Some people believe that more is better, but in the case of exercise, this isn’t always true. Every good exercise routine should be balanced. Rest and recovery days are necessary because they help repair your body, prevent injury, and maximize your performance. Rest days are critical to fitness progress and performance optimization. Not allowing your body to rest can cause physical and mental exhaustion, compromise your exercise routine, and cause chronic muscle pain and soreness. Recovery duration depends on your training regimen, age, and personal ability. (1) It is important to listen to your body and respond accordingly when it needs rest.
Why Are Rest and Recovery Days Important?
Rest and Recovery Days Help Repair Muscles
Muscle regeneration happens when we rest. Every time you exercise, it creates microscopic tears in the muscle. If you’re trying to build muscle, this is a good thing. Fibroblasts repair the microscopic tears. Cells around the torn fibers work to knit together the damaged fibers. (2) As the muscle heals, the tissue becomes stronger, which results in increased muscle mass. Without rest, this regenerative process is inhibited. If you’re looking for muscle gain, work and rest will be of equal importance to your workout. It’s important to note that muscles repair during recovery, not during the actual exercise.
Rest also replenishes the body of its glycogen energy stores. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose that’s made up of many connected glucose molecules. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy. You get glucose (sugar) from eating carbohydrates. (3) If your body doesn’t need glucose right away, it stores it as glycogen in your liver and muscles. Not allowing your body to recover can cause a depletion of glycogen in the muscles (4) and will trigger the body to use protein for energy. (5) This may cause fatigue, exhaustion, and injury. You must give yourself enough time to replenish your glycogen stores to allow damaged muscle to recover.
2. Rest and Recovery Days Help You Avoid Injury
People who habitually push themselves past their rest days are more likely to make mistakes while training. Since overtraining can cause mental exhaustion, exercise form may be compromised and this can lead to injury. (6) Overuse injuries are common to those who workout obsessively. The continual strain on the body and stress on the muscles doesn’t allow for repair to take place. Overexercising can also fatigue the mind. Tiredness can lead to poor decision making while exercising and increase the likelihood of injury. (7) Finally, continual exercise without rest can overwork the nervous system and endocrine systems which can lead to high cortisol levels. This increased stress can cause poor sleep, low energy, moodiness, and burnout. (8)
3. Rest and Recovery Days Help You Make Fitness Progress
As stated, overtraining can have many negative side effects on your body and mind. If you have lofty fitness goals, and you refuse to rest, expect your fitness progress to grind to a halt. To get the most out of your workouts, the type of exercises and level of intensity should vary. Periodization is the “planned manipulation of training variables (load, sets, and repetitions) to maximize training adaptations and prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome”. (9) Structuring your workouts in this way will allow for proper rest between high, moderate, and low intensity days. (10) Rest days assure that your body has the ability to participate in physical activity and exercise on an ongoing basis.
Signs That It Is Time to Rest
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), some signs to look out for include(11):
- Persistent muscle pain or soreness
- Continued feelings of sluggishness following a workout
- Binge eating, or craving comfort foods
- Increased incidence of injury or illness
- Mood shifts or increase irritability
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Prioritizing fitness over everything else and becoming obsessive
- Reduced beneficial effects of exercise, such as a decreasing rate of fat loss or muscle gain
What is Rest?
Rest depends on the person. Contrary to popular belief, rest doesn’t mean you do nothing and stay on the couch all day. While this may be what you need every so often, it is not the only way. Recovery activities can include stretching, foam rolling, slow yoga, sauna, cold water plunges, or a massage. Less active options may include enjoying quality time with friends or loved ones, journaling, reading, meditating, deep breathing, or sun bathing. Non-activity options can further reduce stress, calm the mind, and decompress the body. Rest should be whatever feels most restorative for you. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out one of our stretching classes on the SunnyFit® App!
5 Ways to Maximize Your Rest Days
1. Listen to Your Body
Assess how you feel and attune to what your body is telling you. If your body is telling you it needs to recover, then let yourself rest. You may need more sleep, a walk or light movement, or healthy foods.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Most muscle repair and growth occurs during sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked with decreased aerobic endurance and other performance measures, adverse hormone changes like increased cortisol and decreased human growth hormone, fatigue, and sickness. (12) The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it is important to note that the quality and quantity of sleep matters. Sleep hygiene is very important. So put away your phone before bed and establish good routines that prepare the mind and body for sleep. (13)
3. Get Adequate Hydration
Water acts as a lubricant for muscles and joints, which will help you avoid muscle cramps and soreness. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men. About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. (14)
4. Eat Nutritious Foods
On recovery days, focus on lean proteins, fresh vegetables, and fruits. For example, red or orange fruits and vegetables provide beta-carotene and other antioxidants to reduce inflammation. This is a day that you can reduce the amount of carbs you take in, as you won’t need the same levels of energy as you do on workout days.
5. Be Sure to Stretch
Stretching and foam rolling should be part of your daily exercise routine and should not be solely used on rest days. Stretching improves flexibility, alleviates tight muscles, and decreases the chances of muscle imbalances. Foam rolling provides a self-myofascial massage, shown to reduce muscle soreness and improve range of motion when done after a workout. Stretching and foam rolling can actually speed up recovery. (15)
Rest days are very important and are necessary to optimize performance and strength. If you have a hard time sitting still then low energy activities may be the way to go, but be sure to give your mind the space to rest and relax too.
1. Ansorge, R. (2022, February 7). Rest and recovery are critical for an athlete’s physiological and psychological well-being. UCHealth.
https://www.uchealth.org/today/rest-and-recovery-for-athletes-physiological-psychological-well-being/. Accessed 12 July 2023.
2, 8. Shepherd, B. (2022, August 10). Why are rest days important?. LiveScience https://www.livescience.com/why-are-rest-days-important. Accessed 12 July 2023.
3. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, July 13). Glycogen: What is it and how does it function?. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23509-glycogen. Accessed 12 July 2023.
4-7. Fletcher, J. (2021, January 28). When and how to spend a rest day. MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/rest-day#benefits. Accessed 12 July 2023.
9. Lorenz, D. S., Reiman, M. P., & Walker, J. C. (2010). Periodization: current review and suggested implementation for athletic rehabilitation. Sports health, 2(6), 509–518. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438871/#:~:text=Periodization%20is%20the%20planned%20manipulation,the%20onset%20of%20overtraining%20syndrome. Accessed 14 July 2023.
10. McCallby, P. (2018, December 19). 8 Reasons to Take a Rest Day. AceFitness. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/7176/8-reasons-to-take-a-rest-day/. Accessed 14 July 2023.
11.Robinson, J. (2017, June 21). 9 Signs of Overtraining to Look Out For. AceFitness. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/6466/overtraining-9-signs-of-overtraining-to-look-out-for/. Accessed 14 July 2023.
12, 13, 15. Clark, J. (2017, June 20). 6 Things athletes should do on rest day. Beyond The Sidelines. https://www.gebauer.com/instant-ice/blog/rest-day. Accessed 17 July 2023.
14 Mayo Clinic. (2022, October 12). Water: How much should you drink every day?. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256#:~:text=So%20how%20much%20fluid%20does,fluids%20a%20day%20for%20women. Accessed 17 July 2023.