Rest Days Are Important Too!
Many of us, myself included, have gone through periods where we become so focussed on accomplishing our goals, that we develop a "more is always better" mentality. On the subject of exercise, "the more is better approach," can actually hinder your progress in the long run. Taking time away from the gym and giving your body (and mind!) time to recover, are essential components of fitness. When incorporated into your exercise routine in the right ways, rest days can contribute to further progress towards your goals! You picking up what I'm putting down?? That means you don't have to kill yourself in the gym EVERY day to get jacked or to get that bathing suit body you've been dreaming of. In fact, you probably will never get there if you DON'T rest. So take some breaks y'all. You're welcome for the permission :).
When you work out intensely or lift heavy weights, you are actually breaking down the muscles you are working. If you never take a rest day, you aren't giving your body the opportunity to repair those muscles, and therefore, they don't have a chance to rebuild and to grow! Working out too often with too few rest days can also lead to overtraining which leaves the body vulnerable to overuse injuries. Stress fractures or muscle strains are a couple examples of injuries that can occur due to overtraining muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons beyond their capacity and ability to recover. Excessive training is also associated with decreased performance, disrupted hormonal patterns, poor sleep, and decreased immunity. If you know you suffer from any of these symptoms and you also tend to workout intensely most days of the week, chances are it is time for a gym break, bro.
Beyond the physical aspects and injuries that can be associated with overtraining, you also should think about the emotional side of the equation. Excessive exercise can also lead to mood swings, irritability, and overall negative feelings about working out and being in the gym in general. It is totally normal to get sick of showing up to the same place every day, feeling like you are doing the same stuff day in and day out, and seeing very little progress. Switching things up or just taking a day or two off from the gym can totally change your perspective, and dare I say, gives you an opportunity to miss your routine! When I used to train for hours a day, most days of the week, training sometimes felt like a chore, and I would end up feeling super burnt out. Getting out of the gym and changing things up for a couple days helped me not only physically recover, but mentally as well. Getting out of my routine for a while, gave me the mental break that provided me with the reset my body was craving, and helped me realign my mindset to achieving my goals. I would always come back feeling recharged and ready to attack my fitness goals.
So what should my rest day look like? It can look like the pic above (a relaxing bike ride at the park with my hubby)! And it should definitely include most, if not all of the following:
SLEEP. Our bodies' best way to rest and recover comes through sleep. Getting around 7-8 hours especially on rest days is super important! Although we definitely need the deeper sleep we get at night, naps are great too! If you have time to fit in a power nap (or a long one works too;)), especially on days that you know 7-8 hours is unachievable at night, make some time to nap during the day for 20-30 minutes!
Set aside time to relax. Easier said than done right? But seriously, we are all so busy all the time, that we don't give ourselves time to RELAX. This is that mental reset I was talking about earlier. I'm not talking about watching TV or scrolling through Facebook on your phone, I'm talking about taking some time to sit and think (GASP) and reflect on what's going on in your life. Crazy right? Do you give yourself time to meditate and reflect on your day? Most of you probably don't. I am equally as guilty of not allowing myself enough time to unwind, but I'm working on it. Adding in some stretching time at night, time for a 15-20 minute bath, or just laying down (TV, phone, and lights off) and reflecting can have EXTREME mental and emotional benefits for you. These types of activities can be super beneficial in the recovery process!
Eat quality, whole foods. Just because you aren't training doesn't mean you can skimp on your nutrition. It may be even MORE important to get the right nutrition in on these days. Focus on getting in a wide array of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive, coconut, and avocado oils, and lots of protein to help aid in muscle rebuilding!
Stay active! Weird right? I'm telling you to rest and then saying you still need to be active. How annoying. Honestly though, you want to keep the blood flowing. Listen, I love a good Netflix binge as much as the next guy, but I also know the importance of flushing my sore muscles after a few days of tough training. If you wake up particularly sore and know you need a day away from the gym, there is nothing better you can do for your body than going out for a 20-30 minute easy walk, taking an easy bike ride, swimming, or doing a yoga class. As an added bonus, the change of scenery from your typical gym environment can give you a mental reboot to get you back on track towards those fitness goals (Bonus points if you can get outside for some added vitamin D). Plus, you will find that you feel WAY less sore waking up the following day than you would if you neglected these blood flow activities. Keep your intensity VERY low on these active recovery days, but move your body nonetheless.
Hydrate. Aim to get at least half your bodyweight in ounces per day. I talked about the importance of staying hydrated in a post last week, but it is easy to forget about drinking when we take a day off from intense exercise or weight training. We just don't feel as thirsty! I get it, I feel the same way sometimes, but your body needs that water! Get your fluids in by keeping a water bottle with you throughout your day. Remember also that eating those fruits and veggies also adds to your total fluid intake!
Give yourself the permission to do nothing once in a while. We all come to a point where our bodies just feel WIPED from the stress of work, exercise, and life in general. Allow yourself those days to just do nothing. Take this as an opportunity to enjoy time with family, cook a nutritious meal, or watch a movie or show you've been wanting to see. The WORST thing you could do when feeling overly stressed, tired, and sore is to push through and do a tough workout. You won't perform like you want to, you run the risk of injuring yourself in the process, and you are likely to make matters worse by adding in even more unnecessary stress and fatigue.
I give myself at least 2 days off from the gym per week to recharge and recover from my tough lifting or CrossFit workouts. Many of those days I still do SOMETHING active, at a very low intensity. However, there are some days where my body just says CHILL. Listen to your body and know when you need some rest. Know that you are not hindering your progress, but actually aiding it by taking some time off.
What sorts of things do you do on your rest days? Are there things that you could be doing better? I hope this post can help you see that resting is just as important to your fitness progress as the working out part is! Resting is cool. Do more of it ;)