Do you have to flip back through the pages of your calendar to remember when you last took a day off from exercise? Such motivation and commitment are admirable, but rest days are an important element of any workout program. Just as you shouldn’t train the same muscle groups heavy two days in a row to avoid overtraining them, it’s not a good idea to go weeks without giving your entire body a rest. Here are five reasons why a weekly rest day is important.
A Rest Day Can Make Your Exercise Days More Productive
A weekly rest day gives your body a chance to replenish glycogen stores you’ve depleted over 7 days of strenuous exercise. Without a day off, you run the risk of fatigue, which can affect your performance. Even if you drag yourself to the gym when you’re tired, you may not give it your full effort. After you’ve had a full day off, you’ll approach exercise with fresh energy and motivation and get more out of your workout. Remember, rest is the time when adaptation to exercise takes place. Your muscles are still growing and adapting even when you’re relaxing.
It Can Depress Your Immune System
When you don’t give your body an opportunity to rest at least once a week, you may end up overtraining. Overtraining cause levels of stress hormones like cortisol to rise. This depresses your immune system and increases your risk for colds and viruses. An example? It’s common for marathon runners to get a cold after a race due to the long hours of training without sufficient rest. In addition, higher levels of cortisol make it harder to build lean body mass. To avoid this, get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, and take at least one full day off from exercise each week.
You need a break from exercise from a mental standpoint too. When you work out every day, especially if you aren’t varying your workouts, psychological staleness sets in. This usually comes from a combination of physical and mental fatigue. The best way to recover is to take some downtime. Use that time to explore ways to add variety to your workout. Get a new set of exercise DVDs, add new exercises to your routine, take your workout outdoors or set new goals. Don’t keep doing the same thing without varying your workout or taking a rest day.
It Reduces the Risk of Injury
When you train daily without giving yourself downtime, you increase your risk for overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are particularly common among runners who run every day. Even if you’re careful to cross-train, your muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints still need time to recover. Overuse can lead to stress fractures that could require weeks of rest.
You Won’t Lose the Benefits You’ve Worked So Hard to Achieve
Some people feel guilty when they take even a single day off from exercise. Don’t sweat it. You won’t lose your fitness gains even if you take several days in a row off. In fact, you won’t see a noticeable loss in strength or endurance until you’ve been a couch potato for at least 2 weeks. In one study, men who lifted heavy weights lost only 12% of their muscle strength after 14 days of inactivity. Even if you took 2 weeks off, you’d regain this strength quickly because your muscles have a certain amount of “memory” and ability to snap back.
A Rest Day Doesn’t Mean You Have to Sit on the Couch
It’s okay to keep moving on a rest day, but don’t do exercise that requires focus or intensity. Take the dog for a walk, play Frisbee or miniature golf, bowl or take a leisurely bike ride. Choose something you enjoy to give your mind a break too. You’ll come back to your workout more motivated and stronger than ever.
Brit. J. Sports Med. Vol. 21, N0.3, September 1987.
Exercise Physiology. Fifth edition. 2001.