Rest Days: Why They’re Key to Your Fitness Success
When you’re constantly on the go and seem to be making decent progress, it may be tempting to keep going without taking any rest days. But, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give yourself a break now and then. More is not necessarily better, even when it comes to working out. It’s important to include rest days in your weekly routine.
What is a Rest Day?
A rest day is a break from your regular workout routine that allows your body to recover and replenish. Your body needs to recover on several fronts, so including rest days should be considered an important part of your training program.
Physical Recovery Needs
Obviously, when you’re giving it your all, it takes a toll on your body. If you’re in the gym and following a decent program to build muscle, you’re tearing down those muscle fibers. Those fibers need time to heal, and that can take around 48 hours, or 2 days, to happen. Also, your neuromuscular pathways and central nervous system need downtime so you can function at peak levels during your next workout session.
Emotional/Mental Recovery Needs
Just like you need a weekend to recover from a work week, your body needs a break as well to recharge from all the exercise you put it through. So, to avoid feeling a drop in enthusiasm and keep motivation strong, it’s a great idea to get away from the gym now and then. This will help keep your desire to exercise strong and help you avoid burning out.
Benefits of Rest Days
Allowing your body to breathe and take a break can help your fitness success in several ways, such as:
1. Allow Your Muscle Tissue to Heal
When you engage in resistance training, you actually tear down the muscle fibers. These microscopic tears then need to heal over the next 24 – 48 hours, sometimes longer. This healing process is how you put on lean muscle tissue (how your muscles grow). The repeated tearing down and building back up of the muscle needs to be interspersed with proper time for rest and healing to get the most out of your training.
2. Replenish Your Glycogen Levels
When you exercise, your body uses fuel called glycogen. Glycogen is made from the foods you eat. Your body takes what you eat and breaks it down into a form of sugar (glucose). It then stores this energy for use during activities and workouts. When you have a tough workout, you tend to use up the glycogen that has been stored in your body, and this needs to be replenished, or you will run out of energy. Taking rest days allows you to restock the coffers and be ready to go again come workout time.
3. Keep Yourself From Overtraining
Overtraining occurs when your body needs rest, but you keep going. It can be tempting to want to push harder and do more when you feel weak or notice a plateau in your progress. But, this could be a signal from your body that it needs a break.
How do you know if you’re overtraining? You might notice some of the following issues developing:
- A lack of motivation—you used to enjoy your exercise but now it feels like a chore.
- Reduced energy levels—this may be real or imagined but either way, getting through your workouts seems harder than it has in the past.
- Problems sleeping—you may find yourself unable to get to sleep or stay asleep.
- Injuries and soreness—you may encounter excessive injuries and feel like you’re sore all the time and your muscles aren’t healing as they should.
- A lack of progress—you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your exercise program and have been stuck at the same weight or strength levels for quite a while.
When you are vigilant about including your rest days in your fitness program, you can likely avoid the above situations due to overtraining.
How to Properly Incorporate Rest Days into Your Workout Program
Now that you can see the importance of including rest days in your workout regimen, you may be curious as to how to include them for maximal impact and progression. First, take a look at your goals: are you trying to lose body fat? Training for a competition? Looking to get stronger? Just trying to maintain? All these goals will impact the amount and type of rest you need each week.
Cardio—if you’re doing mostly cardiovascular-type workouts, you may want to take one to three rest days a week, depending on the intensity of your training. For example, if you’re running every day, you may need more time off to rest since running is a high-impact activity. Conversely, if you’re on a walking program, you may just want to take one day off a week.
Weight Training—since you’re tearing down tissue and it needs time to rebuild itself, you’ll want to take about 48 hours off before you train the same muscle groups again. This allows the tissue to fully heal and be ready for the next bout of resistance training. Often, those following this type of program will have between two and three days of rest from weight training a week. And note, if your muscles still feel sore, you may need to give them another day to recharge.
When determining your rest days, you may also want to take into account your schedule, any life or social events that may be happening, and any illnesses or injuries you may be battling.
At the end of the day, it’s important to not feel guilty about taking your prescribed rest days! Resting doesn’t mean you have to be inactive. You can definitely engage in other activities than your normal exercise routine. But, be sure to rest any muscles that are sore. Oh, and by the way, your muscles don’t grow while you’re working them; they grow during your rest times. So, when done properly, rest days can contribute to your fitness success!