I did not work out yesterday. I also did not work out today, nor will I work out tomorrow, the next day, or the day after, for that matter. What the heck? What kind of bodybuilder am I? A smart one.
Day in and day out you hit the iron with unbridled passion and determination. There is no feeling quite like the accomplishment of an intense weight training session where you know you gave your all. For bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts, the gym is a second home. It is a part of our everyday lives, and the thought of missing a workout is not an option.
Why You Need A Recovery Week
Heavy weight training sessions initiates the muscle-building process, and if you want to get the most out of your training program you should NEVER miss a planned workout, short of being too sick to safely complete the workout. However, at the same time, you should plan to have a scheduled week every few months where you stay out of the gym completely! Time out of the gym is a part of every bodybuilder's schedule, or at least it should be.
This week is my scheduled week off from training. I will not perform any weight training or cardiovascular exercise all week long. While heavy weight training provides the stimulus for muscle growth, it is outside of the gym where your muscles actually recover and grow bigger, granted you are providing your body with the proper nutrients it needs to grow.
Our bodies are able to recover and respond to training in between weight training sessions. However, intense weight-training puts a tremendous amount of stress on your body, and it is not just your muscles that are affected. The entire neuromuscular system, as well as immune function is stressed by weight-training.
The bottom line is that your body physically needs time off approximately every 8-10 weeks. Some individuals may need a recovery week more often than this and some less often, but 8-10 weeks is a good general guideline. I would rather err on the side of taking a recovery week too soon rather than waiting until I am completely overtrained. In this case, a week off may not be enough to let your body recover.
A week away from the gym also provides an important mental break from the daily rigors of an intense weight-training program. I always come back to the gym with a new vigor and desire to train. It is amazing how much a week away from the gym will do for your motivation and level of intensity. It is impossible to train with the utmost intensity week after week and month after month, and especially year after year, if you never take time off from the gym.
You may think that you are training at maximum intensity, but you really are not. It is easy to get caught up in going through the motions, and often you don't realize that your intensity level has dropped off until you take a step back and take some time to recover.
Taking a recovery week also allows you to break up your training into 8-10 week cycles instead of a never-ending marathon of training sessions. When your workouts are divided into 8-10 week cycles, it is much more manageable to set goals and try to improve every single week.
Take The Time Off To Grow
Now, if you are not accustomed to taking a week off from training then it can be a little tough mentally until you get use to it. I know there are some of you out there thinking that you are machines and you never need time off! I know people at my gym that have not taken a week off in 2 years or more!
But guess what, they look pretty much the same as they did two years ago, and are lifting the same amount of weight. So, are these people doing themselves a favor by never taking time to recover? Not if there goals are to build the maximum amount of muscle over the long haul.
I use to be one of those stubborn souls who thought that I would "shrink" or lose all of my strength if I took time away from the gym. I now know logically and scientifically that this is not true at all. Still, if you are not use to taking a recovery week, it can bring on feelings of guilt and laziness. This is normal and nothing to be concerned about. It is just the warrior inside that wants to make sure you are doing everything in your power to build as much muscle as possible.
Once you realize that a recovery week is an important part of the muscle-building process, it is easier to mentally accept the recovery week. I love to train hard more than anything, but I have learned to enjoy my recovery week as well. For one week every several months I don't have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and get to the gym for an intense workout.
I don't have to bring three separate bags, a huge cooler of food, and hang-up clothes for work with me (I swear, my neighbors must think I am going out of town for a month every morning!). I only have to prepare 7 meals for the day instead of 13. For one week, I can live the life of a "normal" person, and enjoy doing other things or get caught up on work.
Now, just because you are not training, it does not mean that you have to be a slug and lay around the house all day. Although, I do not perform cardio during my recovery week (unless I am less than 16 weeks away from a competition), some moderate activity is fine. It is also very important to continue to eat well during your recovery week in order to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover and grow.
Remember, the point of your recovery week is to let your muscles and your body recuperate from intense weight training. You must have high quality protein and nutrients in order to do this.
My nutrition plan is very similar to a normal week, except that I do not have all of my pre and post-workout meals, which results in lower calories and lower carbohydrate intake.
Now that I understand the importance of a recovery week, I can rest assured that taking this time off is beneficial to reaching my long-term bodybuilding and health and fitness goals. I have learned to enjoy my extra rest, and by the end of the week my motivation to hit the gym is through the roof!
I normally go about 75% my first week back to get my body re-accustomed to training. It is during that second week back that I really feel the benefits of taking a week off. I am always very strong, motivated, and fresh to attack my workouts and take my training to a new level.
If you are reading this and have not taken a week off from training in over three months, then I strongly suggest you take a full week off immediately! I think you will be amazed at the positive impact this time off has on your level of motivation and your overall progress in the gym.