For many of us, exercise is like meditation?
It's easy to get carried away by the feel-good sensations you get from working out (hello, endorphins!) – whether you find it empowering, meditative, or therapeutic. But lifting heavy every day at the gym, and never taking time to rest, can backfire on you. Your body needs time to rest in between workout sessions so it can repair itself – and come back with the gains you desire.
So – if you’re someone who detests the idea of taking a day completely off the weights, read this article. It will (hopefully) knock some sense into the inner iron demon within you and show you how well-planned rest days can fast-track your muscle-building progress.
How often do I need rest days?
If you just started with a new exercise program or are new to lifting in general, rest every third day. That is, you should work out two consecutive days and rest the third. On the other hand, if you've been in the game for quite some time, you can afford to take an active recovery day once a week.
You should also plan for a 'deload’ week every eight weeks or so – this is where you decrease the intensity of your training load.
How inactive do I need to be on rest days?
You don't have to lie in bed the whole day on a rest day. Instead, how inactive you need to be on your rest day depends on the intensity of your workout sessions leading up to it.
If you’ve been smashing all your PBs (Personal Bests) day in and out before taking an off-day, your rest day should be a day completely off from taxing your body. You might go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood, but you should bar yourself from going to the gym or going for crazy interval sprints.
But if your workouts have been light to moderate right before your scheduled rest day, you can adopt a more 'active' approach to the day. You can invite some friends over to play tennis, sign up for a yoga class, or go for a slow jog.
What can I do, specifically?
I know – the idea of not having something planned out in sets and reps is unknown and scary. If you’re in desperate need of some structure for your rest days, here are five specific activities you can turn to the next time you’re giving your body a break from the gym.
After consecutive days of heavy lifting, your muscles are undoubtedly incredibly tight and sore. If you don’t want your range of motion to suffer in upcoming gym sessions, one of the best things you can do on a rest day is to work on your mobility. Not only does it keep your body more flexible for deeper squats (for example), it can also keep you injury-free, so you don't have to do unilateral work! Score. Check out the One Legged Balance Taps bellow for example.
Intervals and sprints
As mentioned earlier, you should only do these intense recovery activities if your exercise intensity has been light to moderate.
In interval training, you'll be alternating your exercise with periods of high- and low-intensity activity. You can consider switching between jogging and walking or walking and sprinting.
If you want to build explosive power during your recovery day, you can find a hill and repeatedly sprint up it. Of course, make sure that you didn’t just have legs day before, and that you’re not planning a legs day the next day.
With all that said, complete full-on couch-mode rest days are a worthy part of your training regime, too. There’s nothing wrong with taking days off completely, so don’t forget to tune in to your body and give it a break when it needs one.
How else can I make the most of my rest days?
Rest days are not cheat days. I repeat, rest days are not cheat days. You should not sabotage your fitness progress by stuffing yourself with burgers upon burgers on a rest day, just because you’re not heading to the gym. Do not do that.
Here’s what you can do to ensure that you’re genuinely benefitting from your rest days:
1. Plan your off days – Dedicating a day to recover gives the day a purpose; you’ll be less likely to sabotage yourself by over-indulging in ten slices of pizza. You’ll have time to decide what you want to do on the day, and this can increase the likelihood of you following up on it.
2. Meal prep for the week – Remember how we said that rest days aren't cheat days? To remind yourself of that, you should meal prep on your rest days – not only does it nudge you into staying diligent with healthy nutrition, but it also gets the hassle of meal prepping for the week out of the way!
3. Have fun – Ultimately though, you should have fun on rest days. Having a healthy relationship with fitness means that you’re able to take an occasional day off the gym, and still enjoy whatever activity you’ve planned, be it catching up with friends or working on your hip mobility.
Rest days are necessary – especially if you've been consistently busting your ass in the gym. If you keep putting physical stress on your (poor) body without rest, you can reach the point of diminishing returns or the point at which exercise doesn't result in any more progress. Don't want that to happen, but still struggle with having the discipline to stay away from the gym?
Download GymStreak – this AI-powered app schedules all your workouts to ensure that you’re giving your body the rest it deserves, so you build muscle as quickly as possible. Also, if you struggle with the specifics and science of deloading, GymStreak does it all automatically for you. No calculations are necessary on your part; all you need to do is show up and perform.