Oh, rest days. So coveted in the week when pushing through your 7am workout feels like climbing Everest, but then when they roll around… well, meh. It’s hard to know what to do with yourself.
Should you stretch away the stiffness of the week’s workouts (spoiler: yes) or go for a light walk (yes, again) or should you sink into a hot bath and watch Netflix on your precariously balanced phone (for the third and final time, yes).
But why must you include rest in your routine? Why is it important to temper a kick-ass week of workouts with some deliberate recovery time?
If you’re a rest day noob, then this one’s for you. Read on to discover exactly how holding off from smashing it every single day could actually advance your fitness goals. Go figure!
Are rest days important?
‘You have to let your body heal from the work you’ve been doing all week. Your muscles need a chance to desensitise and get used to the progression you’ve already made. If you push your brain too hard at work, you burnout. It’s the same with your body,’ says McKenzie-Brown, fresh from teaching her brilliantly brutal Friday morning class.
Another thing to watch out for is that there is an increased likelihood of injury as fatigue sets in.
‘Although your muscles may “feel” ready to train, your central nervous system might be pretty fatigued leading to bad movement patterns and this can increase the chance of injury,’ advises luxury gym Third Space’s Head of Education, Josh Silverman.
How do rest days affect your fitness goals?
Deliberately choosing to take time away from the gym or your favourite studio can feel like a regressive move, especially when you’re chasing down goals like the goal-smashing thing you are.
But, keeping the big picture in mind, rest days are important assets in your fitness arsenal.
‘Strength, power, speed, and muscle mass actually increase during resting periods. Technically it’s known as “specific adaptations to imposed demands,” explains Silverman. So, if you go HAM the entire time and don’t allow your body to “catch up” you could find you don’t progress as quickly as those who are savvy enough to incorporate rest days.’
How to know when to take a rest day?
There are a number of signs to look out for when wondering if you should take a rest day:
- Finding it hard to wake up
- Low motivation
- Lack of concentration
- Higher stress levels than usual
- Having a hard time falling and staying asleep
- Sustaining injuries – even a niggle
While these are the telltale signs of someone needing a day off, they’re also very similar to the symptoms most adults experience every week trying to juggle work, health, family and friends.
So, is there a way to definitively tell a difference?
‘Heart rate variability, also known as HRV, is a way to measure your heart rate throughout the day and night and can help determine how under recovered you are from your training programme and give you metrics on how “ready” you are to train,’ says Silverman.
But, if tracking your heart rate twenty-four hours a day sounds like too much fuss then actively listening to your body and being intuitive about how you move and treat it is the key to monitoring burnout and fatigue levels.
How often should you have a rest day?
Rest days are there to be taken when you feel you need them – there’s no prescriptive as to exactly which days of the week they should fall on. However the type, frequency and intensity of your training sessions will affect how you should structure your work to rest ratio.
‘If your main activity is strength based training theoretically you could take just one day a week as an all-out recovery day,’ says Silverman. ‘This is because your body will be somewhat actively recovering during the week. For example, on your lower body day, your upper body will most likely be taking a break and vice versa on your upper body day.’
‘If you’re a runner, your joints need a moment to regroup, especially if you’re running outdoors or smashing sprints on the treadmill. It’s about looking after your body. One to two rest days would definitely be my recommendation.’
What should you do on rest days?
There’s a fine line between recovery and exertion, especially if you’re a naturally active person. Low-impact activity like gentle yoga sessions and light walks are great ways to get some movement in but if you’re a bad mid-week stretcher then try to make this a priority too.
‘If you’re going to do something like yoga, make sure you pick the right class as some can be intense and not ideal for recovery. Alternatively, a hot shower or bath and a proper day of rest is also a very good option,’ Mckenzie-Brown says.
Is it bad to workout everyday?
‘It’s not necessarily bad to workout every day,’ says Silverman. ‘But you will need to be savvy about it. For beginners, I would try to give each muscle group a rest for 2-3 days post exercise. For intermediate and advanced trainers, that could be reduced to 1-2 days. It would be wise to have a low intensity and low impact day once per week.’
What counts as low intensity exercise, you ask?