Give It A Rest: The Importance of a Rest Day in your Fitness Program

rest day from working outYou work out everyday. “No pain, no gain” is your mantra. You push yourself hard even if you don’t feel well – “I’ll sweat it out,” you say. While I applaud your dedication to health and fitness, your body will benefit more if you build a day of rest into your workout schedule. Yes, I am saying you need to take a day off!

For both the seasoned fitness enthusiast and novice who’s just getting started, adequate rest is just as important as the workouts themselves. Repair and recovery is the key to building and maintaining a strong body and optimum health.

What A Rest Day Should Look Like

I’m not sure I love the term Rest Day…to me it’s more of a replenish and/or recharge day. I know there is a lot of confusion out there as to what rest should look like. To some it means an hour of cardio, to others it entails veging out in front of the TV eating their favorite cheat meals. What I advise is a day where you can fully rest your body, eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water and maybe go for a light walk to keep the blood moving. Keep the phone, TV, FaceBook and general screen chatter to a minimum, as your mind needs as much of a break as your muscles.

Why You Need A Rest Day in Your Workout Schedule

No machine can work effectively without an occasional “maintenance” break, and your body is no different. There are numerous issues that can arise when you overtrain, from hitting a weight-loss or muscle building plateau to having difficulty sleeping. Depending on your workout routine, for those that actively lift weights and participate in circuit training, aim to take a day off once every 3 to 4 days. This will actually benefit your workout far more than working out everyday, which is technically overtraining.

Take it from the pros – most serious athletes, both professional and amateur, understand that rest day is a vital part of their health and fitness program…often being the secret component for hitting PR’s (personal records), as the body is more rested and able to perform at a higher level.

Rest Days Reduce the Risk of Injury

When you overtrain, you are at an increased risk of injury from fatigue and overuse. Wrist fractures, ankle sprains, shoulder injuries, muscle strains, back injuries, tendinitis, and shin splints are all common examples of injuries that occur as a result of overuse and/or fatigue. Those of you who cross-train may think you don’t have to worry about all this, but you definitely do. Even if you train using various forms of exercise, different ways on different days, or rotate your muscle groups daily, you still need to rest your body and give your bones, muscles, and supporting tendons and ligaments a break so they can engage in the repair process. Think about it this way, if you end up with an overuse injury, you may find yourself being forced to quit your workout routine in order to heal from a much more severe problem, or possibly surgery.

Restock Glycogen for Energy

Without adequate repair time, the body can breakdown from overtraining, and you may feel weak, depressed, and even sick. The body needs time to repair, rebuild and strengthen itself between workouts, and uses your rest day to do this so it can replenish energy and repair damaged tissues. During rest days, your body is able to restock its glycogen stores so you have fuel for your muscles and your brain, as glycogen is essentially the only fuel used by the brain.

Mental Break

Speaking of the brain, a rest day will help your mental health, too, as you allow your brain to relax and/or think about other things, which helps to create clarity in your mind, as well as stimulate new ideas. This mental break also helps keep you from getting into a rut where your program becomes boring. Furthermore, too much exercise can negate the anti-depressant effect that normally occurs with activity. As a result of overtraining, you may find yourself combating anxiety and depression, which may lead to additional adverse health issues over time.

Keep Your Immune System Healthy

Recovery time also allows your immune system to stay healthy. When you over-train, stress hormones rise and your immune system becomes depressed, making you susceptible to colds and viruses. High levels of cortisol also inhibit the building of lean body mass, counteracting the positive effects of your workouts.

A New Health Day

Hopefully, you now understand how a “rest” day is actually an important part of your health and fitness program. There is no need to feel guilty about not working out for one day a week. In fact, you should consider this day “off” just as important as your workout days because when combined you get the most health benefit.

Now, if most of your days are “rest” days, THAT’s another story! In that case, call me!