Everything you need to know about rest days

Prioritising rest days is just as important as prioritising your workouts. In fact, a sustainable fitness regime is incomplete without scheduled rest days.

Regardless of your fitness level, it’s critical to allow your body breaks to recover and repair. Skipping rest days can lead to fitness fatigue, overtraining syndrome and burnout.

When it comes to regular exercise, we’re always told that more is better. Staying active and getting regular exercise is incredibly good for you and an essential habit within a healthy lifestyle. However, “too much of a good thing” does apply to exercise as well. Like I always say, balance makes perfect!

Moderation is key when it comes to almost anything in life. An “all-or-nothing” mindset is extremely dangerous. Even the world’s most advanced professional athletes need rest days!

Why are rest days so important?

Persistent muscle soreness, irritability or mood swings, sore and heavy legs and extreme weight loss are all indicators that you need some physical rest. 
It may seem obvious, but rest days allow for recovery. It’s actually during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise take place. Contrary to popular belief, your muscles don’t grow when you train, they actually grow when you rest. Exercise creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissues, which can only repair and grow during rest periods. Overtraining eats away muscle mass, because they don’t have enough time to repair.

Rest days also prevent exercise-induced muscle fatigue, soreness and risk of injuries. Regular rest is essential to ensure safe training. When your body is tired and overworked, you’re more likely to have incorrect technique, drop a weight or miss a step!

Get some good rest so that you're inspired to return to your exercise regime with newfound motivation and enthusiasm! When your body is tired, it can be dull to do your usual routine. If you’re uninspired, then you’re less likely to challenge yourself to meet your fitness goals. After a rest day, you’re able to come back with double the effort, because you actually have the energy to give 100 percent.

ALSO SEE: How to make your workouts more fun

Kicking the obsessive habit of overtraining

Overwhelming evidence suggests that rest is imperative in preventing overtraining syndrome, which can cause:
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep loss
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Increased risk of injuries
  • Reduced appetite and extreme weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Decreased immunity
  • Lack of motivation
  • Depression
  • Decreased performance
  • Declined cognitive abilities 

I used to have the issue of overtraining. I thought that the more I exercised, the stronger, leaner and fitter I would be. However, I was a whole size bigger, always puffy and inflamed and often injured.

I started reading and researching a lot more about rest and overtraining, and realised that I needed to drop the amount of exercise I was doing. After I realised the importance of rest I lost the constant exhaustion, water retention and soreness.

A lot of my clients have this similar mindset: the fixation and obsession with exercise, thinking that the more they train the better they'll look. A lot of these clients would train twice a day or more, work out for way too long and push too hard. After I taught them to kick this obsessive habit, they got better results.

Even if you’re pushing yourself, overtraining can decline your performance. This means you’ll likely experience reduced endurance, slow reaction times and poor agility. It also exposes your muscles to repeated stress and strain, which increases the risk of injuries.

No matter what your goals are, remember that taking a break does not make you lazy or unmotivated. Remind yourself that when it comes to results, rest is required! As long as you are committed to your long-term goals, there is no need to beat yourself up about taking a breather.

However, if you do notice that you are having overly obsessive thoughts, habits or self-harming behaviour regarding exercise, this may be indicative of a larger psychological issue. Consider reaching out a mental health professional if you are unable to combat this issue on your own.

How to optimise your rest days

The ideal rest is different for each person, dependent on the intensity and frequency of your workouts, your lifestyle and even your DNA. However, there are general tips to get the most out of your rest periods.

1 Take an active rest day

Just because you’re taking a rest day, you don't have to be a couch potato. Active rest days mean that you aren’t doing a formal, focused workout but you also aren't idle and sedentary.

Even if you aren’t doing an intentional workout, it’s so important to make sure you’re still moving your body. You could go for a walk around the block, go shopping and walk the mall, play with your kids or have a swim.
Make sure to do restorative movement, and try to save the more vigorous activity for your workouts.

2 Adjust your diet

On rest days, you don’t need as many calories. While this is the case, instead of meticulously omitting certain numbers of calories, just listen to your body and you will naturally feel less hungry.

Even though you’re not working out, make sure to eat enough protein. Protein supports the muscle repair process that happens during rest. 

On rest days you should also focus on eating complex carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores. Try to stick to whole-grain, complex carbs.

Don’t forget your fruits and veggies! They offer healthy carbohydrates and nutrients that support the recovery process.

ALSO SEE: my favourite post-workout meals and snacks

3 Soothe your muscles

Some light stretching or some yoga are some of the best things that you can do on a rest day. Not only does it improve your body awareness, breathing and flexibility, but it also helps to build strength while loosening your muscles.

A quick foam rolling session also works wonders for sore muscles! These calm activities help you to feel refreshed and ready for your next heavy training session.

ALSO SEE: How and when to try foam rolling

4 Schedule your rest

In order to build muscle mass over time, your muscles require continuous cycles of exercise and recovery.

To make sure you are getting the most out of your rest periods, you should prioritise and plan them. That way, you make sure that you are resting when you're supposed to. You’re also less likely to skip your planned workouts when you know you have allocated rest time. The key is to make a realistic and sustainable workout regime, so that you stay committed and regularly active.

Scientific evidence suggests that one day of rest per week can repair tissues, build and adapt skeletal muscle, restore fuel reserves and reduce mental stress.

However, when it comes to the question of how often should you take a rest day, I would recommend getting a DNA Sport Test. This is because your DNA does dictate a lot of your injury risk – some people are genetically predisposed to getting a lot of soft tissue damage, inflammation, sprains and strain. 

Another major thing that your DNA can tell you is your exercise recovery rate. Some people have a really quick recovery rate and can train more often, whereas others need a lot of time to recover after intense sessions. 

Personally, I know that after hectic weight training, I’m stiff for days! I have a slow recovery rate and I'm prone to inflammation, which is why I include a lot of dynamic stretching in my warm ups and cool downs. That’s also why rebounding is so amazing and perfect for me! It’s low-impact, so I can get away with training a little more without such a high risk of injury or wear-and-tear.

Rest days are critical for your muscle recovery and glycogen stores. Usually 24 hours of rest is enough, but 48 hours is required after heavily training specific muscle groups. When you have the regular rest day here and there, it’s amazing how much your body actually heals.

ALSO SEE: The 46 benefits of rebounding

5 Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Our bodies lose a lot of liquids through our sweat during workouts, so it’s critical to recover our fluids. Our bodies require several hours of rest following exercise to maintain hydration and replace lost fluids.

Drink enough water on your rest days, and post-workout, to help your body with the recovery process. Drinking electrolytes is also particularly helpful in controlling your fluid balance.

6 Vary your workout routine

A lot of injury comes with overuse, and overuse comes with a lack of variety in your workout regime. Too much repetition results in overuse of certain muscles, too much oxidative stress and muscle cell damage. 

When it comes to high-impact cardio training, like cycling or running, I would recommend doing them on alternate days with breaks in between. Doing too much of the same high-impact training can really strain your body!

When it comes to strength training, variety is also very important. I would recommend that you vary which group of muscles you train in each session within your workout regime. For example, after training your lower body, give your legs up to 48 hours of rest, while you train your upper body on the next day.

7 Don’t skimp on your sleep

While regular exercise can improve your sleep, so can rest days! Physical exercise increases the production of hormones like cortisol and adrenalin, because these hormones boost energy levels. 

However, overtraining overproduces these hormones. This results in poor sleep quality, fatigue and exhaustion. Rest days improve your sleep by returning your hormones to a normal and balanced state. When you get a full 8 hours, your body has time to recover properly.

ALSO SEE: Fail-proof way to sleep better