Scheduling a recovery week every 4 to 6 weeks will help you to avoid getting into exercise ruts and to reach your fitness goals.

People exercise for a variety of reasons from getting stronger, to beating a personal 10K time, to just getting rid of aches and pains. No matter the goal, the biggest factor to success is consistency.

Over the long term, extended rest periods away from structured exercise are vitally beneficial.

Following an exercise schedule that builds on progress over time is a well established way to improve. But that doesn’t mean exercising week to week indefinitely without breaks. Planning time to let your system recover and regenerate not only improves results, but helps avoid getting into exercise ruts.

Rest and recovery are essential partners with exercise. Exercise stimulates the body to change, and change happens during recovery. Maintaining a balance between challenging exercise and rest dictates long term success. A common example of this work-rest balance is taking a day off between strength training workouts to let muscles recovery and get stronger.

When to Rest from Exercise

Over the long term, extended rest periods away from structured exercise are vitally beneficial. They are typically a week long to give the body ample time to fully recover. Time away from an exercise routine also helps prevent boredom.

Vacation, work travel or life events occasionally interrupt training and may function as (impromptu) rest weeks for some people. If that’s not the case for you, plan rest weeks as part of your schedule.

If you regularly exercise with vigorous effort, take a week off every 4 to 6 weeks. If you exercise moderately, take a week off every 6 to 8 weeks.

Use low intensity activities to keep moving without burdening your system.

Physical and Mental Signs

Also pay attention to physical and mental signs that you need a break earlier than planned. When your workouts seem unusually taxing, you feel unduly fatigued, have trouble sleeping, experience mood changes or have trouble concentrating, you probably need a break because those conditions often reflect a lag in recovery.

Having said all that, a week of recovery doesn’t mean abandoning all activity to sack out on the couch. Instead, engage in “active recovery.” Use low intensity activities to keep moving without burdening your system. Walking is a great choice for most people, but it could be any low intensity activity you enjoy. The important point is to keep it easy. It might seem counter intuitive, but you will almost certainly feel better coming back after planned time off.

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Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.