Want more gains in the gym? Rest!
Want to avoid workout injuries? Rest!
We often think that working out harder and longer is the only way to go when it comes to building strength, endurance, agility, and even ability.
And, we can even think that such strength can make us invincible, right?
The fact of the matter is, rest and recovery are just as important to reaping the benefits of exercise as actually working out!
If you aren’t allowing time for rest and recovery from your workouts, you’re doing yourself a great disservice, and you’re not helping your performance at all.
…and, you just might be setting yourself up for injury!
Why Your Body Needs Rest
If we really want to get the most out of our time spent exercising, we must allow time for our bodies to rest.
In fact, experts agree, rest and recovery are just as important as exercise itself!
Rest and recovery days provide your body with exactly what you’d think…rest and the opportunity to recover from vigorous training.
Rest can help you perform better in your time spent working out. And, time spent recovering can prevent your body from being injured due to overuse.
The more you exercise or train without taking time to rest, you actually increase your risk of injury as your muscles become strained and overused.
Aside from injury, there are two areas most benefited from taking a much needed break from working out: your muscles and your mind.
Your body needs rest to alleviate pain and provide relief for sore muscles in the following ways:
- When you exercise regularly, you deplete your body’s stored energy, also known as glycogen which can lead to tired and sore muscles.
Incorporating rest days into your workout regime allows these stores of glycogen to be replenished, fueling those muscles to serve you in your next workouts.
- Rest and recovery also comes to the aid of your muscles by giving your body the opportunity to remove built up lactate from your bloodstream.
In small portions, lactate is used as energy, but over time it builds up, leading to soreness, which is why this pain and soreness is often alleviated after a day of rest.
- Rest also helps to build your muscles. When you exercise, you get tiny tears in your muscle tissue, and during time spent resting, cells known as fibroblasts repair and rebuild those tissues.
And, aside from those benefits to your muscles, rest days also provide the following relief for your mind:
- Mental fatigue is often overlooked as a side effect of exercise. But, after days spent exercising without ample time to rest or recover, your mind tires, and this can result in poor decision making and even injury.
Taking a break from exercise, that time used to rest your mind and body resolves fatigue and improves your time spent working out.
How Your Body (And Workouts) Respond To Rest
When you allow your body time to recover from days spent exercising through rest, you will have the pleasure of reaping multiple rewards.
As we mentioned above, there are immediate benefits to your muscles and your mind, but your entire body, and therefore your workouts, reap these rewards as well.
Getting adequate, restful sleep is essential to the health of your body.
But, while exercise can benefit your quality of sleep, skipping rest days can hinder it.
When you exercise for days on end without a break, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline have been continually released, essentially causing too much of these stimulants accumulating in your body, thereby potentially disrupting your sleep patterns.
Those rest days allow these hormone levels to decrease to a normal and healthy range.
If you haven’t been taking rest days, your energy could be depleted and your best efforts in the gym simply may not be the best anymore.
Agility, endurance, and reaction time can all suffer when you aren’t giving your body time to rest and recover.
We can be tempted to think that rest will cause our gym gains to diminish, but this simply isn’t true.
In fact, rest has been proven to increase energy levels and fight fatigue.
Those who incorporate rest days into their workout schedule have reported consistent success in their training.
Rest days can also allow for time to soothe sore muscles via practices like massage and foam rolling.
These techniques can increase both oxygen and blood flow to your muscles as well as deliver needed nutrition to these areas, all of which can be of benefit to your time spent exercising or training.
What To Do On Rest Days
Most experts agree that while the amount of rest needed varies from person to person, a good rule of thumb is to take two rest days per week.
But, what exactly does a rest day look like?
There are two types of rest, active and passive.
Passive rest days are meant to be spent caring for your body, giving it a complete break (or rest) from exercise.
On such a rest day, there are multiple practices you can implement and tips to consider to help your body heal and recover.
- Sleep is one of the most effective ways to help your body recover. If you’ve been exercising or training at a high intensity, 8-10 hours of sleep leading into a rest day is advised.
- Be sure to pay attention to your diet. Taking a break from exercise doesn’t mean spending the day filling up on junk food.
While you generally won’t need as much food on a rest day since you won’t be as active, still seek to make healthy choices, fueling your body with healthy carbohydrates to replenish energy lost through days of exercise, and lean proteins to aid your body as it repairs your muscles.
- During the time that you’d generally be exercising, you may wish to relax by reading a book or watching a television program. Spending time sitting back and relaxing on a rest day can not only help to provide rest physically, but engaging in relaxing activities can provide needed stress relief as well.
- Don’t forget to hydrate on rest days. To skimp on water throughout times of rest and recovery hinders the purpose of rest, and you’ll notice this hindrance as your exercise performance is affected through dehydration the next day. So, drink water all throughout your day of rest.
- If your training has been particularly intense, spending rest days getting a massage, taking an ice bath, or doing some foam rolling can help to provide needed relief to a tired/sore body.
And, active rest/recovery days can be beneficial as well.
During an active rest day, one would take a break from their regular exercise routine for something much less intense.
Activities that fall under the category of active recovery include:
- Stretching (gentle)
- Swimming (nothing intense)
- Low-intensity cycling
While each of those are still considered exercise, the intensity level at which you perform such activities is much less than a typical workout and all are much easier on your joints.
Participating in low intensity activities on rest days helps to alleviate muscle soreness, prevents cramping and fatigue, and helps to remove lactate that can build up in your blood from regular intense exercise.
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