This is really an open letter to myself because I am at a point in my own fitness journey where it is harder for me to take rest days than it is for me to get up and workout!! That may sound weird. Heck it sounds weird for me to even say, but it’s true! I have to force myself to take a day off because I truly enjoy working out and being active so much now that it’s tough for me to stop even for just one day. This topic came to mind because last week I took a mini-vacay to Florida and I actually had anxiety before I left about the prospect of being out of my workout routine for a whole week.
Logically of course I know that a few days off isn’t going to undue all the hard work I have put in but there was definitely a small, irrational part of me that was a bit worried about losing ground and momentum. Fortunately, I can stream my workouts from anywhere so knowing I could get my sweat on if I wanted to eased my mind greatly. And as it turned out, I did get a few workouts in from my AirBnB living room, and a couple really great early morning beach runs and ocean swims in, and once I was on those sandy beaches I was able to more fully embrace vacation-mode and take a few guilt-free days totally off.
Now while I have gotten to the point where I don’t like to take a day off from working out, the same does NOT go for the eating part of this whole get and stay healthy equation. I thoroughly enjoy my cheat meals and not only plan at least one good one a week but absolutely look forward to it every single time. For me eating healthy is much more challenging than working out. That may because I get my workout in each day in about 30-45 minutes and can check that box as complete. But making smart food choices is an everyday, all day long endeavor which for me is much more challenging. I do try to eat healthy about 80% of the time so that 20% where I allow myself to indulge is pretty close to heavily. Any day where tacos, pizza and ice cream are on the menu is a day to look forward to in my opinion!
Ok back to rest days…got a little sidetracked there thinking about all that yummy cheat day food! Despite my desire these days to keep pushing myself to meet my every evolving fitness goals, rest days are not only necessary but essential to a smart and effective workout plan. The following is a little bit how, why and when you should be incorporating them into your own routine:
How often should you take a rest day?
So the answer is, it depends. Of course, right?! Nothing is really that cut and dry when it comes to health and fitness. There are so many variables that can be taken into consideration when trying to answer this question such as the type of training you are doing, how long have you been doing it and just generally your body type and fitness level. But a few fundamental guidelines can be followed when thinking about how often you should be resting. It is recommended that when you are just starting out on a new fitness regimen you rest after two days of training. So workout for two days in a row then take that third day off. It is especially important when you are starting a new sport, activity or workout program that you give your body adequate time to adjust to the new stressors it is enduring.
Once you are a little more seasoned and have been doing the routine, program or sport for a while you can reduce your rest days to about once or twice a week. You have at this point given your body time to acclimate which has seriously reduced the risk of injury caused by the “too much, too soon” scenario. Again, these are just guidelines. If you have been at it for a while, had a particularly grueling couple workouts in a row, or are just extra sore for whatever reason you may want to up your down time. This isn’t a perfect science you guys and to me honestly the most important thing you can do here is listen to your body. It will tell you in no uncertain terms that it needs a break. Mine sure does! I have gotten into this routine where I push myself pretty good all week and by the weekend my body says “ENOUGH!”. My rest days have become either Saturday and/or Sunday because I generally am good and sore by then as well as feeling the fatigue from going 100 miles an hour Monday through Friday.
As much as I sometimes don’t really want to take the break, there is one giant upside I have found to putting down those weights and taking it easy for a day or two and that is that how good that first workout is after a rest day. Your muscles are fresh, your mind is re-engaged and you tend to just get a kick ass workout in. That’s actually what gets me through those rest days to tell you the truth! I picture the workout I will get to do the next day and how good it will feel and I know resting is making that possible. Again, yes I know how crazy that may sound that I have to “get through” rest days but that is seriously how I feel most of the time! Ok, on to the next rest day topic…
What constitutes a rest day?
So there are two different kinds of rest, active rest and then well, just straight up total rest. Active rest means you are still moving, maybe getting that heart rate up just a tad and burning a few calories in the process. What you are NOT doing is hitting the gym or picking up weights or doing any other type of exercise that is going to be high-impact, heart-pounding or super taxing to your body. Some good examples of how you can actively rest are:
- Light swim
The other kind, total rest days, are just that. You are really and truly just resting your body all day. I find that I use a combination of both types of rest days depending on the week and what program I am following. Some weeks I am so spent I really just stop all activity for a day, maybe two. I take a couch day as I like to call it. Again, usually these happen on Saturday or Sunday after a long week and I just allow myself to be totally lazy and take a break from any and all activity. When I say I allow myself, usually my body demands it of me and I really have no choice but to listen. I am either really sore from the weeks workouts or my energy is at about a zero and I just feel like I need to recharge for a good solid day.
There is also a third option when talking about the overall idea of resting and that is to incorporate what is called a deloading period into your workout schedule. A deloading period is basically a time you build into your long-term workout schedule to give your body a bit of a breather. It generally takes the form of one of the following three ways:
- Shorter Workouts
- Less Intense Workouts
- A complete change in the type of workouts you are doing
For instance, if you have been hitting the weights hard for weeks on end, day in and day out, you may want to lighten up how much you are lifting and/or only workout say 3 days instead of 5. Another option is to switch from weight training to something like swimming or biking to really give your muscles, tendons and joints good solid time to heal. Usually these deload periods last a week and are recommended to be incorporated every 8 weeks into your fitness routine if you are a more recreational weight trainer like I am. If you are a really serious lifter or performance athlete, it more beneficial to incorporate these deloading weeks every 4 or so weeks. Unlike straight rest days or active rest days, during this deloading period you can still workout, keep that momentum going and heart rate up, but it is an opportunity to give your body a little break intensity-wise that it most likely really needs.
Importance of rest days:
So we all know that taking a rest day is vital for muscle recovery. Pushing yourself too hard, too many days in a row will undoubtedly lead to burnout and most likely an injury of some sort. After all, our muscles actually tear when we are training so if we don’t stop to let them repair and rebuild themselves overuse injuries are sure to happen. Along with preventing injury, a few other vital reasons rest days are so important are:
- The rest gives your immune system a break – Yep as good as working out is for you, anytime you are putting a strain on your body your immune system has to work a little harder to keep up with the repairs. Letting your body properly rest allows your immune system to do its work by repairing your muscles in time for you to tax them all over again.
- You avoid not only physical burnout, but also mental burnout – I know for me I have encountered the situation where I have gone too hard for too long and started to get bored with the whole process. As soon as I take a day off my interest in staying on track is always renewed. I am refocused, re-motivated and reengaged in my journey which is crucial for success to in order to stop that cycle of starting and quitting health and fitness routines over and over again.
- Avoid developing Overtraining Syndrome – Just like the name implies, Overtraining Syndrome occurs when you just do too much too often in the exercise department with insufficient rest periods in between. Signs you are in danger of developing this syndrome are your workouts are not producing new and improved results, or worse yet you are losing those gains you have worked so hard for, you may not be sleeping well, your appetite is starting to dwindle, you may even be losing weight, you could be getting sick more frequently and are sore more often than not. And those are just some of the possible symptoms! Needless to say, this is not something you want to develop and can easily be avoided by properly resting every so often.
I gotta be honest you guys, while I knew that rest days were important, after taking the time to really think about why and then putting it all down here on this post I am even more determined to make sure I am incorporating them responsibly into my own workout schedule. Rest days are just as crucial to meeting your health and fitness goals as actual training days are. Treating your rest days just like you would a scheduled workout is a great way to approach the whole thing, especially if you are anything like me and like to plan, plan and then plan some more! So thanks everyone if you read this post and I hope it was helpful to you as well! 😊
P.S. – See below for some pics from my recent Florida trip…have you all gone anywhere fun this summer? Let me know!