woman running on beach for rest day

Why Rest Days Are Important

by Evelyn Valdez

It can be easy to get carried away and push your limits when trying to achieve your fitness goals. After all, more is better right? Well not necessarily. We should train and strive to make progress, but there's one thing you're doing that might be slowing down that progress.... Not resting enough.

Many athletes know that enough rest is essential to continue performing and making progress. But, somehow they still overtrain because of the guilt they feel for taking a day off. Even beginners can get wrapped up into working out every day once they start seeing results, but those results can begin to slow down and eventually lead to a workout plateau. If you're one of those people, stop feeling guilty for taking a rest day - Your body and muscles need recovery time.

If resting is not your thing or you don't even know what to do on rest days, then this one's for you! We're here to tell you why exactly rest is important in order to achieve your fitness goals, plus a few tips on what to do on your rest day so you're still being productive and not just bored at home!

Are rest days important?

If you don't know by now, YES! They are actually just as important as your intense training days. Recovery time is needed in any type of exercise program to prevent overtraining and from your body breaking down from intense exercise. 

Here are a few reasons why they are so important....

  • To build muscle

Weight training is the first step to muscle building. The real magic happens during recovery. Exercise causes physical stress in our bodies, your muscles need time to adapt and recover from that stress in order to see results. During that rest, your body breaks down muscle tissue so it can adapt to the new straining exercise and grow back stronger.

You should already know that getting plenty of adequate rest, 6-8 hours a night, is important for your health. In case you need further proof, studies show that the growth hormone spikes dramatically during sleep. This causes a majority of the muscle recovery and growth happens during sleep! [1]

  • Improves performance

Not getting proper rest can intervene with your training performance. It's easy to get caught up at the beginning of your fitness journey. You're motivated, having intense training sessions with almost no breaks... It's great, for a few days. Until you hit the wall of overtraining. At that point you are burnt out to the point that you are physically unable to train and your motivation is completely gone. Leading you probably skip the gym for a few days or even weeks! So all those consistent tough workouts you did go to waste because you are unable to maintain that consistency. 

Rest has the opposite effects. It increases your energy to prepare your body for consistent intense workouts. When starting your fitness journey, think of progress as long-term. It's important to maintain a consistent workout schedule with adequate amounts of rest in between so your body and mind recover. 

  • Prevents injury

No matter what intense workout you do - HIIT, lifting weights, running - you will be creating microscopic tears in your muscles. That might sound scary, but it's not. It's what enables your body to adapt to get stronger and more resilient to training. But if you overtrain, those tears can turn into real injuries.

Overtraining puts a repetitive stress on your muscles which increases your risk of overuse injuries. This will put a halt on your goals and force you to take more rest days than planned. Fortunately, you can feel those injuries rather quickly and take the right steps to recover in a short period of time. But there is one that is harder to detect... Overtraining Syndrome, also known as OTS. This condition refers to the stress done to your body's central nervous system by all the hard training without an adequate amount of rest. In severe cases, it will diminish the gains you made, make your immune system suffer, and have a negative effect on your mood. [2]

Injuries can force you to take more rest than intended. It can be a few days, weeks, even months (severe cases)! So give your body and mind enough time to recover so you can continue making progress and crushing your workouts.

How often should you schedule a rest day

We recommend having at least one full rest day each week. You may need more though depending on what type of training you do and how intense it is. 

Here's a general guideline for different workout regimes:

  • Cardio 

 Rest days aren't necessary for light cardio (unless it is recommended by your doctor). Those doing high intensity cardio like HIIT should incorporate rest days every 3-5 days, and should have a rest period of 24-48 hours in between high-intensity sessions. Our suggestion is to incorporate one full rest day, and have 1-2 active rest days when needed. So in the days between your intense cardio session, do a low-impact workout. Like walking, a core workout, a yoga stretch session, lift weights, etc. Something light that isn't going to interfere with your next workout. 

  • Strength training 

The great thing about strength training is that you can incorporate rest days by rotating the muscle being trained. This is known as a workout split. After exercising a specific muscle group, let it rest for one or two days. But in those one to two days you can focus on another muscle group. For example, Monday can be a lower body day, then Tuesday focuses on another muscle group like back and biceps. This gives your muscles a chance to repair and allows you to target every muscle group to keep your body balanced. 

But this doesn't mean you should workout every day, still incorporate one full rest day.

  • Running

Yes, running is considered cardio, but the approach to rest days is different. That's because too much running causes a lot of stress on your joints, and can lead to fatigue and overuse injuries. 

Start by only running 3 days a week. Incorporate other workouts in between those days, primarily focusing on muscles that you don't work on when running. Do a full body stretch, do an upper body or core workout. If you run everyday, try to incorporate at least one full rest day. 

This is just a guideline to help you gage how many rest days you should take. The best way to gage when you need rest is by listening to your body.

Signs you need rest

Listen to your body, if you notice any of these signs then it might be time for a break:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Motivation is decreasing
  • Persistent sore muscles
  • Muscle or joint pain that doesn't go away
  • Feeling more irritable
  • Reduced performance

Most of these are signs of someone that is overworked from juggling all of life's responsibilities. It can be hard to distinguish whether your body needs rest or your mind. But if you're finding it hard to concentrate while working out, have sore muscles all the time, or just not having as good of a workout as usual then it's time for you to take a full rest day.

What to do on your rest day

Here are a few things you can do to have a productive rest day that will still help you achieve your goals:

  • Eat for your goals - Still keep your nutrition in mind when you rest. You don't want to just eat snacks all day and watch TV, that's just counterproductive. Enjoy your time off, but make sure you're still feeding your body the nutrients you need to build muscle or lose weight. So eat an adequate amount of protein, eat complex carbs to help replace glycogen levels, and drink plenty of water! 
  • Have an active rest day - It's not necessarily bad to workout every day. So if you feel like your body doesn't need a full rest day then try active recovery. That means just doing a low-intensity workout like walking, swimming, stretching, yoga, foam rolling, etc. 
  • Spend time with your loved ones - Take full advantage of resting by hanging out with your loved ones! Use that hour or two that you usually use for working out to hangout with your family or friends. You can even incorporate a physical activity like playing a sport or hiking if you still want to be somewhat active. 

The bottom line is, recovery days are crucial. Rest helps repair and build muscles, help increase performance, and prevent fatigue. Most importantly, they help you get closer to achieving your fitness goals! So remember to listen to your body and rest when you need it to have fitness success!


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