Rest days, they are PART of the plan. I know you might be thinking if I work-out 5 days a week then doing 6 or 7 is better… right? Working out should move your body in a healthy way without making you feel like death at the end of a training session. I know there are many classes out there that push that threshold far too much for some people and that is where increases in injury or even lack of progress, this is where your recovery is not on point. Here is the key takeaway that even if you don’t think rest days matter, I want you to consider this: training doesn’t make you stronger; recovering from training makes you stronger.

Without adequate recovery, over time, you won’t get stronger. In fact, if you’re overtraining and under-recovering for an extended period, you may even find yourself getting weakerTraining too much and recovery too little can inhibit your progress and make you weaker. How do you know if a rest day is far too overdue? You might want to check out the following signs your body is trying to give you. If you are experiencing any of the following, you might want to take a rest day or multiple if needed.


-No appetite / Followed by insatiable cravings 
-Extreme soreness / Achy joints 
-Constantly sick 
-Lack of progress in the gym
-Trouble falling/ Trouble staying asleep 
-Lack of motivation/ Decreased sex drive
-Obsessive / Moody / Depressed

 

Are you experiencing any of these symptoms? Understanding the importance of rest days might help you with rationalizing with yourself to take them more often. Many programs incorporate prolonged bouts of stress or intolerable amounts of stress that can lead to exhaustion. When the stress is too much physiologically for the system to handle, it can and will lead to overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, muscle strains, and joint pain. So often we hear about the important health benefits of exercise and the negative side effects of inactivity, but it’s not as common to hear about why we also need to allow our bodies some time to rest. We live in this more is more society that it can be taken too far, and yes too much exercise can be too much of a good thing causing negative effects on your body. [1]

So let’s get into some science of training and why having a rest day is beneficial for you. If you participate in any weight training type activity when you are in the gym, you are actually creating muscle damage. Lifting weights and performing other strenuous exercise causes microscopic tears in the tissue of your muscles. This is a normal part of the muscle building process and this damage is actually a key component of muscle development. The damage that your muscles receive while lifting weights triggers the healing process and also prompts the body to try and adapt itself to prevent this type of damage in the future by making your muscle bigger and stronger. [2]

And here is the FUN science part as to how lifting creates an adaptation for you to grow stronger. As your body heals the damage that lifting weights caused in your muscles, specialized cells begin fusing together and attach themselves to the damaged tissue to promote the healing process. These cells begin fusing with the muscle fibers themselves, increasing their cross-section thickness. Eventually, these fused cells transition into new protein strands within the fibers, and components of the cells are used by the muscles to create additional strands as well. These strands increase both the size and the strength of the muscle fibers, resulting in the increase in muscle mass and muscular strength that you experience when lifting weights regularly.

When you lift weights or perform other strenuous exercises, lactic acid starts building up in your muscles. The muscles use lactic acid as fuel during your workout, burning it to produce energy when they need more energy than they can produce through standard cellular respiration. As you lift weights and go through muscle contractions to lift and lower the weights in a controlled manner. These contractions place pressure on the blood vessels that provide blood flow to the muscles, increasing blood pressure within the muscles themselves. This causes the “pump” effect, creating larger, swollen muscles that remain pumped for approximately 15 to 30 minutes after you finish lifting. Insert taking a nice selfie of your workout right here!

 

Now that you lifted the work is done, right? Well no, you grow stronger OUTSIDE of the gym not in the gym. So now you can see why allowing your body to repair is important for your continued success. If you are not allowing your body to rest more than diminishing returns in the gym happen. You start to have mood instability and lack of motivation to move more or even go to the gym. When you keep breaking your body down, it won’t operate up to the potential it can be. Therefore, rest days are an important part of the process. So why are rest days so hard to do? For many people who are participating in CrossFit or group classes or even if you are a regular gym goer, FOMO (fear of missing out) starts to make you think more training time is better because you developed a relationship with the people around you. If you are training with intensity, there is only so much time you can continue to spend in the gym without your body rebelling against you. Training should bring you closer to health enabling sustainability for the long-term. Ensuring your programming is set up with varying intensity can be one way to ward off the effects of overtraining and under recovering. [3]

 

Knowing how important it is to rest in your training, how often do you need to take a rest day? Honestly, that depends. Many trainers will suggest taking rest days at least 2 days a week. Those rest days can be scheduled however you like them to be. For some people, rest days are going to come down to training availability.  However, there are some people who have a set schedule that binds them to days and availability. Regardless of when you put your rest days in your schedule, consistency with your training is equally important. Perhaps every Thursday and Sunday you take a day off of the gym. However, what happens when your body is just screaming for you to chill out a bit, what do you do? If you are feeling run down or extra sore, it might be a good time to take a rest day even if it’s not on your normal rest day schedule. Develop a rest strategy that works for you and your fitness goals, and as your athleticism progresses, adjust accordingly. Just be sure you recognize the messages your body sends you to avoid overdoing it.


Now that you know that rest days or active recovery days are important in your training, what do you do on a day that you are not training? Here are some of my top tips on how to make the most of your recovery day and not feel like you are missing out in the gym. So just a quick little reminder, a rest day is for resting but that doesn’t mean that you need to just Netflix and chill all day.  Regardless if you are training or not, hitting 10k steps a day is a minimum as far as movement is concerned. Yes, you might train for an hour but what are you doing the other 23 hours out of the day? This is just a tiny segway into how to manage your rest days which means that you can benefit from movement and getting the blood flowing on a non-training day. Rest is not synonymous with “lie in bed all day and don’t move.” In fact, staying active on your rest day will help you recover better and avoid stiffening up. Keep the intensity low so your body can invest its resources in repairing and rebuilding. Think of low-intensity activities like hiking, swimming, maybe walking the dogs in a park or on a trail.

 

FIND A NEW HOBBY
This brings me to the next topic of finding a hobby that is non- gym related. You do need a life that is outside the gym which is a great outlet for your non-training days. Do you have a hobby you enjoy doing? Think about all the things you used to love to do before training was even a part of your life that you no longer have the time for. Well, guess what? Now you do. Dedicate your rest day to working on things that are not fitness related or create a new passion project. You will see a huge shift in how you start to perceive your rest days as something equally important for you to manage in your schedule.

MENTAL RELAXATION
Do you have a meditation or yoga practice embedded in your routine? Are you taking the time to slow down and check in with your body? Those aches and pains that you feel from time to time are there to tell you that you need some time to relax and be mindful of how your body is responding to the demands of your training. Many people are rushing into training from a long day of work, getting in about an hour then rushing home for family dinner just to repeat it over the next day. Stress is stress and it compiles daily. If you are not taking care of that stress by slowing down, you will hit a point where you just crash either in work, training or home life. Avoid this by slowing down and taking a rest day to spend the time with your family and do something that brings you all joy in the moment.

 

MOBILITY
Are you taking care of your body in other ways than just lifting? Are you focusing on mobility and stretching just as much? Rest days can also be dedicated to mobility and working on the soft tissue to ensure that you are ready to work hard your next training session. You might foam roll or stretch a bit pre and post workout but are you taking that time to really address the issues that your body is feeling? Even planning a massage on a rest day can help you relax and allow your body to heal from the intense work you put it through.

MEAL PREPPING
Prepping and planning your week on a rest day can be the best form of setting yourself up for success. During the week you might find it hard to get in a meal prep day but what if you took your rest day and make it your prep day? This will help ensure that you are focused on fueling your body with proper nutrients and you are not taking away any extra time in your day to do it. Your 1-hour class is now your 1-hour meal prep time and yes you can get it done within an hour! You can also use your rest day to COOK a meal instead of having things premade. It’s nice to have a home cooked meal that you can enjoy without rushing the entire time to eat it.

FAMILY & FRIEND TIME

Oh who are those other people you live with? Just kidding but really your day is already filled with work and little play so use rest days to spend with your family. Time is so valuable, and you cannot get it back. Use the extra time you have to create special moments and memories with your family and friends. If you have friends in the gym, this is the best way to get over the fear of missing out and do something together. This way you are enjoying time together outside the gym and you don’t feel like you missed out on something important.

Remember that by giving yourself time to recover, you are becoming stronger. Training doesn’t make you stronger; recovering from training makes you stronger. Now, if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with staying out of the gym and giving yourself the recovery time that your body needs, just repeat the above saying to yourself.



References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/
[2] https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/recoveryUNM.html

[3] https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/musclesgrowLK.html