Yayyy it’s day off!! This is my reaction on my rest days from working out. While I enjoy training, I get very excited when comes the time to recover simply because I know that it rebuilds my overall stamina.
It is an opportunity to refuel and recharge my batteries before my next workout and come at it stronger.
What is a rest day?
A rest day is a break you take from your fitness regimen. You simply take a day off to allow your body to recuperate. While it is important that you DO actually slow down, it doesn’t mean you should be completely inactive, watching TV all day. Light activity such as going on a walk, doesn’t stop your body’s ability to bounce back. You simply shouldn’t do more physical effort than necessary. I just go about my day as usual, relaxing my body and mind.
Benefits of rest days
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Proper rest is very beneficial to your overall physical and mental health. Let’s look at why rest days are equally as important as workout days.
They optimize your performance
Slowing down gives your body a chance to consolidate all your hard muscle efforts and adjust to the training load.
When you’re exhausted, it is hard to challenge yourself and level up your exercising routine. Overdoing it, reduces your endurance and ability to react. Resting, on the other hand, ensures you to always successfully perform your workouts and reach your full potential.
Additionally, proper recovery between workouts improves your agility, ensuring proper range of motion and increasing your energy levels.
They prevent muscle failure
Muscles need glycogen (fuel) to operate correctly. Glycogen levels need to “refill” when consumed. That’s exactly what getting the right amount of rest does. It prevents exercise-induced muscle fatigue and soreness by allowing glycogen energy stores to restock before your next training session.
They allow proper muscle recovery and muscle growth
Exercising breaks the body’s tissues down and causes microscopic tears. It’s during rest that the beneficial effects of training happen: muscles get the opportunity to adapt, regenerate, heal and grow stronger. Fibroblasts cells repair your muscle tissue.
Taking a pause gives your nervous system, connective tissues and bones time to rebuild, and your glycogen levels time to replenish.
They prevent injury and keep you safe
Efficient rest ensures you train safely. Overstressing already sore muscles increases your chance to get injured. Accidents like dropping a weight, shoulder dislocations, wrist fractures and ankle sprains can more likely occur when you are wasted.
They improve the quality of your sleep
Both working out and resting impact your sleep quality. It’s all about keeping your hormones in balance.
While exercising boosts up your cortisol (stress hormones) and adrenaline (energy hormones) levels, overworking produces too many of these, resulting in a hormonal imbalance that affects your sleep.
It is those planned days of rest that enable your hormones to return to their initial normal state and improve the quality of your sleep.
It is especially during sleep that your brain works at solidifying the neuro connective tissues that help you have better movement coordination and balance.
Signs you need a rest day
Photo by Bruce Mars
Great news! Our body always lets us know when it is time to stop. It sends us red flag signals. We just need to watch for these alerts. But to recognize those signs, it is important to get familiar with them.
Never-ending muscle soreness and joint pain
It is normal to feel sore after 2-3 days, especially when we fiercely train one particular muscle group that we haven’t trained for a while. For instance, I did a 25min HIIT cardio set that I hadn’t done for a long time, and this morning, my calves felt really sore. I was quite surprised because I perform lower body exercises 2 days/week. But this HIIT session includes more jumps (jumping jacks, burpees) than my regular leg day routine (squats, lunges, isometrics). Today, it is leg day, but I have decided to train my arms instead.
However, if I would continue to experience persistent soreness and cramps in my calves after 2 days, it would be a sign that I haven’t fully recovered from my past workouts!
Soreness shouldn’t be severe and last. Chronic pain might be a sign that you have an overuse injury such as tendinitis.
Listen carefully to your body. If you feel exhausted even after you’ve had a good night sleep, it may be a sign that your are experiencing a total physical and mental burnout.
If you struggle through your regular workout, it is a sign that you are too tired and weak to do your routine. Take a break!
When exercising, we lose a lot of fluid in sweat. Overheating and getting headaches is a bad sign.
Moreover, dehydration resulting from hitting it too hard, puts our body in a catabolic state (our body starts using muscle tissue to fuel our effort instead of glycogen). Your body is in constant demand for more water. If you are always thirsty even when you’ve been drinking, it may be a sign that you suffer from dehydration.
Hormonal imbalance symptoms
Insomnia or restless sleep
I love the adrenaline rush feeling after my workout. I feel super energized and get things done! But overtraining and overstimulation can lead to chronic insomnia, keeping you awake at night, leaving you drained because your body can’t recover.
Also, it is during quality sleep that the body produces the most growth hormones which help repair and rebuild muscle mass.
Moodiness and depression
Pay attention to your mood: are you cranky or too anxious? That is a sign you’ve been pushing it too hard and your stress hormone levels are too high causing emotional swings.
You’ve felt it, regular exercises helps you distress and feel good by releasing the happiness hormones (dopamine and serotonin). However, one of the symptoms of the ‘overtraining syndrome’ in athletes is depression. Why? Because when injured, athletes have to stop training and they lack their daily quota of dopamine rush. They start feeling sad and unhappy.
This is a less obvious sign. Again, thanks to cortisol, the stress hormone, when in excess, it raises your insulin levels, leading to fat storage. Your body puts itself in survival mode and holds on to weight.
Constant stress from strenuous activity weakens your immune system and your ability to fight against viruses. You are more prone to get infections.
How many rest days per week?
How you plan your rest days depends on what type of training you do and its intensity. One thing is certain, the minimum is one rest day per week. If I keep the same training routine, I take a break every three days.
If I change my routine, increasing in intensity or introducing new exercises, I’ve learned to listen to my body. If my body aches, can’t normally walk etc. I rest for 48 up to 72 hours to recover.
If you are a beginner, space out your days at first and then as your body adapts, increase in intensity and vary your workouts progressively.
The best way to go about it, is to schedule in advance your fitness routine and intentional break days so that it stays constant, ensuring you proper rest in between workouts.
I alternate my strength training (leg day, arm day, core day, rest day, cardio day, rest day) so that each muscle group gets a chance to rest for 2 days.
What to do on a rest day?
Photo by Pete Johnson
On your day off, you just do whatever you want!!! The goal is to relax and enjoy your life. You can sleep in, watch TV and take it easy. But keep in mind, that if you are sore, “active rest” is what is best for your body because too much inactivity makes your aching worse! A minimum of physical movement keeps your muscles from stiffening.
That doesn’t sound “relaxing” but on my days off, I do some home cleaning but I also give myself some extra care and love, rejuvenating my body and mind. I do my face/hair masks, take a bath, go shopping etc… You can stay active doing low-impact activities such as stretching, going for a swim, a gentle bike ride, a walk in nature or in town, spending some quality time with your family and friends.
What to eat on a rest day?
Photo by Sophy Chen
Nothing more satisfying than some good nutritious food on a recovery day! Though our body demands fewer calories since we are less active, we still need to make sure that our protein intake is sufficient enough to support the regeneration process.
To stay hydrated is crucial because water helps deliver the necessary nutrients and helps flush out the toxins from the muscles, preventing muscle cramps.
Complex carbs such as brown rice replenish our glycogen stores needed to fuel our workout.
Fruits and vegetables offer the nutrients and vitamins that are optimum for recovery.
Let’s not forget those yummy healthy fats (nuts, avocado, salmon) that are so good for the heart.
Don’t feel guilty about rest days!
Do not fall into the vicious belief that you must train everyday to see real results.
No pressure: I view rest days as a medical treatment and as a very smart habit. I am not lazy nor missing out on anything. It is the opposite, I have a higher chance to stay healthy and get stronger.
I hit each next workouts better concentrated, my moves are better coordinated and my performance is increased. I reap all the benefits!
What about you? Do you feel guilty when you don’t exercise? Tell me about your experience.
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