When you’re working hard to reach your training goals, it is easy to feel like more is better: “The harder I work, the faster I’ll get there.” However, continuous, high intensity training without proper rest is short-term thinking. Whether you’ve just started to get into a workout routine, or you are an elite athlete, excessive training without effective rest is counter-productive.
Importance of Recovery
Rest is an equally important part of any training routine. Whether you’re training for general fitness, enjoyment, or sport, overtraining poses serious risks. These include:
All the above symptoms of overtraining risk cancelling out your hard work. Injuries and other health issues require time off; fatigue and poor ability to recover depress your ability to train at full capacity; and decreased performance encourages the training of improper movement patterns and the development of poor habits.
Rest days allow your muscles, nerves, and connective tissue time to recover, rebuild, and grow back stronger. They also give your mind a break, and allow you to come back to training with a new level of focus and tenacity.
How to Optimize Rest Days
While the term “rest day” includes the word “rest,” it’s not to say that you should be lying on your couch all day, getting up only to eat and use the bathroom. Rest days should have varying degrees of activity based on your goals and how you are feeling.
The number one rule on a rest day is to listen to your body. If you’re feeling completely gassed, employ easier recovery methods, such as foam rolling, self-myofascial release, massage, and soft tissue mobilization, including active and static stretching. If you’re feeling good, you can consider performing an enjoyable “recovery activity,” such as walking, easy biking or swimming, or yoga. The goal here is to get blood flowing to your muscles to enhance and accelerate the recovery process, not to push yourself into training mode.
Regardless of the type of rest day you choose to have, you should prioritize three things: sleep, nutrition, and relaxation.
Sleep is the number one way to optimize the recovery process and aid in the repairing and rebuilding of muscles. Not to mention, it’s free! On your rest days, aim for at least 8 hours of restful sleep. If possible, arrange your training schedule so that your rest day falls on a day that you can sleep in, such as a Saturday or Sunday.
You will also want to ensure that you are eating properly on your rest days. Just because you’re taking a day off of training, you should not be taking a day off of proper nutrition. Use the time that you would be spending working out to cook yourself a nutritious, colorful meal. While you may not need to eat as much on a rest day, you will still want to make sure you are getting in adequate macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein) and micronutrients to give your body the energy it needs to recover. It is also important to stay hydrated on your rest days to ensure your body is functioning as optimally as possible.
Lastly, prioritizing relaxation on a rest day can reduce excess stress and muscle tension that slow down the recovery processes. There are no right or wrong ways to relax, but make sure you find something that works well for you. Some methods include: a hot bath, deep breathing and mindful meditation, getting outside, and listening to soothing music. Resting the mind also allows you to recharge your psyche, and come back to training with a clear head and renewed energy.
While allowing yourself time to rest may feel difficult when you have specific goals you’re trying to achieve, it is critical to your growth. Without proper recovery, you are taking steps away from your goals, rather than towards them. Remember, training is not a sprint, but a marathon, and if you want to stay in the race, you have to train smart.