Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
When it comes to professional athletics, there are definite seasons. In the offseason, training volume is increased and programs are based on progressive overload, a strategy that increases the difficulty of workouts as the athlete’s body adjusts over time. This is how we’re able to get stronger, faster and gain muscle.
Training actually creates micro-tears in the muscle. Don’t worry. This is a good thing, as long as the muscles are given adequate time to rebuild after they tear. When rebuilding, the fibers become thicker and stronger than ever before. This is how we gain strength and muscle.
Workouts are initially based on building a foundation, and rest days allow for the body to recover and rebuild.
When running track in college, we always had at least one day off. After the season, we would take a month or two off from running. This allowed us to mentally and physically rest and recharge. In training for figure competitions, I still take at least one rest day from lifting every single week.
Here are three major reasons to take at least one rest day when training:
Avoid Central Nervous System Fatigue
Lifting weights is taxing on the central nervous system (CNS). We can feel muscle soreness but are often unaware of CNS fatigue. The CNS can take up to twice as long as muscles to recover from intense training, and CNS fatigue can mean increased risk of injury, sleeping troubles, foggy mind and a stall in progress.
If the body is pushed far enough, this can lead to overtraining. Overtraining not only takes a very long time to recover from, but it also feels miserable. Ongoing muscle soreness, insomnia, headaches, elevated heart rate and depression are just some of the symptoms.
Keep Your Cortisol in Check
Training for too long without a rest day also can spike your cortisol — aka the “stress hormone.” The primary side effect of elevated cortisol is holding onto excess weight in the midsection.
All these problems can be easily avoided by taking days off and allowing your body to recover. Train intuitively. If you start to feel fatigued all the time, take a day off or take an active recovery day. Active recovery days use pastimes that will get your blood pumping but won’t tax your muscles or CNS. Some examples include walking at an easy pace, going for a bike ride, practicing yoga, kayaking or stretching. This also can help with muscle soreness, as you’re increasing circulation throughout the body. It’s a good break for the mind, too!
The Erin Stern Challenge is built on the principle of athletics and progressive overload. We’ll create a foundation, build muscle and then shred to reveal your work. Rest days are strategically planned to help you adapt to the increasing intensity as you progress. I hope you join me and train to build the physique you’ve always wanted. Thanks for reading!