The importance of rest days

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Whether you are a novice athlete taking up a new workout program, an experienced runner training for a race, or a high performance athlete, one thing everyone has in common is the need for rest to ensure success. Although it’s tempting to train day in and day out, there are several advantages to giving yourself the recovery time your body needs. Rest days should be as high priority as training days. Here’s why:

5 reasons why you should schedule in that rest day(s):

  1. Prevents overuse injuries

This is probably the most obvious reason to get those rest days in. Over-training doesn’t allow your body to recuperate after a workout and can cause sprains, strains and nerve-related injuries (eg. sciatica).  Not taking appropriate rest can result in having to take significantly more time off to rehab an injury. The opposite of your intentions when you start to train!

  1. Allows tissues to heal and adapt

No matter what your sport or activity, when we exercise (aka load our tissues), we create tiny micro tears in our tissues (muscles, tendons, etc) that our immune system repairs within the following days. This is especially true for resistance training where we put huge loads on our bodies with the intention to build stronger muscles. Not taking adequate rest can inhibit or dampen our body’s natural healing process and lead to injuries.

  1. Enhances performance

In addition to preventing injuries, planning proper rest days can enhance performance. When we allow our tissues to adequately recover, we allow them to adapt and become stronger. While we rest, we also allow our glycogen stores (glucose stored in our muscles) to get replenished, which means we will be prepped and ready to perform for the next bout of activity. Without enough tissue recovery and energy replenishment, we won’t see major gains in performance.

  1. Allows the immune system to function optimally

As mentioned, post-exercise, the immune system does an amazing job to clean up our tissues and prep them for the next workout. However, too much activity without enough down time can throw the immune system out of whack and put it in a situation where it can’t keep up with the tissue repair demands. Not only can this leave you vulnerable to injuries, but it also can leave you vulnerable to illness (eg. cold or flu).

  1. Improves mood, sleep and energy

Just like immune function, regular exercise can improve mood, sleep and energy. However, on the other end of the spectrum, too much training with inadequate recovery time leads to the opposite effects: low mood, poor sleep and fatigue! There are many reasons for this, a major one being cortisol (stress hormone) levels remain sky high and interfere with our emotions, circadian rhythm, and energy levels.

How much rest is best? It depends on your sport/activity, skill level, intensity of training, where you are in your season, and your age and overall health. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you, but for the average person I recommend dedicating at least 2 days per week to rest and recovery.

Remember that rest doesn’t mean you’re necessarily lounging in front of Netflix all day. Rest can be (and in my opinion, should often be) active! Nature walks, yoga, tai chi, and general stretching are all great examples of active rest that also can be meditative to give your mind the rest it needs as well.

For all the go-getter, hard-core athletes out there that despise taking a day off, try to listen to your body. Next time you feel like you just need a down day, it’s okay to save that 10k for another time and treat yourself to some R&R. Your body and your mind will thank you.