In spite of all of my preaching about not making excuses, being mentally tough, and "the hardest part sometimes is just getting through the gym door".....occasionally we need to NOT do any of those things. Depending on how hard you've been hitting it, and for how long, the body does need breaks. The consequences of ignoring your body's "I've had enough" signals can cause you to actually look worse rather than better. Not that many people ever get to the point of "overtraining". Usually an occasional family trip or increased work demands will keep one out of the gym enough to promote some serious healing time. However, when that doesn't happen, and we continue to train and push week after week, month after month, the body gets stressed. Positive body changes don't happen in the gym, they are actually achieved at rest, when the rebuilding process happens. Many exercisers think the more they work out, the fitter they will be.....which is true to a certain point, but not once the body senses too much. Too much training, not enough rest, and inadequate nutrition can slowly creep up on you, then slowly you start to realize everything aches. There can be a lack of motivation to get to the gym, low grade irritability, and increased muscle tension. Muscle gets broken down, rather than built.
I try to take scheduled rest periods of a week (or more) from lifting weights at least every three months. It is easy to forget to take these breaks, and before I know it it has been 6 months without a rest. My clients will sometimes see that I am "off" from training and wonder why I haven't prescribed time off for them. Most of my clients have had plenty of recovery time due to vacations and unexpected missed gym time due to kid and work issues. For the gym rat who hasn't had any of these setbacks, and is training regularly and intensely, there needs to be a recovery plan in place. A good rule of thumb is a week of rest after 8 weeks or so. This is optimum. Do I always follow this rule? No, but I end up suffering the consequences. That week of rest that would normally get me strong, refreshed and ready to rock needs to be a little longer. ;-)