Studies Suggest Taking a Rest from Lifting Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Gains

There’s a common saying in the fitness world that progress is hard won and easily lost. It’s a ‘use it or lose it’ view of muscle, in which affording your biceps a break causes them to disappear faster than the bar tab at your office party.

But after a year's worth of hard graft, you’ve earned a chance to kick back, right? Well, the good news is that scheduling a new year's recharge could help you come back stronger – as well as having minimal impact on your hard-won gains.

According to the journal Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, two weeks of downtime causes no significant loss in bench press or squat performance, while, in a separate study, scientists estimated that strength ‘is readily maintained for up to four weeks of inactivity’.

Better still, a European Journal Of Applied Physiology study – in which male athletes were assigned to either five and a half months of continuous upper-body training or a repeating cycle of six weeks’ graft followed by a three-week break – found that those who took time away from the bench saw comparable muscle-sculpting results.

Going all out, all the time, is a sure path to exhaustion. It can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones and reduced immunity, as well as unduly stressing muscles, tendons and ligaments. Affording yourself time off every now and then will stop your motivation levels tanking, too.

Most recently – and perhaps most excitingly – modern lab techniques used by scientists at the University of Massachusetts revealed that the nuclei (our cells’ control centres) we gain during periods of regular exercise remain in place even when our muscle cells shrink. To get a little sciencey, these residual ‘myonuclei’ allow us to regrow our muscles bigger and faster when we return to training after a break.

In other words, put in the work now and you can rest up over Christmas while banking future muscle growth for the new year. Consider this our gift to you.

Weight Training Substitutes

A hiatus from the weights floor needn’t mean spending a week on the sofa. Try one of these on for sizeable benefits:

Hatha Yoga

As well as strengthening muscles, regular yoga can reduce inflammation and support immune health.

Swimming

In a study of 40,000 men*, swimmers had a 50% reduced mortality risk when compared with walkers or runners.

Tai Chi

The Chinese practice is associated with lower levels of blood fat and better blood-sugar control.

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