Do Vacations Limit Muscle Gains?
Those who seek to build muscle mass have different views on vacations, with some believing that several weeks of consistent weight training workouts should be followed with a break of at least one week, while others fearing the very idea of taking a vacation from bodybuilding, to the point where they try to find a gym even when they are on a pleasure trip with family or friends. The true answer to how a bodybuilder must deal with vacations in order to avoid any significant negative impact on muscle mass is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
It’s very easy to become obsessive with weight training, to the point where skipping a workout quickly brings about fears of significant muscle mass reduction, and this can cause those who pursue bodybuilding to actually try and avoid vacations so that they can remain consistent with their weight training workout routines at all times. This, to the outsider, seems excessive, and there is no doubt that, mentally, living such a one-track bodybuilding lifestyle can bring about depression and alienation from family and friends.
Others aim for breaks from weight training workouts every several weeks, performing their weight lifting and aerobic sessions for 4-6 weeks, and then taking a 1-2 week sabbatical from building muscle mass before beginning another 4-6 week cycle. This technique can delay bodybuilding progress significantly, so I recommend, instead, planning breaks from weight training around special occasions (Christmas, summer vacations, birthdays, etc), and saving unexpected vacations for times when illness strikes (flu, injuries, etc), so that you can comfortably move away from building muscle mass for 1-2 weeks during times of the year when you have places to see and people to spend time with, or when you are sidelined with an unexpected illness or injury.
The amount of muscle mass lost during a vacation from weight training can be significant if the time away from such workouts is excessive, so a reasonable period of time to vacation from weight lifting is one week, and preferably, a vacation should never exceed two weeks, as the body begins to reduce muscle mass after a 1-2 week period (depending on individual genetics). If you are taking a trip that requires a longer time away from your normal weight training workout session, consider following an abbreviated schedule, where each body part is trained once per week with lower volume, at least to try and encourage maintenance of muscle mass during your trip. This technique can be used for a vacation of any duration, but is especially important if you are taking a trip that will exceed two weeks. Such an approach allows for very short weight lifting workouts that stimulate the muscle sufficiently to delay catabolism (muscle loss).
In regards to the frequency of breaks from weight training, this will depend on your individual schedule and lifestyle. Generally, if you wish to build maximum muscle mass, the less breaks of an extended duration that you take, the more progress you will achieve, yet a one week vacation several times per year is beneficial for the mind and body. Just make sure that such vacations occur at extended intervals, with at least two months (preferably three) of weight training consistency preceding a break.
Also, do not neglect the importance of proper diet during a vacation from weight training, as abandoning sufficient protein or carbohydrates during time spent away from your bodybuilding workouts can cause rapid muscle mass reduction, where otherwise, by observing an effective eating plan, very little negative change will occur. Most are not opposed to eating on vacation (that’s half the fun), but just make sure to consume sufficient protein during such periods, and aim for carbohydrates at maintenance levels in order to discourage unnecessary muscle mass loss or fat gain (although some fat increase is fine during vacations if you remain dedicated and consistent with your weight training workouts and diet throughout the remainder of the year, since you can quickly burn any accumulated fat when returning home from vacation).