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Strength and power are gained when the body is at rest. After putting the body under high amounts of stress by lifting weights, pounding the pavement, or cranking out burpees, optimal progress is made during the body’s recovery time. Many avid exercisers think of recovery days as being lazy or having to be completely still. While stillness can definitely be beneficial at times, ACE Fitness defines a rest day as “any non-training day—a day where you remove the challenge of hard exercise.”
Why do I need rest days?
Recovering from a workout is just as important as the workout itself for a variety of reasons. The physical stress of exercise breaks down the muscle fibers (think microtears); it depletes crucial nutrients that are needed to help repair those worked muscles; and it stresses the central nervous system, which is what controls the most basic bodily processes. The recovery period starts the moment the workout ends, but a full, quality rest day allows the body time to:
- Refuel and properly restore energy sources in the muscles to prepare for your next hard work out.
- Repair the torn muscle fibers which help them to grow stronger.
- Rehydrate and restore lost electrolytes.
- Get better sleep by preventing overtraining. Deep sleep produces growth hormones that help the body heal and repair itself.
- Remove toxins and byproducts that cause soreness in the muscles.
- Increase blood circulation throughout the body to deliver the necessary nutrients for muscle tissues to recover.
- Experience self-care and stillness that improves emotional and physical health.
What happens if I don’t rest?
Without rest days, your body may experience signs of overtraining and ultimately make you feel burnt out.
Your muscles may not see the gains you think they should if you don’t give them enough time to recover.
If you experience any of the signs or symptoms below, you most likely need a couple of rest days:
- Frequent injuries
- Muscle pain or soreness that lasts several days
- Trouble sleeping even though you feel exhausted
- Poor immunity causing frequent illness
- Irritability and mood swings
- Low motivation and productivity
- Mental fatigue and trouble concentrating
- Inability to manage or handle stress
- Decreased desire to do things you enjoy including your workout
How often do I need to rest?
Listen to your body and decide when you need to take a rest day based on exercise type and intensity, age, and training experience. The greater the intensity or higher impact of the exercise, typically the more rest the body needs. Understand your exercise threshold as to not push yourself so hard that you’re left crawling on the floor for the next five days. A proper workout usually needs 1-2 days of recovery with at least one rest day before working the same muscle group(s) again. If you’re still sore after two days, you may want to rethink your workout and/or recovery plan.
Read more about the importance of rest days below and get started with planning your recovery with the actionable steps.
Read the longer version
To learn more, read these articles reviewed by our professionals: 8 Reasons to Take a Rest Day by ACE Fitness, Rest Days: Benefits and Why Skipping Could Sabotage Your Fitness Goals by the certified trainers at Woman’s Health, Exercise and Rest: How Much Rest You Really Need by ACE Fitness, and Why Rest Days Are Just as Important as Working Out by The Active Times.
Plan your rest days
Depending on the demands of your work, social, and exercise routines, you might do better with scheduled rest days. If you’re more of a recreational exerciser, you might be able to go with the flow and take rest days when your body tells you. You do you!
Recognize the signs of overtraining
…and make sure you listen to any signs that come up. Adjust your rest days accordingly. Everyone’s body reacts to stress differently, so individualize your training plan.
Keep it simple
You can do low-impact movements like light stretching, gentle yoga, or go for a casual walk. Foster your mental health by letting your mind relax for the day. Give those deep muscle tissues a little extra TLC. Learn more about how to have a quality rest day with these tips by ACE Fitness.
Refuel and rehydrate
Continue eating well-balanced meals with quality protein and replenish lost fluids throughout the day.
Got some extra time during your rest day? Spend that quality time with friends or family, learn a new hobby or skill, catch up on a great book, or do some light house chores. Read more on how to be productive here.
About the Author
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)
Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
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