When you’re sticking to a training plan or working toward a goal, it can often be difficult to take a step back and get a day off. The routine you are accustomed to may become second nature and the thought of taking time out can feel like you are slowing down your progress.
A rest day, though, is more than a little or a little bit of movement. It is a necessary opportunity for your mind and body to relax, heal, recover and reset yourself. In fact, rest is just as important as the workouts themselves – something that people who are focused on staying fit can easily forget.
Adequate rest allows your muscles to recover and helps replenish your energy. When you return to the gym, you’ll likely feel fitter and stronger, allowing you to train harder and make bigger improvements.
Taking a day off can also help avoid injuries associated with continuous training. It’s much better to make sure your body is in top shape for your workouts by taking regular days off, than to push it to the limit and end up getting injured and not being able to train for weeks. This is known as overtraining, and in addition to injuries, it can cause further health problems such as extreme fatigue, poor sleep, and mood swings.
A rest day doesn’t mean you just have to sit on the couch all day – although this is a perfectly acceptable way to recover. Hiking, biking, and yoga are good ways to recover effectively, as are foam rolling or any form of movement that can help your body prepare to return to exercise.
Aside from scheduled rest days, there are times when you need to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs. Here we go through the main signs that you need to relax and recover.
1. When I hardly slept
Sleep is one of the necessities of life. Without it, we simply cannot function effectively – practice insufficient sleep and things can become noticeably more difficult. Alex Marks, personal trainer and founder of studio On Your Marks, says that exercising when you’re not getting a sound sleep at night can nullify your energy levels.
When you don’t sleep well, you will naturally have less energy, so consuming what little you have can seriously drain your energy during the rest of the day. According to Marks, the idea of ”pushing through” is the only option for many people, leading to caffeine dependence, lackluster performance, and possibly high and low sugar levels.
“If you can avoid excessive caffeine or bouts of sugar in the day by eating well-balanced meals followed by an early bedtime, you’ll make up for lost time,” Marks says. “Take a day off and focus on feeding and going to bed early.”
2. When you are uncomfortably painful
Delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) will be well known to most people who exercise and can have a detrimental effect on your training. They tend to kick up within 24 to 72 hours after exercise and are the result of micro-teasers that occur in the muscles from training.
But suffering from DOMS does not mean that you should stop exercising altogether. Although intense exercise may not be possible, Marks says light movement and movement are two great ways to use your rest day effectively. You can also modify your workouts to train muscles different from those that are currently sore.
“I’m not saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ should be your motto, but there is something to be said about looking for opportunities to keep moving within your body’s capacity,” Marks says. “Sleep, eat within calorie limits (calorie limit). available to keep you on target line), hydration and receiving treatment in the form of a massage are also great ways to aid recovery.”
3. When a week has passed since your last rest day
Although there are no set rules about how many rest days you should take on each workout day, 1-2 days a week is a good starting point.
“If you have itchy feet, take a yoga class,” Marks says. “You’re not likely to train for the Olympics and have a program that takes into account everything you need to perform the maximum in and out of your day.”
Instead of exercising, Marks recommends sleeping, eating, and enjoying being social. “Improve the days you exercise next week. Plan your training and ask yourself what you can work on to make your routine or performance that much better.”
4. When you are sick
Illness can emerge at any time, and if the pandemic teaches us anything, staying away from others is important to prevent things from spreading — you may not be able to train effectively, so don’t put others at risk either. In addition, exercising while sick can make the disease worse. Instead of stretching your hair, take some time out from exercising and let your body recover.
“If you have cold symptoms and flu-like symptoms from the bottom of the neck, stop,” Marks says. “With colds, the general rule is that light to moderate exercise can be fine. However, keep in mind that symptoms can get worse when you deplete your body’s energy, which can instead be better used to fight the virus.”
5. When you are stressed out
The human body can handle the occasional bout of stress. In fact, some stress may be beneficial to us. However, long-term, chronic stress is an entirely different thing and can damage our physical and mental health.
Exercise itself is a form of stress to the body, so when combined with other stressors – physical or mental – it can have a powerful effect on our ability to function effectively. Marks agrees that physical stress above any mental and emotional stress can overwhelm the body. “It’s scary when you look at recent stress-related illness statistics,” says Marks, who suggests taking care of your mental health through “naps, long walks, phone calls with friends or even visits to a therapist.”