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Active Recovery

The Truth About Rest Days

It’s time to take a day off — here's why you need rest days in your training routine.

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Hey, you. The one who’s training daily. Yes, you. It’s time to take a day off. Seriously.

Why? During a workout, you’re busy tearing muscle fibers down. And during periods of rest, your body repairs and grows. So without adequate recovery time, muscles can’t repair.

“I see people at the gym all the time who spend two to three hours working out in back-to-back sessions thinking it’s helping them,” says Christina L. Moreland, a certified personal trainer, online coach and author of Secrets of the Super Mom (CreateSpace, 2014). “More should be better, right? Wrong! In reality, they are just tearing down their bodies and immune systems because they’re not giving themselves adequate time to recover. Spending too much time working out can actually impede your progress, not propel it forward.”

Reasons for Rest Days

Moreland explains that there are many reasons to incorporate rest days into your fitness program, including the following:

  • Injury prevention
  • Improved physical performance
  • Reduced joint inflammation and soreness
  • Decreased likelihood of minor injuries, such as muscle strains and tears
  • Improved sleep
  • Healthier outlook on exercise (You’re more likely to come back with a good attitude ready to work, and more important, you’ll be physically prepared to handle it.)

“My goal as a fitness enthusiast is longevity,” Moreland says. “I want to be in the gym when I’m in my 80s. And as a personal trainer, my No. 1 goal for my client is her safety and protection while I’m helping her achieve her goals. Simply put, rest days are not a luxury. They are essential and need to be built in weekly.”

Signs of Overtraining

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar? If so, Moreland says you’re overdue for a rest day.

  • You just can’t get your head in the game. If you’re tired, unfocused and not really thinking about the muscle groups you’re working, it’s a recipe for breaking form and opening the door for injuring yourself.
  • You have a minor injury that could affect your form or grip. For example, let’s say you have minor wrist pain — well, that could impede your ability to do a push-up properly, causing you to rely too much on your shoulder. Your shoulder is not optimally positioned in a push-up to handle the full load of your bodyweight.
  • You have a cold or allergies with restrictive breathing. When you work out, your heart rates increases, pushing more blood through the body in a shorter time frame, which means your oxygen exchange increases, as well. If you work out when you cannot breathe normally, then you could experience even more labored breathing while exercising, further compromising your immune system.
  • Your muscles are overly sore 48 hours after you last worked them. You tear down muscle fibers when you exert tension on a muscle. If you’re still sore two days later, the muscle fibers haven’t completely repaired themselves yet from the last session.

How to Incorporate Rest

The approach Moreland recommends for building in rest days is a two-day on, one-day off program — which equals two rest days per week. With this type of program, there are two ways to do it:

  1. Alternate specific muscle groups that clinically oppose each other within the musculoskeletal system.
  2. Work them together on alternating days and keep rotating them with different exercises.

“It’s been proven in several studies that overtraining suppresses normal immune system function and can increase a person’s susceptibility to infections — so incorporating rest time into an overall fitness program is critical,” Moreland says. “It’s much better to take a day off and come back strong and happy rather than open the door for a potential injury, which could set you back weeks, or even longer, and could be quite expensive to treat.”