When planning your fitness program, it is a good idea to use the principle of periodization in order to make continuous forward improvement while avoiding burn out.
Periodization is a principle used in may sports. It involves planning your workout year into smaller segments to avoid overtraining while consistently making improvements.
Four to six weeks is about the right length of time for one program, but everyone is different and it really depends on the individual. My length of time is short, I can’t go more than four to five weeks of really intense training before I need a break. How did I learn that? By listening to my body over the years (and it took time!) and learning how much it could handle.
The length of time will also depend on how intense your workout weeks are. Easing into a program for a couple of weeks would allow you to go longer without needing a break. Don’t fall into the mindset that working out different body parts, or in different ways will give your body rest. When you workout, your entire neuromuscular system is affected every time, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re training upper body one day and going for a bike ride the next, your entire body is affected and it needs breaks.
A week of active rest will gives your body time to recover, and helps you refresh mentally. Take it easy that week. If you’re lifting weights, lift at about 50% of what you normally do. If you’re swimming six days a week, back it off for two or three easy swims that week. Whatever your activity, you can apply the 50% per cent rule to give your body a rest, or take the entire week off.
After the rest week, ease back into your new program, steadily increasing the effort until you surpass the point you were at before you took the break. For a specific event, a running race, cycling race, physique competition, whatever it may be, work your way backwards from the date of the competition in blocks of weeks, figuring out where your rest weeks should fall so that you peak for the competition.
Using periodization will help avoid the stops and starts associated with overtraining and will have you progressing steadily to higher and higher levels of fitness.