I'm going to discuss the different types of breaks you can take during and after a weight lifting program. You're going to have to pay attention to your results and the way you feel. Then, you need to choose the right type of break. Here are some guidelines for taking breaks:
1. Short breaks during a program
Let's say you're feeling drained because you've had extra stress in your life or you weren't able to sleep well due to factors you had no control over (your baby crying in the middle of the night, etc).
Let's say it's Friday. Instead of doing the last workout of the week, you take the day off and do that Friday workout on Monday. It's not a big deal to delay that workout if you're feeling drained.
It's actually going to help you get better results in the long run. Rest up well on Friday and over the weekend and continue your program on the following Monday.
You can take short breaks like this throughout any program. Use them only as needed and not as an excuse to skip your workouts.
2. Active breaks between programs
Once progress stops on a program, you have one of two options.
(1) Take an active break from weight training as discussed below.
You can greatly decrease the amount of volume you are doing by decreasing the number of sets and reps for each exercise. You can even decrease the total number of exercises you are doing and the number of workouts each week.
Or you can decrease intensity of each workout and stay even further away from failure. You can decrease weight to decrease intensity.
The final thing you can do is decrease frequency of workouts by working out less often during the active break.
You can choose to decrease volume, intensity, frequency, or any combination of those 3 factors. Doing so will let your body actively recover. An active break should last anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.
Once you feel refreshed, the break is over and you can get right back into lifting heavy weights.
(2) Take a full break from weight training which is discussed below.
Taking an active break allows you to continue lifting heavy weights but lets your body actively recover by decreasing overall workload during your workouts.
If you've been lifting weights for several months consecutively and you feel really beat down or have even become a little sick, you definitely need to take a full break.
Active breaks will better serve you between shorter programs. If you haven't had a full break after several months, you definitely need to take one.
Active breaks can last one to two weeks.
You will feel rested and recovered during these weeks. You'll feel the extra energy as your body recovers.
If you don't feel recovered after one week, take a second week of active rest.
3. Full breaks between programs
A full break means you will have about 7 to 14 days of complete rest from ANY vigorous activity. This includes weight training, conditioning work, cardiovascular exercise, and any other exercise that stresses your body more than normal.
If you've been lifting weights for several months and you have stalled with strength gains at least a few times, you need to take a full break from weight training.
This full break will let your body fully recover from weight training.
When you come back from this full break, you need to start out with light weights and slowly work into heavier weight again. Don't get in a hurry with increasing the weight. You have plenty of time to increase the weight.
Just rest well during this break period and allow your body to fully recover from all the stress you've put it through over the past few months. Rest and sleep well. Extra sleep will really help you during this break.
Remember… don't do any vigorous activity during this period of rest. Just rest and enjoy your break.