Rest days – they’re a must, regardless of the type of workout you do. A rest day is a day you either skip exercising entirely or do a very light workout. The goal, of course, is to give your muscles a chance to recuperate, but also your mind a respite.
Yes, rest days are important. After you’ve worked a long week at work, you need a weekend where you don’t have to work a structured job, right? It’s the same with exercise. Without rest days, you can lose some of your motivation to give your workouts everything you’ve got. We also know that muscles adapt, repair, and grow during rest periods. A less structured rest day gives your muscles more time to do this. Think of it as a reboot for your mind and body. Yet, some people get the concept of rest wrong. Here are some of the more common mistakes people make with exercise downtime.
Mistake #1: Being Totally Lazy on a Rest Day
Rest days are about relaxation and recovery. But, that doesn’t mean you should just plop down on the couch and stop moving. That can actually be counterproductive. We know that sitting time is detrimental and lying around on a day off can make you feel sluggish. You might get SO out of the loop after a lazy day that it’s hard to get back into a routine. Plus, if you’re accustomed to the feel-good effects of the endorphins that go with a workout, your mood might suffer as well.
Science says you should move a little too. According to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, athletes who do little physical activity on rest days, such as light cycling or jogging, recover better. So, think about doing some light movement. A rest day is a good time to take a nature walk, cycle around the neighborhood, stretch, or do a light yoga routine. Choose an activity you enjoy and don’t routinely do and keep it low intensity.
Mistake #2: Turning Rest Days into Cheat Days
On days that you work out, you’re probably more focused on your diet. You choose more nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods because you know that’s what you need to change your physique. On a rest day though, you’re likely less attentive to how and what you eat. Sometimes, rest days turn into cheat days as well. The combination of the two can strike a double whammy on your energy balance. Take in an extra 500 calories in and burn 500 fewer every rest day and your progress will soon stall, and you’ll gain body fat. Don’t let your eating habits fall apart on a rest day. If anything, you should be eating more mindfully since you’re not working out.
Mistake #3: You’re Not Taking Enough of Them
Some people hesitate to take a rest day at all. The mentality that we should strive to always push harder is pervasive in the fitness world, but don’t fall victim to it. The more vigorously you train, the more important rest days are. It’s rest days that help you avoid overtraining and allow you to push yourself harder on the days you do train. Remember, driving yourself hard without breaks can adversely impact your immune system and lead to excessive fatigue. It can also zap your motivation. So, push when you’re training but balance it out with adequate rest.
Mistake #4: Taking Too Many Rest Days
You can also go to the other extreme and take TOO many rest days. Consistency is critical to workout success and consistency means choosing a reasonable number of rest days and sticking with it. What you don’t want to do is take unplanned rest days too often. Workouts should become so ingrained that they’re part of your schedule and you do them without thinking about it. A rest day is a reward for having completed a certain number of workouts. Of course, if you really are sick or under the weather, a rest day might be the best option, but don’t make rest days so frequent that you no longer have a consistent schedule.
How many rest days do you need? That depends on how hard you work out. Remember, as individuals, we each have a different threshold for stress and fatigue. That’s where listening to your body and keeping a training journal can help. Use it to document workouts and how you feel before and afterward. At the least, take at least one rest day per week, but if you do lots of high-intensity workouts and heavy weight training, two might be better. Regardless, you shouldn’t do back-to-back strength training of the same muscles groups or do a HIIT routine two days in a row. Give yourself at least 48 hours of recovery between intense training sessions.
Mistake #5: Not Listening to Your Body
Don’t make unplanned rest days routine, but, if your body is screaming for rest and you know you aren’t capable of giving a training session your best, a day of rest is better than doing a sloppy, sub-par workout or exercising when you’re exhausted. So, listen to your body and what it’s telling you. You can also modify a workout to meet your body’s demands. On an off day, lighten up on the resistance, change the type of workout or shorten the length of your exercise session.
The Bottom Line
You need rest days, regardless of your fitness level, and the harder and more often you work out, the more important a relaxation day is. Vigorous exercise is taxing to your muscles and your nervous system. That’s why both your body and brain need a rest. Don’t plop down in an easy chair and do nothing on a rest day, but make sure the activities you do are lower in intensity and enjoyable.
Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient. Jonathan N. Mike, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
American College of Sports Medicine. “Basic Injury Prevention Concepts”