The idea of getting fitter by hanging up your bike, putting away your running shoes, and letting dust gather on your yoga mat might seem crazy, but hear us out. Taking a break from cycling and focusing on other areas of your health (and recovery) means you come back better, faster, stronger, and maybe even happier than when you took a pause. Let these 10 reasons to take a few days off from exercise lead you right to the couch—at least for a little.
You can address stress
Even if you love your workout, fitting it into your schedule means having less time to deal with other responsibilities. That can lead to stress, whether you realize it or not. Mental performance consultant Danelle Kabush, a former pro Xterra racer, says she often sees clients stressed from this imbalance in their lives. Take this exercise-free week to focus on other areas of your life (like family, work, and household) that you may have let slip, she advises.
To help tamper your stress levels even more, take some extra time to get outside, as research shows it can lower your stress hormone levels. You can also use your typical exercise time to practice mediation.
You can get some extra sleep
Are you typically up at 6 a.m. for a workout? Well, take this time to catch some extra shut-eye. One study shows that if you’re consistently only getting six hours of sleep a night, you’re functioning as poorly as someone who hasn't gotten any sleep for two consecutive nights, even if you seem to feel fine. Test the theory: If you normally sleep six hours per night and exercise for an hour each day, shift that hour to give you seven in bed. Take note of how you feel. And throughout the week, identify ways to keep that extra hour of sleep once you’ve added exercise back into your routine.
You’ll avoid workout burnout
Whether you dig cycling, spinning, or CrossFit, doing the same activity over and over can start to feel stale if you don't come up for air every once in a while. Even if you love your sport, a few days away will only make getting back to it seem more exciting. “You remember why you love it when you can’t do it!” says Kabush. There's a reason the saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ has lasted so long.
You can switch workouts for intentional recovery
Take this week to find some balance in your life—and your muscles. Whether that means using a foam roller or other release tool a few times to hit those muscles that have gotten kinked up. A massage to target those uber-tight muscles or hitting up a gentle yoga class or guided meditation session, do something kind for your body (and your mind, too).
Your brain gets a break
Exercise may be your stress release, but it still takes a mental toll on you—especially if you’re doing interval training or working on mastering technical skills for a specific sport, explains Kabush. Plus, the week off from skills can give you time to digest what you’ve learned and approach things fresh with when you get back at it—just think of it like sleeping on a problem and waking up to a more calm mind and reasonable solution, says kinesiologist and cycling coach Peter Glassford.
You sidestep overtraining
Some of you might be familiar with overtraining syndrome, which develops from going too hard for too long, leaving you flat, fatigued, depressed, and tired. A dedicated recovery week can save you from the longer period of rest you’ll eventually require if you do get into an overtrained state. When you’ve seriously overtrained, it can take months or years away from exercise to fully recover, which makes that week seem shorter, doesn’t it?
You get stronger
Weightlifters have a saying: “You don’t get stronger lifting weights, you get stronger from recovering from lifting weights.” Your body needs that time off to rebuild and let the adaptations from your training occur—so don’t be surprised if your week off makes you stronger and better able to hit those higher intensities by the end. “Anecdotally, I see a lot of personal bests after my athletes take more time off than they maybe wanted to,” says Glassford. You'll be surprised at what your body can do when it’s not trying to recover, but actually does recover.
You can address little things
Most athletes have nagging pains, from bad knees to sore hips to a tight lower back. Take the time off training this week to seek expert advice from a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist. You can also use this week to look critically at your nutrition by logging your meals to make sure you're getting enough protein, eating your veggies, and taking in the right amount of healthy fats. While you're at it, spring-clean your training plan, too: Look at how you’re training and, with a coach or by yourself, investigate if there are any tweaks you’d like to make, or any new goals or races you want to add to your exercise schedule.
And lastly, indulge in some retail therapy as well: If your workout gear is getting worn out, spend some time replacing the truly beat-up gear with some new goodies so you’re even more motivated to get back to it next week.
You re-motivate and de-aggravate
Feeling grumpy when you walk into the gym as of late? Irritability is often one of the first indicators that you’re training too much. That’s why it’s one of the main tests of overtraining in the Hooper MacKinnon Questionaire for athletes, commonly used during elite-level training camps. Take time to ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 7, what your irritability level is, suggests Glassford. When you see it rising and staying up there, it might be time for a rest week. The time off should help alleviate your bad mood, or at least give you the free time to get to the root of why you’re aggravated.
You can adjust your expectations
This week might help you get out of your own way in terms of your performance objectives. If you’re not reaching your goals, whether it’s in a group training session or a competition, a mental block could be holding you back, says Kabush. But if you’re fresh from a week off, it might be easier to get into the zone and have that great result, even if you’re not expecting it.