Is It Time to Take a Vacation from Your Workout Routine?
Enjoying some intentional time off might just be the key to getting re-motivated.
I am a pretty disciplined person—some might say obsessively so. As I mentioned in a previous post, I rely on a variety of apps as well as my trusty IRL accountability buddies to help me achieve my health and fitness goals. I know that rest and recovery are important to any exercise routine, but recently I tried something even more radical. I took two weeks off of tracking and training and just allowed myself to do whatever I pleased.
Week one, I was in Colorado with my family, celebrating my sister’s wedding and enjoying time with my 8-year-old nephew, Malachi. He and I ran around a bit and shot a silly TikTok video, but I didn’t do any kind of focused training and allowed myself to eat anything I wanted. I returned home right in the midst of San Francisco Pride—an epic, monthlong celebration in the city I call home. Rather than getting right back to the grind, I allowed myself another five days of celebration, going out with friends, marching in the Pride parade and generally just having a great time.
At the end of all this, I expected to find my fitness goals in shambles. But much to my surprise, I had actually dropped a few pounds, had no trouble getting right back into boxing and felt great. More important, though, I had regained my motivation. I couldn’t wait to get back to the gym or go for a run. What had started to feel like drudgery had now become a treat.
The case for a workout holiday
While scores of articles discuss the importance of rest and recovery days (Alex and I took a deep dive on this in an episode of the podcast), far fewer advocate taking longer periods off. I did find a few, though, that supported my anecdotal findings.
Avoid workout burnout. It’s important to give your body and mind a break.
Combat stress overload. This one really interested me. According to Dr. Jonathan Leary, a chiropractor quoted in the article: “People need to know that exercise, though often good stress, is still a stress on the body.” He points to the buildup of cortisol, which can come from stress but also from pushing it too hard in the gym.
Give your willpower a break. Willpower is a finite resource—well, maybe. This is a hotly debated area of research right now. For an opposing view, see the Harvard Business Review. In any case, I will say that my willpower definitely hits the wall from time to time.
Boost your strength. The article pointed to pro athletes, who know the importance of taking time off.
If you’re worried about losing fitness, take heart. The article above pointed to a study published in Medical Science in Sports & Fitness that indicates you won’t lose all your fitness gains in a few weeks. Quoting Dr. Leary again:
"Based on research, an active person can go up to three weeks without working out and it will not have too much of an impact on their muscle size or cardio output. Take the vacation—when you're in a relaxed head space, it works wonders on the body, too."
But don’t take it from me. Quoted in Insider magazine, Luke Worthington, personal trainer to the likes of Robert Pattinson and Dakota Johnson, says:
“If we have been working out consistently and effectively, then taking a planned break while on holiday can actually be one of the most physiologically beneficial things we can do.”
So there you have it. If you feel the need to take a break from exercise, dieting or whatever else it is that’s become a chore, a little vacation may be just what’s needed to reset your goals, restore your willpower and rekindle your motivation.