To some of you, the concept of a rest day from the gym is completely foreign and asinine, while some of you may be seasoned pros at taking them. Despite the importance of rest days, I’m still surprised at how many people I see who claim to be serious about their fitness but take “no days off” or roll their eyes at the thought of a deload week. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, my hope is that you either gain some insight from this blog about why we need rest days, or pick up some tips to refine the routine you already have.
First of all, why are rest days important?
Regardless of the type of training you do, it is crucial to give your body proper rest to fully recover from the strain you’ve put it through during training and repair your muscles and replenish energy stores. I personally find that 1-2 rest days per week works well for me, but the number of rest days you take should ultimately be dependent on your goals and the type of training you do. Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better when it comes to exercise, and recovery is just as important as the exercise itself. Taking rest days also prevents overtraining, injuries, and burnout from the gym.
I myself fell hard into the trap of overtraining for a long period of my life. I was running and/or lifting 7 days a week and was shocked at why I always seemed to be injured and why I was never seeing the physical or performance goals I was striving for. I am now much more educated than I was back then and am passionate about informing people on this topic and preventing the same issues I dealt with as a young, naive athlete. Below I have compiled some “dos and don’ts” for your rest days so that you can optimize your training and work in alignment with your goals.
Still move your body.
Yes! You can (and should) still move your body on rest days. A term I sometimes prefer instead of “rest day” is “active recovery day”. So while I don’t do my normal workouts on these days, I do focus on lighter impact movement, corrective exercises, and moving with intention. Use this time as an opportunity to move in a different way than your normal training. Take inventory of what your body needs and focus there. For example, if you’re used to high impact or high intensity training, use your active recovery days to slow down with yoga or a nice outdoor walk or spend time doing focused mobility that’s specific to your body or sport.
An important disclaimer: you should listen to your body above all else. If you are needing a total rest day with no movement, that is completely appropriate as well. 🙂
Visit your favorite chiropractor, PT, or massage therapist
Rest days are the perfect opportunity to pay a visit to the chiro or massage therapist for an adjustment, dry needling, cupping or any other bodywork to address problem areas or for preventative/wellness purposes.
Drink plenty of water
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but your body doesn’t just need lots of water on the days you workout. 😉 Water carries nutrients to your cells, flushes out toxins, helps regulate your body’s pH, and can improve muscle soreness and tension. Get those ounces in, people.
If your favorite thing to do is slap a big ol’ ice pack on a sore muscle or painful joint, I want you to stop doing that right now. There was a time when we all thought icing was the right thing to do for inflammation, pain, or soreness, but research has advanced and we now know that ice can actually be detrimental to the healing and recovery process. (For a deeper dive on that topic, click here). Instead, focus on a more active approach to recovery such as walking or stretching, or, if you are injured, seek help from a professional for a specific treatment plan.
Feel guilty or lazy
Let’s collectively agree to stop feeling guilty or lazy for giving our bodies what they need, ok? Taking a rest/active recovery day does NOT mean you are slacking or being lazy, even though your Apple watch might not show as many “calories burned” that day, or you might not break as much of a sweat as you do during your normal workouts. That is ok and actually a good thing, and your body will thank you for it.
Restrict your diet or under-eat
Piggy-backing off the last point, be careful to not fall into the mindset that because you didn’t do a hard workout, you have to restrict your food intake that day or under-eat. This is diet culture at its finest! Your body still needs all the yummy nutrients on rest days in order to rebuild your muscles and restore your energy supplies. Eat up.
If you’re a rest day newbie and need an example, I got you! Here’s how I like to structure my active recovery days:
I always start with a walk. I love to put a podcast in and set out for a nice stroll, preferably outside. The fresh air alone makes me feel like a new person. I walk as long or as short as I want, then I move into some sort of mobility. This usually is a combination of yoga, foam rolling, or rehab/corrective exercises. And then I end with some intentional core work—diaphragm breathing, dead bugs, TGUs, woodchoppers, plank taps, or whatever I feel like that day. Simple as that. 🙂 Feel free to use this example to structure yours, or come up with something entirely your own.
In conclusion, use your active recovery/rest days as an opportunity to move with intention rather than intensity, take inventory of how your body is feeling, reflect on that week’s training, and slow down a little. I promise you your brain, your body, and your performance will all thank you for it.
P.S. Keep an eye out for a part 2 coming soon where I’ll give you my full breakdown of my favorite at-home mobility tools as well as local places in town to support all your recovery needs.