Whilst being active to some degree every day is important and carries a range of benefits for both your mental and physical health, over exerting yourself (be it in the gym, on the track, on the pitch, in the ring etc.) every single day would not be advised.
More is not always better and, despite what certain social media and other media outlets may promote, “getting after it” on a 24/7 basis without any form of programmed recovery is likely going to end up doing more harm than good.
What is a rest day and why are they important?
Rest days have gotten a bad reputation — this may be social media driven, but it’s certainly not “lazy” of you to take a rest day, nor do you “want it less” than the other person (imaginary or not) you’re competing with.
Rest days are planned and purposeful. They’re a programmed day of rest that allows you to physically recover from and adapt to your training as well as allow you to recharge your mental “batteries”.
Rest days are important as this recovery period is actually when the process of muscular recovery and adaptation can effectively take place. Training 24/7 gives your body next to no time to recover and, whilst you may feel like you’re getting leaner (which is more a biproduct of a high energy output and likely changes in nutrient portioning and metabolism), you may not necessarily be progressing.
Rest days will prevent muscular fatigue and loss of performance whilst also contributing to a minimised risk of injury.1 Additionally, they can also contribute to better sleeping patterns as poor sleep quality is associated with overtraining (likely due to changes in immune function, changes in stress and anxiety as well as overall changes in mood state).2
Overreaching is a strategy some coaches will use which increases training beyond recovery capacity for a short period of time ultimately leading to superior adaptation (in some cases) following rest.
Overtraining is a state in which you’re pushing your body beyond its ability to fully recover for an extended period of time with no functional outcomes.3 A continuous push to the extreme that serves no real purpose in relation to training or competition and leads to continuously declining results (both in terms of performance and health).
When to take a rest day
There are a number of indicators to be aware of as to when you should consider taking a rest day. Those who have been training for longer and or have very well programmed training schedules may require less frequent rest days but will need them all the same at some points.
You should consider taking a rest day or a few days of rest when:3
- You feel that you may be developing a cold or cough
- Your sleep quality and quantity begin to decline
- Your exercise performance begins to decline
- You are suffering with pain not related to the recovery process and may be at risk of a more serious injury
- Your mood begins to change (you feel “low”, anxious, easily irritable, hard to get motivated)
- You are beginning to suffer from constant minor headaches
More severe cases of overtraining have been linked to:3
Rest days don’t have to be boring
As mentioned, taking rest days gets the reputation of being “lazy” or “not working hard enough”. A rest day can be lying on the sofa all day chilling out and watching your favourite show but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
A more active rest day can be some form of programmed exercise at a much lower intensity than what you’re accustomed to. For example, if you’re someone who trains in the gym five times a week, why not plan to go for a walk on the other two days and listen to a podcast or some music at the same time.
Many of our highly active readers would “feel” worse for taking an entire day off of exercise not because they need it per se, but simply because they enjoy it. Swapping in a walk in place of a WOD or high intensity weights session will still scratch that exercise itch but won’t present the same risk of falling into an overtraining state.
We actually find it more enjoyable to plug in a number of “least mode” activities (i.e. those which you enjoy that, require little physical exertion and will also help you recharge your emotional and mental “batteries”) on our rest days too. Going for coffee with friends, visiting relatives, going to see a movie etc. are all examples of least mode activities that we can all incorporate.
Take home message
Rest days are an important component of any fitness enthusiasts’ program. They allow us to recover, both physically and mentally, whilst also allowing for our body to adapt to the exercise we’re engaging in so we can achieve progress.
Rest days can also prevent a whole host of nasty side effects from overtraining. Many people feel like they need to train to the extremes these days thanks to media and social media outlets and personalities pushing unrealistic body and exercise standards.
They don’t have to be boring either; whilst you can spend the whole day on the sofa, there is nothing wrong with simply engaging in a much less physically demanding activity instead. Walking, swimming, a gentle hike etc. are all great activities to engage in.
We want you to tag us in your rest day activities and start to make these days more accepted amongst the health focused community!