Throughout our lives, we are always told it’s important to stay active and to exercise regularly. But whether you are intensely training for a full marathon or just really trying to maintain good body weight, it is important to regulate the amount of exercise for your particular needs. Even if you are extra motivated to get into the gym, people make the common mistake of believing more is always better. When it comes to exercise “more is better” simply just isn't the case.
When you find yourself making really good progress in the gym, the last thing you might want to do is slow your roll and take a rest day. But as enticing as it may be to go all out and smash another PR, rest is a necessity and important for your gains. Rest isn’t some optional reward for the lazy and undedicated. Taking rest days are an essential part of your training, and if neglected, your body will pay the price sooner or later.
There isn't a successful fitness regimen out there that is complete without rest days. It’s arguably one of the most important components of your regimen. Proper rest and recovery are needed because exercise - most notably high-intensity exercise - creates large amounts of stress on your muscles. The stress comes from the depletion of energy stored in individual muscle cells and the physical damage to the structures of the muscle proteins. While the body experiences these stresses during exercise, it's during the recovery phase, where the body can repair the muscle proteins and replace the fuel used up in the workout.
This is why rest days are important. Your body needs sufficient time to repair and refuel, especially between significantly challenging, high-intensity workouts. More specifically, your muscles recover during the 24-48 hour period after training. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t work out every day, but it does mean you should space out your harder, more intense workouts with some low-intensity exercise. A good example would be to have two to three high-intensity workouts during a regular seven day week, spaced out with two to three moderate intensity and one to three low-intensity workouts. Of course, there will be weeks where you're feeling awesome and can push for 3 intense sessions a week, while there will also be weeks where you can really only handle 1 really hard one. Life will always vary for everyone so plan your workouts accordingly and listen to what your body is telling you. It is also important to note that if you're going through other stressful times at work or at home, it's best to dial down the workouts because too much stress on your body is never good.
When you are feeling stressed, burnt out, and having a tough time falling asleep even though you are physically exhausted are all signs of overtraining. This should demonstrate to you that you need to allow more rest in your workout routine. The misconception that taking a day off from strenuous physical activity makes you lazy just isn't true and is a harmful way to think. While it is important to be physically active most days of the week, it is just as important to schedule your body a break. So make sure to include at least one day of complete rest every seven to ten days.
If you’re still not convinced giving your body the rest it needs is crucial, here are some additional reasons why taking a rest day is important:
Rest Reduces your Risk of Injury
Every time you’re working out, you're creating microscopic tears in your muscles. These tears are what enable your body to adapt and become stronger. Fear not, these microscopic tears aren’t really the problem, they’re actually the whole point of working out. But when you over workout your body and keep it from getting the rest it deserves, those intentional micro-tears can easily become real, debilitating injuries that prevent you from working out for some time or even worse.
When your body is overworked, you’re also much more likely to fall out of form, take a wrong step, or just slip up. This combined with the overuse of the same muscles can lead to messed up rotator cuffs, tearing a tendon, or spraining an ankle.
There is even a condition called OTS or Overtraining Syndrome which results in the damage to your body’s central nervous system due to training too hard without resting enough. Some common symptoms of OTS are depression, insomnia, and lower immunity to name a few. Studies show that athletes that train too much actually show a significant decrease in overall performance. Severe cases of Overtraining Syndrome will wither away all the strength and conditioning you’ve worked so hard to build up.
To avoid this, be sure to get the most out of your time and make sure you get enough rest for your body to strengthen. It's a proven way to reduce your risk of injury.
Rest Boosts Your Morale and Keeps You Motivated
Arguably one of the most important things in any fitness routine is consistency. While it's all good to hit the gym like you’re fighting for your life if you can’t maintain that level of intensity for a significant amount of time it won’t be worth anything.
Reliable and steady progress is made by consistently moving in the right direction in a controlled way, one step at a time. Going really hard for a little while doesn’t really help if you take month-long gaps in between. While it may not feel as exciting, slow, and steady is the way to go especially if you want fitness as a part of your lifestyle.
Losing morale is dangerous if you are seriously considering leading a fitness lifestyle. One of the easiest ways to lose your motivation is overtraining to the point where you dread and despise each workout all while not giving enough time for your body to recover. This is a mistake beginners often make.
When you overtrain your body to the point of breakdown, not only will you be physically unable to train for a while, but it will directly impact your motivation and mood as well. Being unable to train can bring with it feelings of frustration and hopelessness, which are fitness routine killers. While it is great to be hungry for the gym, being too eager could backfire when it comes to training. If you’re new or just getting back into it, a good suggestion is to ease into it by limiting your visits to 2 to 3 times a week. Once your body gets acclimated you can start gradually building it up with more visits.
Rest is When Your Muscles are Built, Not When Training
It’s the age-old saying that gains aren't made in the gym, but are built in the kitchen and the bedroom. There’s a reason this saying and others like it have been spread throughout fitness bloggers and personal trainers around the globe - it’s true. Hitting the gym is just the very beginning of the muscle-building process. It may seem a little weird and counterproductive not to be using your muscles for them to grow, but rest is the important stage in the muscle growth cycle where your tissue breaks down so it can adapt to the new stress it has been put under. Rest is the opportunity it has been waiting for in order to grow back bigger and stronger than before.
For your muscles to get the most out of their “growth” phase, they need the proper amount of nutrition and sufficient rest for the recovery to occur. It should be noted that a major part of this recovery happens when we are sleeping. Studies show that the hormone responsible for muscle growth spikes up dramatically when we are in a deep sleep.
It’s for this reason why you’ll see people who are serious about gains change up what muscle group they hit if they are working out two days in a row. It allows the previous muscle group enough time to rest and doesn’t strain them any more than they already have been.
When Should You Take a Rest Day?
This is the tricky one to answer as you don’t want to train too much, but you also want to maximize your gains. And the answer really is that it varies from person to person. How much rest you need is largely dependent on the individual that needs rest. You can really go on how you feel at any given time and should really take into consideration what your body is telling you.
A general and accepted rule of thumb is that you should take a rest day after each day of intense training and to get plenty of sleep on those days. It doesn't mean that you should lounge around doing nothing all day. It means you should do something that is active, low-intensity, and most importantly something you enjoy.
For more intense full-body workouts, athletes use Workout clothes and usually workout 3 days a week, taking a rest day in between each. This is a common formula you will see with powerlifters. Another routine for those who want to stay more active is to train up to five days in a row, with each day hyper-focused on a different muscle group. Weekends would be rest days so your body can recover. You can also move the rest days in between your workout days however you see fit. An example would be Chest/Tri, Back/Bi, Rest, Shoulders, Legs, Arms, Rest.
Ultimately it is up to you on how you want to schedule your workouts, but be sure to include your rest. Think of it as part of your routine and it becomes a little easier. Not everyone loves to hit leg day but they do it because they know it is important. Think the same of your rest days and you might start feeling better and hopefully see some improvement.