7 Signs It’s Time to Take a Break From Working Out

You know that sensation when you’ve been feeling off but you can’t quite put your finger on why? Then, finally, you start to wonder — am I getting sick? Have I been eating or drinking something different? Have I been sleeping less?

You might want to take a closer look at your workouts. How have they been going? How do you feel before, during, and after?

Alexander Legezynski, a certified personal trainer, member of UK Coaching, and founder of West London Personal Training, shares the signs it’s time to break away from fitness.

person doing situp

During the workout

1. Your progress has plateaued

When you exercise, you’re creating microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Your body then rebuilds these tears with new fibers, increasing visible muscle mass and strength.

The problem is simple — your muscles can’t rebuild and be torn down simultaneously. So if you’ve stopped seeing progress in your routine despite your best efforts, it’s likely that rest is overdue.

Keep in mind you’re getting stronger when you’re resting, not when you’re working out.

2. The same workout feels harder and takes longer

Another surefire way to know you need rest is to find the same activity increasingly difficult. If movement is feeling sluggish and flat — and workouts take twice as long as they should — it’s a strong signal your body is depleted and needs some time to recover.

So take some time out, let those fibers repair, and enjoy the results you’ve worked hard for — without lifting a finger.

More specifically, if the hand weights, barbells, or machine feels more challenging, it’s time to take a weight-lifting break.

Outside the gym

3. You’re becoming sick increasingly often

The anabolic growth hormones that promote a robust immune system can be obstructed by cortisol, the stress hormone associated with overtraining.

As a result, you might find yourself becoming increasingly susceptible to illness and feeling a constant sense of fatigue. This is a sign you’re in danger of burnout or are already there and that it’s time to rest substantially.

4. Your recovery is taking longer and longer

Cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, is associated with muscle degradation and is the opposite of what you need for development.

If you never quite feel ready for the next session, it’s a sign that your repair process has slowed due to inadequate or low-quality rest.

5. You feel tired all the time

Chronic fatigue is a real effect of overtraining. If you find yourself unusually tired and irritable, it might be worth allowing some high-quality recovery.

Training is about overcoming challenges but also about listening to your body. Your body communicates that it isn’t, even if you think you’re rested. There’s nothing to do but take an extended rest and come back on solid form.


6. You feel anxious about working out

Your emotional state can tell you everything. If the gym is becoming a source of stress and anxiety due to excess training, cut yourself some slack and take a week out.

Cortisol is known to obstruct muscle growth. You’re there to look after yourself, not run your body into the ground. 

7. You’ve been training for over eight weeks without rest

Even professional athletes block out a week of rest every eight to 10 weeks. We’re built for extended periods of both work and rest.

A linear 48 hours of rest isn’t going to cut it over an extended period of time — even for the most conditioned competitors.

Definition of an extended break

What does an “extended break” actually look like? According to various sources, a break can be anywhere from a week to one to two months. Remember, it takes 72 hours for full muscle recovery.  

After one or two weeks, you won’t have a significant drop in strength, power, size, or body mass or see a noticeable gain in body fat. Nor will you see a decline in aerobic capacity, VO2 max, or stamina.

Some experts recommend at least a month to allow your body to rest and to allow minor injuries to heal.

If you take two months off, you’ll be back in shape in about half the time you were off — about one month.

As a general rule of thumb, some fitness authorities say you should take a few days off every six to eight weeks to improve your fitness and training.

The bottom line: When restarting your workouts after a long break, ease back in and listen to your body. Before you know it, you’ll see and feel the gains of your rest period.

Move Recovery & Mobility

About Ronni Robinson

Ronni is a member of the Sandwich Generation; she's the tired lunch meat layered between two children and aging parents. She is an eating disorder recovery coach, a 3-time Ironman finisher, and is a certified spin instructor. Her first book, Out of the Pantry: A Disordered Eating Journey, can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can find more of her professional writing and coaching info on her website (https://www.ronnirobinson.com/)