Rest days are an important part of any workout routine. All athletes and sports professionals understand the importance of regular training for performance and improvement, but also emphasise on rest and recovery days between workouts because it allows your body to decompress both physically and psychologically. It’s important to listen to your body and take time off from training regularly in order to recharge and get back into the game mentally and physically stronger and prepared.
Let’s take a deep dive into the benefits of rest and recovery for your body and mind to improve your athletic performance.
There are two different categories of recovery:
Immediate or short-term recovery: In this phase, you’re likely to keep physically active with low intensity exercise routines after heavy lifting during the cool down phase. Activities could include yoga, walking, jogging and light cardio movements.
Long-term recovery: This phase refers to recovery periods that include “off days”, i.e. a complete break from any form of exercise. Typically, longer rest periods are part of an athlete’s seasonal training schedule or are incorporated into an annual athletic program.
Why is recovery important?
It alleviates muscle pain and soreness: On rest days, your body gets a chance to rid the system of excess lactate from muscles. This helps muscles recover from any pain and soreness experienced due to heavy workouts with minimal rest.
It helps repair and build muscles: Exercise leads to microscopic tearing of muscle tissue. On rest days, cells (called fibroblasts) repair and build up muscle tissue. A lack of adequate rest and recovery will cause tears to deepen over time, increasing the risk of injury and muscle friction.
It replenishes the body’s energy reserve: Muscles store a form of energy called glycogen that keeps your energy levels balanced and at peak. Exercise causes loss of glycogen, which in turn leads to muscle fatigue. Rest days allow your muscles to replenish glycogen stores, preparing them for the next workout.
It prevents overuse and injury: Exercise can result in overuse and strain of muscles, increasing the risk of injury. Adequate rest mitigates this risk and allows you to consistently maintain and improve your athletic performance.
It allows your mind to relax: It’s not just the body that’s straining—your mind is working out too. Exercise without rest can also cause strain on the mind, increasing cortisol and overall stress levels. This can lead to tiredness, which results in poor decision making during a workout, increasing risks of injury.
Do you really need a rest day?
Chances are, you do. If you think you don’t, take a moment to look out for these signs during your daily life and workout routine:
- Muscle soreness that won’t go away
- Inability to complete a workout routine
- Constant feelings of sluggishness post exercise
- Binge eating or craving comfort foods
- Increased instances of injury and illness
- Mood swings, irritability, insomnia
- Prioritising fitness over everything else
- Reduced results, e.g. lower fat loss or muscle gain
Working out without a break can cause both physical and mental distress and exhaustion, therefore it’s important to keep check of how you’re feeling both mentally and physically each day. Over-exercising also leads to adaptation, i.e. your body and mind get used to taking a certain amount of stress. This, in turn, means adding more stress to your workout routine in order to see progress or achieve the results you’re looking for. This opens you up to injury, illness and a negative impact on your mental health.
Allowing yourself to rest gives your muscles, joints and other important structures enough time to repair and ready you for your next workout session. It also helps energise you mentally. Take time off to reflect and understand your body’s cues before getting back to the gym for your next workout.
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