It's true that in order to reach your fitness goals you need to eat healthy and train hard. Those are the two main things most focus on, but focusing on only those two leaves other important things behind that can have a negative impact on your results. Deep sleep and managing stress levels impact your results, but so does not getting enough rest, or more specifically, rest days.
However, most athletes, bodybuilders, and avid gym-goers understand that rest days are essential for good training performance, yet they often still feel too guilty to schedule one into their routine! Don't be one of those people that believes more is always better because when it comes to exercise (especially intense workouts) that's not the case.
But why are rest days soooo important? How do you know when you need one? And what can you do to make your rest day an effective one? These are all very important questions that we plan on answering for you. So, continue reading to discover why taking a day off can actually help you achieve your muscle-building and weight loss goals!
Benefits of rest days
Putting your body through challenging, high-intensity workouts is a great way to drive results, but your body also needs sufficient time to repair and refuel between those intense workouts. This doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't be training every day, but you should either space out your high-intensity workouts or have a proper training split to ensure that your muscles are getting enough rest to recover properly. Another way to ensure that you're giving your body sufficient time to repair and refuel is by implementing rest days into your exercise program.
The best way to answer why rest days are important is by looking at the benefits – Here are four main reasons why you should consider taking a recovery day from your training:
Not taking enough recovery time can lead to overtraining syndrome (OTS). This condition occurs when repeated stress is done to your body's nervous system by intense training sessions with not enough proper rest. Overtraining syndrome is more than just burnout, it can actually reduce your gains, increase body fat, affect your mood and mental health, and even raise your risk of dehydration.  Overtraining syndrome affects more people than you think! Roughly 60% of athletes and 30% of non-elite endurance athletes suffer from OTS, and it's quite difficult to recover from. So, to avoid that, take adequate time to recover!
Promotes better muscle recovery and muscle growth
Weight training or any high-intensity training depletes your body's energy stores, aka muscle glycogen. It also creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissue and causes it to break down. Essentially, exercise is when you break down your muscle and recovery is when the muscle-building magic happens!
During rest, your body begins to repair the tissue to help it heal and grow thus resulting in stronger, bigger muscles. Not allowing your body sufficient time to rest will lead to your body breaking down from intense exercise, potentially lead to OTS, reduce your exercise performance, and increase soreness.
Improves training performance
Not getting enough rest will make it harder for you to challenge yourself or even do your regular workout routine. You'll be too tired to push yourself to do an extra rep because the targeted muscle group is too fatigued from not having proper rest. For those who do cardio, you might not be able to push through that extra mile or extra 10 minutes of your workout. And pushing yourself through that one extra rep or those last 10 minutes is crucial for effective results. Even if you manage to push yourself, overtraining still impacts your performance! It can reduce your endurance, decrease your reaction times, and result in poor agility.
On the other hand, taking an adequate amount of rest can produce the opposite effects – increased energy and prevents muscle fatigue to help prepare your body for your next training sesh.
Reduces risk of injury
Overtraining can put too much stress on the body, and there's only so much it can take! Eventually, your body will break down and increase your risk of an overuse injury which will then force you to take more rest days than you originally wanted to. Overworking your body can also lead to you neglecting good exercise form, dropping weight, or losing your balance thus increasing your risk of injury even further.
They allow time for relaxation
Taking a rest day not only gives your body a break but also your mind. Constantly exercising can negatively impact your mental health, increase your cortisol levels (stress hormone), and even negatively affect your immune system. So, besides getting better results, taking a rest day can help balance other aspects of your life – and living a healthy lifestyle is all about balance! So, give yourself a rest day and let your body fully recover while you tend to other important areas in your life.
What is the optimal amount of rest days per week?
As you can see, rest days not only impact your training, but also other factors in your life. This is why it's so important to have regular rest days implemented into your exercise program. But, how many should you take? It depends on a few things... The type, frequency, and intensity of your workouts.
Those strength training can take just one rest day a week. This is because strength training routines typically have training splits implemented, meaning one day you work your lower body, and the next you hit an upper body muscle group. This allows you to work on one muscle group intensively while the other is recovering.
For those who are running or mainly focus on cardio to train for endurance, then it's suggested to double the amount of rest, and have about two rest days a week. High-intensity cardio tends to lean towards being more high-impact, like running or HIIT. This type of cardio adds a ton of stress to your joints and muscles, so they need more time to recover. Neglecting to recover properly will lead to joint pain, strain, or injury. With that being said, aim to have a rest period of at least 24-48 hours between high-intensity cardio sessions, and focus on other low to moderate-intensity exercises in between those sessions.
Signs you need a rest day
Despite the guidelines above, you should listen to your body. Rest days are meant to be taken when you feel you need them. So, if you're still not sure when exactly to take a rest day during the week, here are a few signs that might mean you need a day off from the gym:
- Unexplained decrease in performance.
- Constant muscle aches, pains, and soreness.
- Difficulty waking up and falling asleep
- Decrease in concentration
- Higher levels of stress than usual
Keep in mind that there may be outside factors in your life that can be the culprit of these symptoms. Regardless, if you're feeling overstressed and overworked, take a moment to reflect on whether a workout is going to help make you feel better or worse.
What should you do on rest days?
Many struggle with the idea of rest days because most think it means taking a day off from your usual routine, but that's not always the case. There are two types of recovery – passive and active. Passive recovery means taking an entire day off from physical activity. Active recovery involves engaging in low-intensity exercise or activity that places very little stress on the body. Listen to your body to help you determine what type of recovery day you should take.
If you're feeling super overworked, have a lot of soreness, or experience any of the signs mentioned above then take a passive rest day. This doesn't mean you have a cheat day and go off the rails, instead, focus on eating nutritious foods that make you feel good, practice self-care, and get plenty of good rest.
If you want to take a rest day, but you're naturally active and want some type of movement then take an active rest day. Stick to low-impact exercise like yoga, stretching, or going on a leisure walk outdoors. Foam rolling is another great way to spend your day off, this will help reduce the lactic acid build-up in your muscles and prep you for your workout the next day. The key is to stick to low-intensity, low-impact activity that way your body is still working to repair soft tissue.
In summary, rest days are more than important, they're crucial to your fitness routine. Rest gives your body time to recover and repair from your intense training, it helps promote better muscle growth, improves your performance, reduces your risk of injury, and gives you time to relax. Remember, a healthy life is a balanced one. So, to improve your wellness and help you avoid hitting a workout plateau listen to your body and take a rest day or two when you need them!