The past decade has seen an explosion in people’s interest in fitness, nutrition and leading a healthy life. There are numerous articles, blogs, YouTube videos and other forms of content that focuses on the right equipment, workout schedule or the perfect diet. However, one vital component of achieving a healthy body is often overlooked: Rest Days.
Rest days are days when you need to take a break from your regular workout regimen. They are a vital part of all exercise programs. This is when the body gets a chance to repair and recover itself, thus preventing any future injury. Rest days are as important as your training and nutrition plans.
Why overtraining is bad
Taking a day off makes us feel guilty, plus we equate more training with better health. Turns out, accommodating rest days is a necessary part of your training regimen.
Exercise creates two kinds of stress in your body:
- Metabolic stress from energy depletion in the muscle cells
- Mechanical stress from physical damage to the muscle proteins.
During the recovery period, the body replenishes the fuel to the muscle cells and repairs the muscle proteins.
If the requisite amount of rest is not provided, it can lead to mental stress, feelings of burnout and disturbed sleep patterns. Additionally, workouts stop becoming fun, leading to decreased motivation levels.
Benefits of rest days
There are numerous physical and mental benefits of taking rest days.
- Allows muscles to grow: High-intensity workouts cause minute tears in your muscles. During rest days, the body repairs them and makes your muscles stronger. This, in turn, enables you to perform the same workout with reduced effort.
- Reduce chances of injury: If the muscle tears are not given time to heal, they can turn into sprains or even stress fractures since your bones are not getting sufficient rest. This is why bodybuilders don’t train the same muscle groups on consecutive days.
- Allows the mind to relax: Training requires significant mental strength to power through hard workouts. Taking your mind off training once in a while helps restore motivation and hit the next workout with renewed focus. This is true for any activity. Chess players, for example, lose 5 to 7 kgs during tournaments and take a few days off later.
- Boosts the immune system: Studies have shown that moderate exercise reduces the chances of catching a cold and viral infection. However, long stretches of hard training can do the opposite. This is why many of us fall ill after a marathon or an endurance event. Rest days can make you more immune to such infections.
Dos and don’ts of Rest Days
Depending on the type of training, below are some guidelines for rest days:
If you’re into light cardio, then rest days aren’t necessary. However, if you engage in moderate to high-intensity cardio, then they are essential. The thumb rule is that adults should get 150-300 minutes of moderate cardio in a week. Or 75-150 minutes of high-intensity cardio. It is recommended that you get a rest day every 3 to 5 days. Depending on the intensity of the workout, this can be adjusted accordingly. On your off-days, you may still engage in easy stretching exercises.
Running requires a different approach as you tend to involve more muscle groups and joints. Running too much too soon can lead to injuries, especially if you weren’t active before. For beginners, it is recommended to run 3 days a week, with alternate rest days. For marathoners, it is best to rest often in the 3 weeks leading up to an event. Consult your trainer for a more nuanced discussion specific to your requirements and body.
You can incorporate rest in 2 ways: First is to rotate the body parts you train with a 2 or 3 day gap until the next workout. Further, you can train the opposing muscle groups for better balance. Secondly, plan for a regular rest day to engage in light or zero cardio.
To conclude, rest days help your muscles to recover and strengthen. They also restore motivation levels by helping your mind relax. To get the maximum benefit, engage in light activities like cycling, walking, etc. Without enough breaks, you are less likely to achieve the goals you set in the first place. Do not take your rest days lightly!