We all need breaks from strenuous activity, especially from an activity such as weight training. Pounding your body with heavy weights, week after week, month after month, takes a toll on the body as well as the mind.
Over time, our bodies will break down from over use and our muscles and connective tissues will gradually wear out.
Our connective tissues are especially at risk with our knees and shoulders being some of the main targets.
It only makes sense to take a break from weight training after 3 to 4 months of steady lifting. A two to three week break is sufficient to allow the body to recover from a hard and heavy weight training cycle.
However, after taking a break from weight training, we all experience a certain level of strength loss after a period of time. Just how much strength can you expect to lose?
The amount of strength loss depends on a variety of factors such as:
How long does it really take to start losing strength? There isn’t an conclusive evidence to suggest that there’s an immediate loss of strength after only a couple of days of rest. Based on my experience, you can expect to lose some strength after about two weeks of rest. That is, no weight training or other activity involving strenuous lifting. However, this is all variable depending on your age, diet, genetics, training level, and rest patterns.
For example, a beginner who’s been weight training for 8 weeks, will lose strength faster than someone who’s been weight training for 8 years. It also depends on how well you take care of yourself when you take a break. I’ve taken a lot of breaks from weight training and if there is one thing that is always a factor to how much strength you lose, it’s how you look after yourself while taking a rest.
Going out and drinking all night, ditching your diet and not drinking enough water will definitely cause you to lose strength faster than if you follow a good diet, get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Actually, this is a huge determining factor to how much strength you lose when you take a break.
Assuming you watch your diet, get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated, you can expect to lose about 5% to 10% of your strength after about a two maybe two and half week break. Again, this depends on your genetics as well. Some weight trainers might even gain more strength after a rest like this. Strength loss will be more dramatic for beginners and intermediates.
I’ll give you a personal example. I just came off a three week hiatus about 3 weeks from weight training and I’d say I lost about 15% of my strength. However, after about two weeks of steady training strength levels are back up to where I left off. However, I’ve been training for over 20 years so I know my body pretty good.
After 3 weeks, you are at risk to losing more strength. I’ve found that after about a month of rest, you dramatically lose strength. That is, your whole body starts to go soft and your muscle mass starts to shrink. It’s at this point your muscles start with atrophy, which is to get weaker and smaller. For me, once I notice my muscles going soft, which is after about 3 weeks with no training, I know my strength is taking a nose dive.
Here’s another personal example. I had to take a forced 4 month break (injury) from training and I lost most of my strength gains. It took me a good month, maybe a month and a half to get back to where I was prior to my injury. There is an inverse relationship to rest and weight training.
The longer you take off from weight training, the longer it takes to get back to get back on track. However, there is a tipping point that each of us have. For me, anything longer than 3 weeks and my muscles start to go soft and my strength gains start to take a nose dive. Therefore, 3 weeks is my tipping point. For some of you, this may be shorter or longer depending on your lifestyle.
All things being equal, I’m going to say that you’re safe with a two week break. That is, you can expect to be back to your original strength levels, after a workout or two after a two week break. This isn’t too bad. It’s enough rest to give your joints a rest but not enough to put your strength gains at risk. Your not going to lose that much in terms of strength from a one week break. In fact, you might even gain a bit of strength.
For every 12 to 15 weeks of training, I always recommend a 2 week break from training. Just remember, you still need to watch your diet, get plenty of rest, and stay well hydrated.
Training cycle refers to the amount of times you exercise your muscles. One training cycle equals all muscles exercised for that week. The table above illustrates an estimate of how much strength you can potentially lose from time off training.
It also illustrates how long it will potentially take to recover those gains (provided the rest isn’t injury related). Please remember this is an estimate.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.