Regular exercisers are always on a quest for the perfect workout routine: one that is enjoyable, gives you the results you want and leaves you feeling full of energy and ready to take on the world. While we often focus primarily on a cardio and strength-training plan, there is another important component to your exercise program that is often overlooked, despite its many benefits. This missing puzzle piece has the power to improve the quality of your workouts, to improve your fitness level and help you feel better. What is this secret ingredient? Believe it or not, it’s proper rest.|
Exercise is good for the body, of course, but more isn’t always better. Intense, daily workouts can lead to symptoms of overtraining, which include decreased performance, insomnia, lack of energy and more. Rest days are a key component of a well-balanced exercise program, not an excuse to be lazy.
Exercise, strength training especially, creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. Rest days give that tissue time to repair and rebuild. Tissue becomes stronger during this rebuilding process, which is how you see gains in strength. Without rest, muscle tissue continues to break down and does not rebuild as effectively.
What Does “Rest” Really Mean?
Does taking a rest day mean you should sit at home noshing on bonbons like a couch potato? Find ways to incorporate movement into your rest days by taking the stairs, walking around the grocery store and doing other daily activities.
If a day without exercise just isn’t for you, consider taking an active recovery day. Light activity (also known as active recovery) keeps the blood flowing, which helps with muscle tissue repair and reduces muscle soreness. Instead of running several miles seven days in a row, try spending a day taking a walk, enjoying a relaxing yoga routine or taking a leisurely bike ride. Active recovery also helps you stay consistent in a regular routine, making you less likely to allow one day off to lead to another, then another.
How Much Do You Need?
It’s important to balance getting enough rest with not relaxing so much that you start to see a loss of strength or endurance. The number of rest days you need each week (and exactly what those days look like) varies depending on a number of factors, including:
What is the difference between rest and recovery? Recovery is everything that happens between the end of one workout and the beginning of another. Rest is an important part of the recovery process, but keep in mind that there are other factors—including adequate sleep and proper post-workout hydration and nutrition—that also help speed up recovery so you’re ready for the next workout.
Remember: Rest days are not a sign of laziness. They are a sign that you are listening to your body and giving yourself the physical and mental break it needs. You’ll find that incorporating regular rest days into your routine will leave you with more energy to give it your all on your tough workout days.