As with most things in life, your exercise routine is all about balance! Strengthening your muscles and boosting your cardiovascular endurance are important goals, but it’s equally essential to know when to provide your body with rest – so that you can grow stronger and replenish your energy reserves. In this article, we discuss why rest and recovery are critical aspects of a well-rounded fitness routine and how you can implement active recovery into your lifestyle.
How do rest days improve your health?
Allow time for muscles to repair themselves and grow stronger
During strength training, muscles experience tiny tears that are then repaired after the workout. This repairing and rebuilding process is part of what causes the muscles to adapt and become stronger in response to loading them with resistance exercises. Not allowing time for the muscles to repair themselves actually hinders performance and muscle health.
Decrease muscle soreness
Experiencing some degree of muscle soreness after a workout is to be expected and is not harmful. However, extreme muscle pain or soreness can occur with overuse or overtraining of the muscles. As mentioned above, your muscle tissues break down and then repair themselves in response to training. Continuously working the same muscles without resting them will result in excessive soreness and unnecessary discomfort.
Help prevent injury and overtraining
When you don’t allow adequate time for your body to recover, you unintentionally place yourself at an increased risk for injury and overtraining. Muscle injuries can occur from overuse, so by resting you allow your body the necessary time to heal and recover. Additionally, too much training without proper rest can lead to overtraining syndrome. While exercise is important and beneficial, overtraining syndrome results in increased cortisol levels, poor sleep quality, irregular heart rhythms, decreased energy, weakened immune system, and even mood changes.
Restore energy both physiologically and mentally
Your body uses fuel in the form of glycogen for energy to power through your exercises. Glycogen is stored in the muscle tissues and the liver and it is released during physical activity to keep you going. So what happens when you use up the existing glycogen stores? Your body needs rest days and adequate nutrition to replenish them to have energy for future workouts!
Being in tune with your body and understanding when to push yourself harder and when to take a rest day or perform a more relaxing form of movement is imperative for recharging your battery – so that you can get back to crushing your goals the next day.
Active recovery and a lifestyle of daily movement
When it comes to recovery, it can be broken down into passive and active. Passive recovery is a day of complete rest whereas active recovery is when you perform movement of some sort at a lesser intensity than a typical workout. The goal of this type of movement is not necessarily to get your heart rate up to a certain number but rather to move your body in a way that feels good without disrupting the muscle rebuilding and healing process during the recovery phase.
Active recovery has been shown to promote increased blood flow, decreased lactic acid build-up, improved muscle flexibility, and leave you feeling less sore post-workout. Also, when you incorporate movement into your everyday life, this is excellent for not only muscle health but heart health too!
What should I do on my active rest days?
Some great activities for active rest days include yoga, light cycling, walking, mobility exercises, and stretching routines. Any movement that helps you feel refreshed and energized while remaining less intense than your typical strength and endurance training routine is a great place to start.
Adding rest days to your routine
Striking a balance between following a structured fitness regimen and allowing yourself the flexibility to listen to your body’s needs is challenging, but important! Having a general exercise schedule with rest days built-in can be very helpful, especially for those who thrive in more structured environments. Try planning your workouts ahead of time so that you can vary the muscle groups you are strengthening, giving each group rest in between sessions to prevent overtraining. Additionally, you should have specific days built into your program for active rest days, or less intense activities mentioned above. Scheduling a restorative yoga session or a walk with a friend during the week will still allow you to get your movement in while taking a break from intense strength or cardiovascular training that is more taxing on the mind and body.
However, remember flexibility to live your life and listen to your body is important – physically and mentally. It is completely fine to take rest days as you feel you need them and adjust your fitness schedule accordingly. It’s best to build a lifestyle of daily healthy habits and movement that you will sustain for the long run for optimal fitness and wellness results.
Are you looking for a customized fitness or recovery program but don’t know where to start? Download the OneStep app today to be connected with a licensed physical therapist today who will perform a thorough assessment and design a customized exercise program for you! Physical therapists are an excellent resource for anyone who wants to improve their physical fitness, find relief from a chronic injury, or optimize their performance! Your OneStep PT will work with you to pick the best exercises for you and educate you on the proper implementation of rest and active recovery.
McCall P. 8 reasons to take a rest day. American Council on Exercise. Updated December 2018. Accessed April 2022.
Ross J. Passive vs. active recovery: Which is more effective? American Council on Exercise. Updated June 2015. Accessed April 2022.
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Witard OC, Bannock L, Tipton KD.Making Sense of Muscle Protein Synthesis: A Focus on Muscle Growth During Resistance Training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2022; 32(1): 49-61.