Are Rest Days Important for Exercise?
We’re always told to stay active and get regular exercise. But whether you’re training for a competition or feeling extra motivated, more isn’t always better.
Rest days are just as important as exercise. In fact, a successful fitness regimen isn’t complete without rest days.
Taking regular breaks allows your body to recover and repair. It’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport. Otherwise, skipping rest days can lead to overtraining or burnout.
Here’s a look at the advantages of taking regular rest days.
1. Allows time for recovery
Contrary to popular belief, a rest day isn’t about being lazy on the couch. It’s during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise take place. Specifically, rest is essential for muscle growth.
Exercise creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. But during rest, cells called fibroblasts repair it. This helps the tissue heal and grow, resulting in stronger muscles.
Also, your muscles store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. During exercise, your body breaks down glycogen to fuel your workout. Rest gives your body time to replenish these energy stores before your next workout.
2. Prevents muscle fatigue
Rest is necessary for avoiding exercise-induced fatigue. Remember, exercise depletes your muscles’ glycogen levels. If these stores aren’t replaced, you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness.
Plus, your muscles need glycogen to function, even when you’re not working out. By getting adequate rest, you’ll prevent fatigue by letting your glycogen stores refill.
3. Reduces risk of injury
Regular rest is essential for staying safe during exercise. When your body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to fall out of form, drop a weight, or take a wrong step.
Overtraining also exposes your muscles to repetitive stress and strain. This increases the risk of overuse injuries, forcing you to take more rest days than planned.
4. Improves performance
When you don’t get enough rest, it can be hard to do your normal routine, let alone challenge yourself. For example, you might be less motivated to do an extra rep or run another mile.
Even if you push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced endurance, slow reaction times, and poor agility.
Rest has the opposite effect. It increases energy and prevents fatigue, which prepares your body for consistently successful workouts.
5. Supports healthy sleep
While regular exercise can improve your sleep, taking rest days is also helpful.
Physical activity increases energy-boosting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Constant exercise, however, overproduces these hormones. You’ll have a hard time getting quality sleep, which only worsens fatigue and exhaustion.
Rest can help you get better sleep by letting your hormones return to a normal, balanced state.
How to do rest days right
The ideal rest day looks different for each person. It depends on the intensity and frequency of your normal routine, along with your lifestyle outside of exercise.
However, there are general guidelines for incorporating rest days in various workouts.
Typically, rest days aren’t necessary for light cardio. This includes activities like leisurely walking or slow dancing. It’s safe enough to do every day, unless your doctor says otherwise.
But if you’re doing moderate or vigorous aerobic activity, rest days are essential. It’s recommended to take a rest day every three to five days. If you do vigorous cardio, you’ll want to take more frequent rest days.
You can also have an active rest day by doing a light workout, like gentle stretching.
To determine when you should rest, consider the recommendations for aerobic activity. Each week, adults should get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
These guidelines can help you plan your rest days. For example, if you’d like to do three days of 50-minute vigorous cardio sessions, you can plan rest days and other workouts around them.
While running is a form of cardio, it usually requires a different approach to rest days.
If you’re a beginner, start running three days a week. Running too much too soon can lead to fatigue and overuse injuries.
On the other days, let yourself rest or do different activities. Your other workouts should involve muscles you don’t use while running.
Rest days are even more important if you’re training for a marathon. In the last three weeks before the event, it’s best to rest more often. A personal trainer or running coach can explain how to rest based on your goals.
Bodybuilding, or weight training, incorporates rest days by rotating the muscles worked.
After exercising a specific muscle group, let it rest for one to two days. This gives your muscles a chance to repair and heal.
On the other days, train different muscles. Be sure to work opposing muscles to keep your body balanced.
One way to do rest days is to assign a day for each body part. For instance, Monday can be leg day, Tuesday can be chest day, and so on.
For weight loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, you should still have regular rest days.
Rest allows your muscles to rebuild and grow. And when you have more muscle, you’ll burn more calories at rest. That’s because muscle burns more energy than fat.
Additionally, when you feel refreshed, you’ll be more likely to stick to your exercise routine.
What to do on your rest day
To get the most out of your rest day, consider the following:
Diet and protein
On rest days, your body generally needs less calories because you’re not as active. But instead of trying to omit a specific number of calories, simply listen to your body. It will naturally “ask” for less food through satiety and hunger cues.
It’s also important to eat enough protein, even on rest days. Adequate protein intake supports the muscle repair that happens during rest.
Active people need 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. This should be evenly spaced throughout the day.
On rest days, you should also focus on:
- Carbohydrates. Eat complex carbs to restore your glycogen levels. Depending on your level of activity, you’ll need 3 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
- Water. It’s essential to drink enough water, even when you’re not working out. Staying hydrated prevents muscle cramps and delivers nutrients throughout your body.
- Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies offer healthy carbs and nutrients that support recovery.
Yoga is one of the best things you can do on a rest day. It’s excellent for improving body awareness, breathing, and flexibility. It also helps you build strength while loosening your muscles.
Plus, yoga promotes calmness, leaving you refreshed and ready for the next workout. You don’t need a lot of time to enjoy the benefits of yoga. Just 10 to 15 minutes will help exercise recovery.
Like yoga, low-impact exercise is a great rest day activity. Low-impact workouts help you stay active without overstressing your body. They also let you enjoy exercise in a more relaxing way.
Examples of low-impact workouts include:
- casual swimming
Signs you need a rest day
If you notice any of the following signs, it might be time to take a break:
- Sore muscles. While it’s normal to feel sore after exercise, persistent soreness is a red flag. It means your muscles haven’t recovered from past workouts.
- Fatigue. Pay attention to extreme exhaustion. If you feel spent, let your body rest.
- Pain. Muscle or joint pain that doesn’t go away might be a sign of an overuse injury.
- Emotional changes. When you’re physically burnt out, hormones like serotonin and cortisol become imbalanced. This can cause changes like irritability, crankiness, and mood swings.
- Sleeping issues. High levels of cortisol and adrenaline can make it hard to get quality sleep.
- Reduced performance. If your normal routine feels difficult, or if you stop seeing progress, take a rest day.
When to talk with a pro
If you’re new to exercise, or if you haven’t worked out in a long time, talk to an exercise professional like a personal trainer. You can also talk to an exercise specialist if you want to try a new activity like bodybuilding or marathon training.
A professional can determine the best workout for your fitness level. They can also help you increase intensity, duration, and speed in a safe way. Most importantly, they can explain how to incorporate rest days based on your personalized routine.