It’s easy to get caught up in intense workout routines and to think that any days you take off will slow down your progress, but the opposite is actually true! If you don’t take time to rest and allow your muscles to recover, you’ll actually be slowing your progress down.
If you are currently in an intense training program, your first thought might be, “I do take rest days but they are active rest days”, or “I don’t have time for a rest day when my next (*insert competition, race, or event here*) is a month away… it’s crunch time!” But proper rest and recovery should never be ignored, especially as you ramp up your workouts.
Read on to learn why recovery time is so critical and how to maximize your time off from workouts.
Why Rest and Recovery Matters
The mechanics behind working out are simple when you get down to it: You work out, tear your muscles, and then they repair and build while you rest. Like they say, “no pain, no gain.”
Continuously working out your muscles without allowing for rest periods is one of the worst strategies you could follow. It may seem counterintuitive, but rest time is a critical component to your workout routine.
Rest days are important to help maximize your gains, repair your muscles, stay focused on your goals, and reduce the inflammation and soreness you may feel. Experts encourage stretching, foam rolling or taking a walk on your rest days, but anything that puts serious strain on your muscles is discouraged.
So how can you work rest days in to your routine? Take a look at the days where you want to be less active. For example, if you like to spend your weekends with friends and family, try to plan your rest days around these days.
Your rest and recovery periods require two parts. The is being sure that you are properly rotating your workouts, and the second is focusing on the rest you get at night while you sleep. We’ll walk you through how to maximize each.
Tips for Rotating Workouts
There are plenty of resources online to help you schedule your workouts in a smart way. This sample week-long weightlifting workout from livestrong.com is a great example. It includes a push day, with arm exercises that mimic pushing; a pull day, with arm exercises that mimic pulling; a leg day, with all the different types of leg exercises; and a rest day, which they recommend inserting between every workout.
Here is another week-long sample workout from self.com, which incorporates a total rest day and an active recovery rest day. Both of these websites have excellent ideas for both active and total rest days. It is also important to note that when you are working the same muscle groups each day, for example going to a cycling class five days a week and not incorporating weight lifting or a HIIT class, you are likely going to overwork your muscles and never give them a true chance to recover.
Tips for Maximizing Sleep Quality
Your sleep is a major time for your muscle recovery. If you’re sleeping correctly, your body will work to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and help your body heal from your workouts. An important part of making sure that you’re healing during your sleep is by taking the pressure off your spine. To do this, you must sleep in a position that keeps your spine neutral. Stretching out comfortably in your bed gives you a better chance to do this rather than knocking out on your recliner.
To improve your sleep you should also be sure you’re properly hydrated. Working out frequently without replenishing your body can put you at risk of dehydration, and dehydration makes your sleep quality suffer. You’ll also want to avoid any sleep disruptors while you’re trying to heal.
Tips for Maximizing Recovery
When you’re letting your muscles completely recover, there may be some pain involved like delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or tight muscles that cause pain. It is extremely important to help those muscles recover, and there are a few strategies you can incorporate to help this process:
- Foam rolling to release muscle tension and decrease muscle tightness
- Stretching post-workout to lengthen muscles and reduce DOMS
- Consuming healthy meals full of nutrients
- Reducing stress to keep your mental health in its best state
So, how many rest days do you plan on taking now? It’s always a good idea to take at least one rest day per week, but two or three have been proven to be even more successful with those looking to lose weight, increase muscle mass or become a better athlete.
Thank you to our guest contributer Laurie Larson for this post! To contact Laurie please email firstname.lastname@example.org