When you’re in the zone with a goal in your sights it’s tempting to skip rest days. After all, when you’re smashing PBs and barrelling through the weights, more workouts can only be a good thing, right? Not necessarily. Exercise is all about balance. It’s great that you want to work out harder and more often but even professional athletes schedule rest time and easy sessions into their weekly training.
Rest days allow your body – and your mind – time to recover from workouts. They are important to stop you burning out and losing your motivation, plus, they ensure you’re ready to smash out your next workout. Rest also gives your body time to adapt to your training and grow stronger and fitter, so you will be better placed to make the next workout count than if you skip the recovery period.
Here’s everything you need to know about why you should take advantage of rest and recovery:
1. They make you stronger
You may think fitness gains are only made when you’re beasting yourself during a sweat session, rest is just as important if you want to hit your workout goals.
After all, muscle is developed in its ‘repair phase’, when you’re resting and refuelling which is why you need to ensure your nutrition is on point as well as your workout.
Every time you work out you create microscopic tears in your muscle tissues. When you rest, your muscles start to heal and grow back stronger, meaning you’ll be able to do the same workout with less effort in the future.
2. The help you avoid injury
By skipping rest days you could end up spending longer out of the gym with injuries. Working out when your body and mind are tired means you’re more likely to have bad form, trip or stumble and you’re also at risk of overuse injuries as you constantly stress and strain the body and don’t allow it the necessary time to repair itself.
By increasing the amount of training you’re doing or upping the intensity, without giving your body enough time to rest and recover you can cause overuse injuries were the most common types of injury in elite athletics. These can lead to at least three weeks out of training.
3. They help you progress
Without rest days you could end up with your fitness progress grinding to a halt. Exercise releases stress hormones and, just as working long hours with no days off can negatively impact your health, too much exercise without enough rest can lead to burnout.
Also known as overtraining syndrome, burning out can affect your central nervous system, throwing everything out of whack. Your central nervous system is made up of different parts including the sympathetic nervous system – which triggers fight or flight mode – and the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm your body down again. If you’re not taking the time you need to rest and recover, then the constant stress of exercise can mess with your system’s natural responses.
This can leave you feeling constantly tired and drained. Workouts can feel much harder than they used to and you may struggle to do exercises you found fairly straightforward before.
4. They help you train harder
Taking time off gives your body and mind time to reset, recharge and recover. Your muscles will be less sore and fatigued and, instead of just going through the motions, you’ll be able to give your next workout the effort it needs to get results.
Mini breaks keep your motivation running on overdrive, preventing exercise from becoming a chore. Absence makes the mojo grow stronger.
How many rest days do you need each week?
The number of rest days depends on a number of things, including the duration of your workouts, your current fitness level, goals, age and genetics.
In fact, some people need more rest than others, but, the more intense the training sessions, the more rest the body needs.
Ideally you should be taking up to three rest days a week if you’re exercising for general health and wellbeing. If you are new to exercise, you may want to take more as you gradually increase the frequency of your workouts.
You can also build more rest into your training by scheduling easier workouts for the days following tougher sessions, so you’re not at risk of overdoing it. If you’re strength training, alternating between upper and lower body also gives your muscles extra time to recover.
What do you do on a rest day?
Active recovery – that’s very gentle, low-impact exercise – can be beneficial. Things like walking the dog, playing with your kids, stretching and self-massage with a tool like a foam roller can all get the
It’s important to ensure you’re getting quality sleep, too, as the hormones that help repair your muscles are released during sleep. Add to that a great nutrition plan and you’re on the way to smashing your goals in no time.