Sure, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get that workout in, and you might even feel guilty when you don’t go do it. But, when rest day rolls around, instead of waking up an hour earlier to go for a run you wake up and feel kind of lazy because you haven’t done any exercise. Then, you go to work and you feel even more sluggish when you realize you don’t have to go to the gym after work either. We get this feeling that we aren’t in as good of shape and that we should go workout. Rest day may be easy on the body, but it is hard on the mind.
It is a common misconception that if we workout seven days a week for a number of months, we will progress more than if we workout five days a week for that same number of months. Quantitatively, it makes sense; we burning more calories. What this doesn’t account for is quality. What state will your body be in after months without a rest day? What will the quality of your workouts be like if you don’t rest your body? – The answer to both of these: not too great.
So are these rest days so important?
- If you don’t rest, you are far more likely to incur an overuse injury (ie: shin splints, muscle tears and strains, tendonitis, etc).
- Your muscles need more sleep than you do. When we workout we tear our muscles. When our muscles repair, they get stronger. We’d like to think that our muscles can repair these torn fibers overnight, but it often takes several days for the muscle to repair.
- Prevent burnout. How do you feel after exercising for multiple days in a row? I used to run 5 days in a row. By the 5th day I would feel like crap. I would wake up and not want to get out of bed. Whereas after two days of rest my first two or three runs would be amazing.
- Give your immune system a rest. Repairing muscles is not an easy job. Your body is doing one more task on top of trying to fight off everything else to keep you healthy, but if it doesn’t get a rest too, you are looking at injury or illness.
- Your muscles are torn in the gym, nourished in the kitchen, and built in bed. Your muscles don’t get bigger when you go to the gym, they actually grow when you are resting.
- Over training can actually cause a weight loss plateau! Yeah! That’s right. Training too much can actually have the opposite effect of what you want and the weight gain won’t be muscle mass!
So right now rest days are looking pretty good. But do you really have to sit on your butt all day while your muscles repair? – Nope!
Rest day just means you don’t do any sort of strenuous activity. If you’re a weight lifter then instead of hitting the gym, clean the house. If you’re a dancer, instead of hitting the bar, go for a walk. If you’re a runner, instead of hitting the pavement, try some yoga. Rest days don’t mean you can’t be active. Yes, if you just want to sleep all day, that is fine. Rest days are about taking time to let your body heal.
Okay, that makes sense. But how many of these things do I have to do? – Well this all depends. Some people take 4 a week, other’s do one. It varies based on what you do and a whole bunch of other physiological factors. Listen to your body and watch for these signs:
- Everything is always sore? Rest.
- You are always tired or moody? Rest.
- Your urine is too dark? Rest.
- You didn’t sleep well? Rest.
- You’re sick? Rest.
- You didn’t have a good workout? Rest.
- Your resting heart rate is elevated? Rest.
We have this notion that we can’t be human, that we must be bigger and greater; that rest is for the weak. This isn’t true. When it comes to rest day, put all of those voices out of your head. You aren’t losing your progress, you aren’t being lazy, you are helping your body.
Rest might be the hardest, but it is the most important. Take some rest. Repair. Recover. Get Stronger.