When you have a fitness goal in mind, you might feel tempted to workout everyday. While this might sound like a good idea, it actually can work against you and your goals — leading to burnout and increasing your risk of injury.
A rest day is essential to avoid overtraining and to allow time for your body to adequately build muscle and recover. This way, you can come back stronger and perform your best at your next session. But how often should you take a rest day? What does a rest day mean exactly? And when do you know one is necessary? In this article, we’re going to explore all of this, helping you determine when a rest day is the right thing to do.
What is a Rest Day?
A rest day is taking intentional time off from your regular workout routine. However, this doesn’t mean you should spend the day immobilized on the couch. In fact, this can actually worsen muscle soreness, including DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
Research indicates that a rest day can include active recovery, such as stretching, cryotherapy, massage, and more, helping alleviate sore muscles, improve blood flow, and enhance recovery. Overall, a rest day is an essential piece of any balanced workout routine. It allows time for your body to de-stress and recoup.
When Should You Take a Rest Day?
Now, the hard part: When should you actually take a rest day?
Usually, if you’ve found your progression has slowed or you have constant muscle soreness, this is a clear sign your body needs a rest day. This recovery day can soothe your nervous system, as well as prevent an influx of cortisol.
Too much exercise without adequate recovery time can quickly result in too much stress on the body. While some stress is good, too much stress (and cortisol!) is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and ill health.
So, what are some of the common signs you should give your body time to rest? What are some symptoms of overtraining?
- You’re sore and not recovering fully.
- Your mental health has declined or you’ve become more irritable.
- Your sleep is disrupted.
- You no longer look forward to your fitness routine.
- Your regular exercise routine feels harder than usual.
- Your heart rate is raised and hasn’t come back down.
- You regularly perform high-intensity interval training or workouts.
- You constantly feel fatigued or like your energy stores are low.
By now, maybe you’re thinking a rest day is a good idea. Below, we dive into what your rest day might include.
How to Take a Rest Day: Tips & Tricks
As previously mentioned, a rest day doesn’t necessarily mean taking time off from movement completely. Active rest, such as performing low-intensity cardio or gentle stretching, is an excellent way to counterbalance an intense strength training routine.
On the other hand, rest days might mean simply working out a different muscle group so that your muscle tissue has time to recover. For example, you might work out your upper body one day and your lower body the next day, depending on your fitness level.
For more intense workouts, such as HIIT, low-impact rest days, involving gentle yoga or foam rolling, might be more adequate to balance out the intense exercise performed the previous day. When it comes to intense exercise, such as HIIT, working out back-to-back days can quickly lead to overuse injuries, which often means you spend more time on the sidelines as opposed to making progress toward your goals.
So, what else should you do on your rest day? Here are a few tips:
- Perform light cardio. Walking or cycling can help flush out exercise byproducts, such as lactic acid, and prevent muscle stiffness and soreness.
- Load up on carbohydrates and protein. Your body requires protein for muscle synthesis and muscle repair. And for muscle synthesis, your body also needs energy in the form of carbohydrates. The muscle tissue actually stores glycogen for energy. Yet, working out depletes this. Thus, carbs help fuel protein synthesis and also feed into those essential glycogen stores.
- For weight loss, regular rest days prevent cortisol from getting too high, which can actually deter your weight loss progress. Thus, rest days might be even more important for those trying to lose weight.
- Hydrate! Keeping hydrated can help prevent dreaded muscle cramps, as well as help improve blood circulation and delivery of nutrients to where they are needed.
- Try yoga. Yoga targets your flexibility and range of motion, which can be beneficial especially when muscles are tight.
- If you’re a beginner, you may require more rest days for adequate recovery. Using progressive overload, you can slowly increase the frequency of your workouts once exercises start to become easier and you notice you are no longer sore post-workout.
- Use a foam roller or other active recovery tool, such as a lacrosse ball, floss, compression tights, massage, cryotherapy, or compression boots.
- Stretch! If you performed an intense strength training workout, stretching is the way to go. This elongates the muscle (counterbalancing muscle contractions in strength training), which can help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.
- Always warm-up and cooldown properly before and after your workout to prevent injuries and muscle soreness and to accelerate your recovery time.
Did You Know?
- A rest day allows time for your body to repair small micro-tears in your muscle tissue caused by the mechanical stress of exercise. When repairing your muscles, your body lays down new lean muscle tissue — helping you make those muscle gains you want.
When Should You Speak With a Personal Trainer?
If you’re new to physical activity, a personal trainer can help set you on the right track when it comes to the right routine for you, including when you should take rest days. They can also help you recognize signs of overtraining, helping you properly plan your next workout and achieve your goals effectively and efficiently.
Rest Days Matter!
At the end of the day, rest days are just as crucial as your workout. On top of this, what you do on your rest day is just as important. Ensure you pay proper attention to your diet and perform activities that guide your body toward recovery and a better performance!