Can Taking a Break from Weightlifting Help with Plateaus?

July 8th, 2008 by Paul Johnson

Almost all bodybuilding workout routines today advocate taking a 2 or 3 weeks off from training once in a while to avoid plateaus. Even the old periodization routines developed decades ago, advocate a rest phase. There must be something helpful about a rest that makes it actually productive in the long run if so many advocate it.

Research on breaks from training

The most recent study I found was published in J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):768-75. 46 men did 16 weeks of continuous resistance training. One group completely stopped it for 4 weeks afterwards, while the other group slowly tapered their set volume for 4 weeks. The rest group had a 9 percent drop in strength and an increase in IGF-1, a potent anabolic hormone. THe tapering group had a very slight increase in strength, but also a increase in IGFBP-3 resting levels. IGFBP-3 is the protein that binds to IGF-1 to make it not active while it is binded to the protein.

Another relevant study to our topic I found was J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Aug;16(3):373-82. 16 recreationally resistance trained men, were seperated into two groups, one put on a break from training and the other continued weight training for 6 weeks. One rep max, power, and hormonal levels were measured at the 3rd and 6th week of both groups. While the bench press strength increased in the restistance group there was no changes in any group for 1 rep max squat, body or muscle mass, body fat percent, or resting concentrations of growth hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, sex hormone-binding globulin, testosterone, cortisol, or adrenocorticotropin. One theory I have is that because they were recreationally trained, they didn't train often or serious enough to see a serious drop in strength or change of hormones.

Another study published in Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993 Aug;25(8):929-35 was done on 12 serious long term powerlifters. After 2 weeks they measured their muscle fiber composition, strength, and body hormones. Although their type 2 muscle fibers (mainly responsbile for hypertrophy) decreased significantly (by 6.4%), they had almost no drop in strength and Growth hormone levels increased 58.3%, testosterone increased 19.2%, and the testosterone to cortisol ratio 67.6% increased, whereas plasma cortisol -21.5% and creatine kinase enzyme levels -82.3% decreased.


The studies i have found support what many bodybuilders and strength athletes knew all along, that a long rest is beneficial for you. If for any other reason, it returns all your bodies hormones and chemicals to a pre-training state again, so you can be ready for the next growth cycle. Think of it as taking 1 step back to take 2 steps forward to bust through your old plateau.

  1. Gain Muscle Mass With Nick on October 14th, 2009

    I completely agree that taking pre-planned rest or active recovery periods can help to increase not only your strength but your muscle gains as well. I really feel that this has more to do with giving your neuromuscular system a rest than your body. I always feel refreshed and my brain seems to work better after a short 3 – 5 day break from intense weight training.