Physical Therapist Dr Alyssa Herrera-Set on why one of the best things you can do this summer is take a break.

Summer is usually time for a break from school – but should we take a break from gymnastics too?

Reasons why gymnasts may feel like they shouldn’t take a break:

  1. Gymnasts have a goal to achieve and believe that the one thing they can control in pursuit of their goal is to keep working as hard as they can to get there.
  2. Gymnasts have all been told – repetition results in mastery. The more times they do something, the better they become – so they do more.
  3. Gymnasts believe that taking a break will result in the loss of their skill progression.
  4. Gymnasts have pressure from coaches, teammates, and parents to keep working.
  5. Gymnasts associate their identity and self worth with the amount we work.

Studies suggest that a LONG break can help you:

  1. Break out of a cycle of doing a skill or a workout habit over and over again in a way that isn’t working.
  2. Prevent burnout – the mental and physical exhaustion that leads to poor performance, fatigue, headache, and digestive issues among other things.
  3. Make you more effective and efficient when you come back to training.
  4. Improve your team morale by being a good example of how helpful a break can be.
  5. Enjoy a different activity for a while so that you can come back to gymnastics refreshed and with renewed passion.

Here are some different types of breaks and the science behind the need for them:

  1. One to four MINUTE rests - Resting time between sets of lifting weights or bodyweight resistance helps you do more. When you are conditioning, your body has a limit to the amount of muscle signaling ions and energy storage. Your body needs a few minutes to build them back up after you exhaust muscles. If you don’t rest, you are actually working against your ability to do more.
  2. One to four DAY rests - Resting days between strength sessions . Strength building doesn’t happen while you are working out, it happens during the rest and recovery after the workout. Take a bit to let that sink in. Your body needs the rest in between heavy workouts to build up the muscles in response to the exercise stress you put on it. Said another way - if you don’t rest between heavy strength sessions, your body will stay in a state of stress and inflammation instead of getting stronger.
  3. One to four WEEK rests - A vacation from your workout cycle. This longer break is the hardest one to convince gymnasts to take.  But if you need it, you should take it.  Remember the reasons listed above and see if they resonate.

And, to note, well-trained individuals don’t lose all their skills and strength after a one to four week break. While you do need to take the time to progressively build back to your previous training level, there’s a beauty in the learning that happens during that rebuild. As a physical therapist, I hear it over and over again from athletes – I’m so glad I got the time off to rebuild because I came back stronger than before.  

I hope all of you are enjoying your summer and taking a break from your normal routine.

Dr. Alyssa Herrera-Set, DPT, is a Physical Therapist, co-founder of gymSAFE, and owner of On the Move Physical Therapy and Pilates, Belmont CA.