What Happens When You Take a Long Break From the Gym

asweatlife_Long Break From the Gym

Lately, it seems like everyone has been up in the gym just working on their fitness, and you can count Team aSweatLife as a witness. We’ve seen you at the gym. We’ve hi-fived you during #sweatworkingweek. We’ve been inspired by your goals for 2017. Basically what I’m trying to say is: you all killed it in January.

And now comes the hard part. I speak from experience when I say that it can be very tempting to think, “I put in all this effort, and I deserve a break.” Which is true. A little time off here and there can be beneficial.

According to CNN, days off can improve strength, muscle development and aerobic fitness as your muscles work to repair themselves from the work you’ve put in. A day off from the gym can also have the same mental health effect as an extra day off from work. It will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on tomorrow. The good news: if you need a break, it will take one to two weeks to notice a loss of progress. The bad news: when taking a break from exercise, it only takes one to two weeks to notice a loss of progress.

This is because your body is very quick to adapt to change. If you’re exercising a lot, your appetite, metabolism and energy level will adjust accordingly. Similarly, Men’s Fitness explains that discontinuing a training routine will leave your body with nothing to adapt to, so it will start to return to its original state. After two weeks, you may experience a loss of muscle mass and size, which your body will exchange for body fat. You may also experience a decrease in your mental health. That “high” you feel after a workout is a result of an increase of dopamine, the chemical in your brain associated with feeling good and being rewarded. Without this regular increase in dopamine, you may feel more anxious, tired and stressed. Since the average person is more inclined to skip the gym when feeling anxious, tired and stressed, a week of skipped workouts could end up turning into more.

Yet, we are human, and even the most dedicated fitness enthusiast could still be left feeling burnt out even while training regularly. Family, demanding work projects, and life in general can get the best of us at times. And in these times, SELF Magazine assures you that something is better than nothing. If you can even squeeze in one workout a week during trying times, your body will respond.

Unfortunately, such times usually leave us reaching for comfort foods, and we all know how that story ends. Elite Daily advises those unable to stick to an exercise routine to still stick to regular meal planning, just with smaller portions. The article also recommends keeping protein intake high. In fact, it suggests that two weeks off from the gym coupled with high protein intake could help you to come back even stronger.

Still, try not to make such long breaks a regular habit. Men’s Health explains why: After five days without exercise, your blood pressure spikes. After one week, your muscles begin to lose their fat burning potential and your metabolism slows. After two weeks, you will start to feel yourself getting winded faster while doing simple activities such as climbing a flight of stairs or carrying in a load of groceries. After a month, your blood pressure will return to where it was before you started an exercise routine. The worst part: it will take longer to regain your muscle mass than it did to lose it. In other words, two weeks worth of lost muscle mass will take over two weeks to gain back.

When you are ready to dive back into your regular routine, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you most likely won’t be able to do what you were able to when you stopped. Women’s Health suggests starting between 70-75 percent of what you were doing pre-break for both weight and aerobic training. Elite Daily suggests easing back into a routine with group fitness classes and body weight exercises. Health recommends incorporating more walks, yoga, and cross-training when returning from a break.

With February right around the corner, let’s continue to stick together as we make 2017 our sweatiest year yet. See you at the gym!

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About Ashley McCullough

Ashley McCullough has been an active advocate of weight lifting, taco eating, city living and not running for as long as she can remember. A lifelong Notre Dame fan, she graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 2012 with a degree in Elementary Education. By day, you can find her organizing objects by color, singing, chanting, dancing around, and reading with her kindergarten class. After the school bell rings, well, not much changes. She continues to do all that. But she also thoroughly enjoys conversing and interacting with adults at group fitness classes and #Sweatworking events. Ashley was born and raised in the suburbs and moved to the city 4 years ago. She never plans to leave… unless she is able to find a beach house on a mountain in a major industrial city on a private island. Then she just might.