I’ve grown to look forward to them, but this hasn’t always been the case. I used to pride myself in working out seven days a week, and there were many times I would actually do two (or more) workouts a day. I would run on the treadmill before taking a cardio based class (why!?), I’d do two intense classes in one day (Two a Day Tuesdays were a real thing), or I would lift in the morning and then come back for spin, kickboxing, and more later on. My body was sore, but I’d push through anyways. If Instagram was a thing back then, my sweaty selfies would probably have been accompanied by the hashtags #nodaysoff, #whatrest, and #traineverydamnday. Oy!
Not incorporating rest days into my training got me absolutely nowhere. I wasn’t any closer to my performance and physique goals. Instead, I was achy, injured, and hungry. Allllll the time. Take it from someone who has been there, done that, and so over it now: overdoing it is not glamorous. Training more doesn’t always equate to better, especially if there’s no recovery time thrown into the mix.
If you are someone who kills yourself for hours at the gym or you feel like taking a day off will be detrimental to your progress, I am sharing four reasons today for why I believe resting is an essential ingredient for the total recipe necessary for making progress with your fitness goals.
4 Reasons Rest Days are Just as Important as Time in the Gym
1. Rest days give your muscles the chance to rebuild.
Let me tell you a little secret: getting stronger doesn’t happen during your workouts, it happens after them. Of course, challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone while you exercise is important for continuously progressing, but hear me out while I get science-y on you for a second. During an intense workout, especially one that involves resistance training, you apply a stress stimulus to your body that breaks down the fibers and connective tissue in your muscles. This breakdown is actually in the form of microscopic muscle tears. What comes after the workout itself, however, is your body’s response to the stress you just put on it. Giving your body time to rest between training sessions will allow it to repair the tissue damage and get stronger. This delicate balance of stressing the body with training (to a point) and then allowing it to recover and adapt (to a point) is what actually allows you to get fitter and what helps your body work more efficiently.
2. Rest days prevent injury.
It’s no wonder that when I was going balls to the wall with exercise, I had endless overuse injuries. I dealt with a rotator cuff injury, hip bursitis, IT band issues, and too many foot problems to count. These injuries all happened within a couple of years from each other and easily could have been prevented with smarter training! For example, if you run or spin regularly, you probably have a good understanding of how much your legs and feet will be able to take until you need a day off. And referring back to the stress and adapt concept described above, if you push it too hard without a break for those micro-tears to heal, you will overwork your muscles and joints straight into an overuse injury. Trust me on this: once your knee is killing you or your shoulder hurts in a way that just doesn’t feel quite right, that’s when the thought of a rest day all of a sudden doesn’t seem so bad, and you’ll likely wish you had taken one sooner. It will always be a lot easier to rest on purpose than it will to be sidelined with an injury and forced out of the game for longer.
3. Rest days allow you to move in other ways.
Taking a rest day or two per week doesn’t mean that you have to be couch bound for the day. It’s still important to move! The key is to select activities that aren’t as intense or as high impact as your usual workouts. In fact, it might help to start thinking about rest days as an opportunity to try something new or move in ways that truly nurture you. Some examples of recovery activities include leisure walking, foam rolling, stretching, moderate cycling, or restorative yoga. As a side note, power yoga doesn’t count as rest, in my opinion. Other great options include paddle boarding, kayaking with friends, taking a dance class for fun, or going for a non-strenuous hike. Simply pick something low impact, something that you truly enjoy doing, and something that will get your blood flowing a bit to allow you to expend some energy!
4. Rest days prevent burnout.
Finally, mental fatigue can be just as taxing on the body as physical fatigue can be. There are going to be days that you just don’t feel like working out. This is okay… and normal! And honestly, just like you should take a rest day if you are feeling physically sore or experiencing some kind of nagging pain, you should take a rest day if you are feeling mentally drained, fatigued, exhausted, or stressed by the thought of exercising. If you feel unmotivated or tired, try to think about when your last rest day was. If you can’t remember, that’s probably a pretty telling sign that you are heading into burnout land. Anytime I’ve felt a little unmotivated or just not into it, taking some time to rest mentally and separate from the gym leaves me feeling excited for my next training session. It’s actually also usually after I rest that I absolutely crush my workouts and have the best days in terms of PRs. Just saying. 🙂
It’s really hard to change your mindset on rest. I get it, and I’ve been there. It’s definitely a mental adjustment, but you can and should take time off for the reasons I listed above and more! If you are worried about a rest day setting you back, please know that it takes your body at least two weeks, if not more, to start seeing any type of noticeable regression in your overall fitness levels. Your hard work will not be lost with purposely integrated rest days, just like your diet won’t be totally thrown off if you eat a freaking Oreo. It’s all about balance, in all aspects.
It takes practice to trust the process with rest days, but just remember that more activity and higher intensity aren’t always the best solutions. Prioritizing rest to aid recovery can often do a whole lot more for fat loss than an extra workout will.