Yesterday was leg day at the gym, and after working very hard to assure I was doing my squats properly I am SO GLAD I have a rest day.
That means today I get this!
Just kidding, it’s more like this:
And let’s be honest, probably a little bit of this:
Why are rest days important?
- Your muscles need a break. In order to build a muscle, you break it. After lifting weights or using unused muscle, tiny little tears form that, when healed, leave a muscle bigger and stronger than before. This process is less efficient if muscles aren’t given a chance to heal. This is also useful to remember when building a strength training plan so as to not work the same muscle group back to back days.
- Recovery from lingering injuries. I subluxed my right shoulders doing plank rows about 18 months ago, and every now and then I’ll aggravate it during a workout. I am always careful in the moves and weights I choose, but often I will bother it just playing with my kids or bringing in groceries. Rest days are critical to me when I feel an old injury flare up.
- Life balance. Are you a personal trainer? Do you work at a gym? Do you coach a sport? Are you a competitive, professional body builder? Those would be good reasons to spend a huge amount of time in a gym and not call in sick just because you don’t feel like seeing exercise equipment again that day. Most of us need to feel like we have a balanced life, not JUST work or school or child raising or working out. My rest days right now involve taking my toddler to ballet class and swooning over how cute a pile of little girls in tutus can be. If you live and die by your schedule, write recovery days down in pen and don’t skip.
- Avoiding burnout and injury. Burnout is especially a problem if you are new to a fitness regimen. It’s HARD, and you likely haven’t seen the rewards yet, and without proper rest and recovery days, putting the DVD back in or lacing up the running shoes can start to feel like torture. Overdoing it so you are ALWAYS sore, ALWAYS tired, and ALWAYS hungry makes a plan hard to stick with. I find that on rest days, like today, I am looking forward to getting on the treadmill tomorrow so I can sweat out candy corn from every pore.
- Plateauing. Reaching a weight loss plateau can happen from both too little and too much effort. Overexercising, especially combined with disordered eating habits, can shock the body into trying to preserve itself from danger and do damage to your long term goals.
- Pamper yourself. Exercise is hard work, and even though it’s great for the body, it can take its toll. (I’ve noticed this more and more with every day past age 30.) If time and money allow, get a massage, get a haircut, or get a pedicure. I like to get out my foam roller and really dig into those sore muscles, and if my husband is home I’ll lock myself in my room and take a long soak in the tub.
- Be productive. If you’re a gym junkie or a serious runner, rest and recovery days can be tough on the psyche. To combat the blues, spend the time you would have spent working out tackling a project, like organizing my hall closet. (Seriously, you’re welcome to it.) Learn a new recipe. Catch up on emails. This next month, I’ll be using rest days to catch up on my NaNoWriMo word count. (Never heard of it? Click here and learn all about it.)
- Set new goals. Rest days are a good chance to sit down and reevaluate how your goals are coming along. I realized recently that I haven’t been keeping good track of numbers, so my goal is to have a better system of logging workouts, particularly weight lifting stats. Try to get excited about your health future. Maybe sign up for a 5k, a Spartan race, or a CrossFit competition.
- Keep moving. Rest day doesn’t mean no movement (unless you are sick or injured, of course.) I have an Up band that helps me keep my activity level up to a minimum healthy point, even without a workout. I might sit on an exercise ball while watching a little TV or park far away from the store to get a bit of extra movement in. Too much stagnation will make sore muscles even more sore. Another great option for movement tracking is the ever popular FitBit.
- Get adequate rest. No matter your program, no matter your health or fitness level, quality sleep is the most important factor in success. My Up band is often sending me emails to let me know I don’t get enough sleep (as if a mother of two toddlers needs to be reminded,) so I make an effort to sleep in and take a nap as often as I need.
This next week, schedule yourself a rest day and take full advantage of it!