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Here’s Why You Should Take That Rest Day

Here’s Why You Should Take That Rest Day
Jamie Wright
Qualified Nutritionist3 years ago
View Jamie Wright's profile

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”. 

Helps you to recover

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. 

Reduces any risk of injury

Rest days will prevent muscular fatigue and loss of performance whilst also contributing to a minimised risk of injury.1 

Helps you sleep

Additionally, rest days 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

Improves your performance

Rest allows the recovery your muscles need to strengthen and, in doing so, be able to lift heavier weights and achieve more reps and gains.

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). 

Keeps you motivated

Many people don’t consider the psychological impact of exercise, nor the advantages to your mental health. But what about your motivation? That’s something you’re sure to feel peak and trough from time to time and your workout will almost always go much better when you’re motivated to put in the work. If your training and methods for building muscle or lose weight all occur in the gym, by taking a rest day you’ll give yourself the mental space you didn’t know that you needed.

How many rest days per week?

Every person is different, so the ideal number of rest days per week can change according to the person, fitness goal, type and intensity of training.

Generally speaking, it would be ideal to take two or three rest days per week for optimum performance. Anyway, you should listen to your body to understand when it's time to pause.

 

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 

  • Hypertension 
  • Depression 
  • Insomnia 

 

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! 

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

1. Orlando, C., Levitan, E. B., Mittleman, M. A., Steele, R. J., & Shrier, I. (2011). The effect of rest days on injury ratesScandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports21(6), e64-e71.

2. Lastella, M., Vincent, G. E., Duffield, R., Roach, G. D., Halson, S. L., Heales, L. J., & Sargent, C. (2018). Can sleep be used as an indicator of overreaching and overtraining in athletes?Frontiers in physiology9, 436.

3. Kreher, J. B., & Schwartz, J. B. (2012). Overtraining syndrome: a practical guideSports health4(2), 128-138.

Jamie Wright
Qualified Nutritionist
View Jamie Wright's profile
Jamie Wright has a bachelor's of science in Sports and exercise science and a Master's degree in Human Nutrition (specialising in obesity and weight management). Jamie specialises in nutrition centred around body composition change, sports nutrition and helping people improve their relationship with food. His company Balance are one of Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietetics services and he has worked with hundreds if not thousands of clients to help them solve all manner of nutrition related problems and achieve a vast range of diet related goals. They have recently launched the life changing course Be Binge Free, the first of its kind, and are continuing ongoing works on a range of projects. Jamie has worked with a range of industry leaders and featured as a nutritionist expert for Myprotein for over five years and with other brands like Insider, Adidas, Women's Health and more. Jamie's experience ranges from working in research trials to advising on product formulations, working with clients one to one, in group settings and presenting to public and private companies. He continues his professional development to this day and is currently undergoing his personal training qualifications. Having recently become a Dad, his spare time is filled spending time with his family, training, running, socialising and spending time cooking.
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