I know many people (clients included) who get the bug for exercise and training hard, then find it difficult to allow themselves a day off! It can be really difficult to let it go, after all, the physical and mental benefits of working out only leave you wanting more!
Exercise, like most things in life, is all about balance. While it’s great that you want to work out harder and more often, time out/off is a vital part of any exercise plan and even professional athletes schedule rest time and easy sessions into their weekly training.
Rest days allow your body (and your mind) time to recover from workouts. They stop you burning out and losing your enthusiasm, plus they ensure you’re ready and able to give your next session your all. Rest also gives your body time to adapt to your training and grow stronger and fitter, so you’ll be better placed to make the next workout count than if you skip the recovery period.
If you want to enjoy sustained progress, you’re going to need to put your feet up every now and again (and be ok with that).
Why you should take a rest/recovery day?
1. They help you get stronger
While you may think fitness gains are only made when you’re pushing yourself in the gym, rest is just as important if you want to hit your workout goals.
Every time you work out (resistance training in particular) you create tiny tears in your muscle tissues. When you rest, your muscles start to heal and grow back stronger, meaning you’ll be able to do progress further with your training.
2. They help you avoid injury
If you avoid rest days, it could lead to injury. Training when your body and mind are tired means you’re more likely to have bad form, trip or fall. You’re also at risk of overuse injuries as you constantly stress and strain the body and don’t allow it the necessary time to repair itself.
So if you want to avoid weeks or even months of being unable to train, make sure you give yourself sufficient time to rest.
3. They help you make fitness progress
Train too much without resting and you could see your fitness progress grind to a halt or even go into reverse. Exercise releases stress hormones and, just as working long hours with no days off can negatively impact your health, too much exercise without enough rest can lead to burnout.
Also known as overtraining syndrome, burning out can affect your central nervous system, throwing everything out of whack. This can leave you feeling constantly tired and drained. Workouts can feel much harder than they used to and you may struggle to do exercises you found fairly straightforward before.
4. They mean you can train even harder
We all know that feeling. You’ve just finished 60 seconds of flat-out exercise at HIIT or a what feels like the 100th burpee at WODFIT and then moments later, you’re ready to go hard and attack it again.
That’s what rest days are like. Taking time off gives your body and mind time to reset, recharge and recover. Your muscles will be less sore and fatigued and, instead of just going through the motions, you’ll be able to give your next workout the effort it needs to get results.
How many rest days do you need each week?
The number of rest days each person needs varies. It can depend on a variety of factors including the duration of your workouts, your current fitness level, goals, age and genetics.
For women the menstrual cycle has a massive affect on their training. During your period, progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest levels. This can make some women feel more tired than usual. While it’s fine to exercise when your energy levels are low, sometimes a rest day may do you more good so you can recharge, ready to give your next workout everything you’ve got.
You can also build more rest into your training by scheduling easier workouts for the days following tougher sessions, so you’re not at risk of overdoing it. If you’re strength training, alternating between upper and lower body also gives your muscles extra time to recover.
What should you do on rest days?
Rest days don’t have to be spent on the sofa watching Netflix (but if that’s what works for you then perfect). I know for me having “recovery days” work well. Just gentle, low impact exercise allows me to feel like I’m still moving without pushing myself too hard. Dog walking is my thing, getting out in the fresh air with a podcast, spot on! Also I find yoga and stretching really help but you can find plenty of things to do that work for you.
It’s important to ensure you’re getting some quality sleep too. Our previous blog “Sleep – the one thing we need more of” focused on the importance of sleep and how it affects your health and well-being.
In conclusion rest days are part of your training regime. Make sure you are including some down time as well as “active recovery” in order to get the most from your training. Listen and pay attention to your body, it knows you better than anyone.