Finding the motivation to work out can often be daunting, and making the decision to get out of bed and head to the gym is usually easier said than done. But other times — especially if you’re aiming for a specific goal or making up for all those days you didn’t work out — the exact opposite can be true. If you’ve gotten into the “no breaks” mindset and feel like you have to hit the gym every single day, it can be increasingly difficult to allow yourself time to rest.
When you’re on a roll with your fitness, it can be easy to forget that proper rest is one of the most crucial parts of exercising effectively. While it is important to maintain an active lifestyle, it is also incredibly important to be kind to your body and give it the rest that it needs.
One of the key reasons for taking rest days is to maximize your workout results and levels of performance. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. For resistance training, ACSM recommends training each major muscle group two or three days each week and waiting at least 48 hours between training sessions for proper recovery.
Overexercising and depriving your body of rest can potentially stall — or even reverse — your progress. If you’re looking for results or trying to reach a specific fitness goal, exercise is only one part of the equation. Although giving yourself a rest day can feel counterproductive, in reality, it is an equally important part of the process of building strength and seeing progress over time. As you work out, especially during resistance training, your muscle tissues break down and cause microscopic tears. Later on, these muscles repair themselves, growing bigger and stronger as you rest. Allowing your body this time in between workouts to repair and strengthen itself is essential for improving your physical performance for the days when you do exercise.
But what exactly does a healthy rest day look like?
First, it’s extremely important to fuel your body with water and healthy foods. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, since your body uses stored glycogen in your muscles as you exercise, your body needs to replenish these lost nutrients with food and water. So, by fueling your body with plenty of carbohydrates and protein, your muscles can restore the glycogen they lost through training, as well as rebuild and repair with the available protein and amino acids.
Additionally, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re getting quality sleep. According to the International Sports Sciences Association, during sleep, blood glucose — a type of sugar that is stored in the body and used for energy — is stored in the muscle as muscle glycogen. Additionally, there is a huge release of human growth hormone (HGH), which is one of the primary compounds that allows muscles to recover and grow. Without proper sleep, the body can accumulate a sleep debt, which may have negative effects on cognitive function, mood and recovery time. While the workout itself is a small part of the equation, the real results happen while you sleep, so maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is essential to seeing progress over time.
Not only are rest days necessary for physical health, but they also help maintain your mental and emotional health. Although you may be eager to hit the gym every single day, overtraining without rest can potentially lead to burnout.
If your workout mindset shifts from quality to quantity, this may eventually have negative effects on the goals you’re reaching for. Pushing yourself too hard for too long may lead to injury, fatigue and a reduced level of cognitive ability. Just as your body needs to rest and refuel, it is equally important for your mind to do the same. So, instead of aiming for quantity, it is far more beneficial to reduce the number of workouts, incorporate rest days and focus on making your training days count. Instead of thinking of your rest days as “cheat days,” think of them instead as a time for you to take a step back, reflect on your training and remind yourself why you decided to work out in the first place.
Of course, taking a rest day doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still be active. In fact, this might be the perfect opportunity to try out some activities you don’t usually have time for. You can switch up your routine and try out a yoga class, take a long walk or go for a leisurely bike ride. Taking a day off from your day-to-day routine might actually be the perfect way to regain your energy and enthusiasm.
Just as you set workout goals, set rest goals for yourself, too. While being excited to work out is incredibly important, it’s also important to remember that rest days are equally as valuable as training days. So, plot out your weekly rest days and prioritize this time to allow your body, your mind and your spirit to recover and grow stronger. It’s okay — and necessary — to take a break. Your body will thank you in the long run.