Make Your Gym Rest Day Work For You

Written by Jack Boardman

Rest Day

Chances are, if you’ve gone out of your way to research exercise rest days, you’re looking for a reason to justify it – if not, you’d be among those who have absolutely no problem at all skipping a gym session.

Here we look at how you can make the most of your rest days and how you could even make them work to your advantage.

good posture



Unless you’re in need of a day of full inactivity, consider the exercise that will help you when you get back to it in the gym. Heavy weight lifters put serious strain on their bodies and so corrective stretching is a good idea on your day off. Tightness is a good indicator for this, but think in terms of the most hammered areas that bear the brunt of your lifting – areas of your back, your hamstrings, shoulders neck. These issues can be countered before, during and after your workout with targeted stretching, but on your day off if you’re feeling lethargic, yoga, pilates, light jogging or thorough stretching are all ways in which you can address any concerns you’ve encountered throughout the week.

Core M.O.T.

 For a more active approach to your rest day, focus on your core and movement. Think in terms of keeping it light, avoiding strains and keeping mobile with the following core exercises:

#1 Planks


Never as easy as they look, planks offer toning, strengthening and, for anyone who hasn’t targeted their core or is suffering tightness, stretching of muscles. Start simply – this is your rest day so don’t overwork – start with a standard plank at an easy angle on your elbows on your front. When this feels easier, increase the incline and the strain on your abs. Move on to side planks. To end, loosen up with side brides, lowering yourself to the floor with your elbow still rigid before extending again.


#2 Ab roller


Using an ab roller, continue what you’ve started with your planks, throwing in the motion of stretching and contracting.


#3 Battling ropes


Don’t go too hard. Work for one minute and rest.


#4 Bag work


If you have access to a punch bag or a training partner with pads, box lightly for a round – enough to get the heart rate up and loosen the arms and shoulders as with the battling ropes.

Surely, taking a day off couldn’t help with gains? Keeping in mind that bigger picture, it most certainly can.

 training exercises

If you’re a body builder looking to gain serious muscle mass, rest days are your ally in growing, but you will need to think in terms of healing the excessive damage done to your joints and muscles. Address any kinks and prepare for the workout week ahead with light stretching and compound movement, but keep nutrition and fuelling in mind – if you’re serious about building size on your frame you need more going in than energy going out. Limit your cardio.

Plan Your Workouts And Rests

Whereas repetition, nutrition and the right mind set will help you achieve your mass-gaining goals, some minor homework on your rest day could make that rest day most effective.

Compartmentalise your week ahead, listing the muscles you will be targeting. It looks easy on the paper, doesn’t it? Take this a step further and, instead of choosing by random what you will exercise when, devise a plan. This is where your rest comes in. On your list look at which muscles are targeted by each exercise and match them up. For example, if you’re working the chest, bear in mind your triceps, shoulders and delts will also be channelled. If you’ll be working a targeted muscle to fatigue, factor this into your plan and repeat until you spot a window where a full recovery will be needed in order to most effectively exercise on your next session.

nutrition plan

Sound like a lot to think about? Put it this way: as a bodybuilder you’ll be overworking targeted muscles to fatigue. This causes them to grow stronger with rest. However, you should consider that yesterday’s overworked muscles may have a negative impact on tomorrow’s targeted muscles, eg, if you’ve cooked your triceps yesterday, tomorrow’s bench press isn’t going to be its most effective. By mapping your workout week, a tactical rest day could see you fully recover so that a day’s body building is not wasted.


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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Faye has worked with numerous high-profile organisations, such as Men's Health, Sky Sports, Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, British Dressage and GB Rowing, providing her expert sports science support. Find out more about Faye's experience here: She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding.

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