym
Say a word about a week off the gym, and most gym-goers will start freaking out that their gains are about to disappear. And who can blame them? We've been taught that more is more, so how can NOT turning up to the gym be better for muscle growth? Well, it just might be, and this blog is gonna tell you why. So take a deep breath, leave your previous beliefs behind, and take a little walk down science lane with me. You may start scrolling.
Should I Take A Week Off The Gym For More Muscle Growth?
There are always gym folk that swear a week off leads to colossal losses in strength AND size.
Then, there are those that tell you how good it is for the mind, your energy, and muscles and joints.
So who's right?
Well, let's start with this beacon of scientific truth
: it takes three weeks of NO training before you lose muscle mass.
Read that last sentence again --
it simply shuts down the "a week off leads to a loss of gains, bro!" ideology.
Great, now we can go further ...
compared a group that trained continuously for 24 weeks to another group that took a 3-week break after every 6 weeks.
And guess what they found?
No difference in the strength or muscle growth between both training groups!
Moreover, this research
measured strength differences for squats and bench presses after a 14-day break, testing subjects before and after. The results?
No differences in strength afterwards.
And interestingly, the authors noted:
"Levels of plasma growth hormone (58.3%), testosterone (19.2%), and the testosterone to cortisol ratio (67.6%) increased .."
Now, a boost in muscle growth hormones isn't bad, but that doesn't always mean more growth will come as a result.
The authors state:
"Changes in the hormonal milieu during detraining may be conducive to an enhanced anabolic process, but such changes may not materialise at the tissue level in the absence of the overload training stimulus."
In English, whilst taking time off from the gym might help us with favourable muscle growth hormones, it doesn't mean we're going to grow more muscle without actually training at the same time.
So it might all be redundant -- which is the perfect time to deliver another home truth about our muscle growth: a boost in testosterone within our normal limits (in other words, not taking steroids) doesn't result in additional muscle gains.
And you can bet my world shattered when I first learnt that years ago. But shattered dreams aside here's what we've learned together during this blog:
- We're not going to lose size or strength during a week off
- We might get a little boost in muscle-building hormones
- Which won't lead to more muscle gains in a general sense
So, where on earth are the further benefits of a week off then?
I would speculate (if I may) that given research
reveals lower testosterone decreases physical work and performance, a week off, and thus a boost of testosterone, isn't a bad idea per see; we saw that play out in the 14 days squat and bench press study above.
I'd also add that low testosterone has also been found to cause fatigue, loss of vigour, irritability or depressed mood, poor concentration, and disturbances in sleep. Also, higher levels of testosterone have been found to be better for our mood.
So, superior mood resulting from a week of recovery may just translate into better workouts -- or at least -- the desire to HAVE better workouts?
Sign me up.
Also, you know that feeling when you've trained hard for weeks, maybe not gotten quite enough rest -- and turned up to the gym fatigued?
Well, that's likely because of lower testosterone levels and thus overtraining, which research has found occurs when excessive training minus adequate recovery happens.
That's probably a sign it's time to take a week off.
When To Take A Week Off The Gym
But is there a guideline here generally? Not really.
There are no scientific principles that I'm aware of, but if I had to speculate on time frames, I'd say maybe every 12-16 weeks.
But again, if you're recovering well with adequate protein and sleep, you might wait for 20 weeks.
There's one piece of broscience that tends to ring true: "listen to your body, bro."
So what's our takeaway?
Well, a week away from resistance training shouldn't hinder strength or muscle size according to current research. A week off results in a boost in muscle-building hormones, which won't mean more muscle growth, but perhaps a better mood for when we return to training. A better mood might translate into better workouts, and thus a new and improved mindset to training. Consider a week off every 12-16 weeks, or even longer if you're consistently getting enough sleep and adequate protein. Pay attention to your body!
Dayne Hudson is a Sports Nutrition Specialist who is passionate about educating people to get them into the shape of their lives. A lifetime natural fitness fanatic, Dayne is obsessed with the scientific truth that helps the everyday person realise their weight loss dreams. Find out more about how Dayne loves helping at daynehudsonnutrition.com
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