When you are working towards a fitness or weight-loss goal, taking a rest day might feel like a waste of time. But don’t be tempted to power on through. Done right, a rest day is a valuable part of any exercise regime. And skipping it can increase the risk of injury too. In this article, we’ll look at the importance of scheduling regular rest days as part of your training plan, and how to make the most of your day off.
Why Is It Important To Have a Rest Day?
Rest days are an integral part of any training regime for a few different reasons:
1. Allow Your Body To Refuel
When we work out, we put an increased metabolic demand on the energy stored in our cells. Which is great news for both muscle building and weight-loss. But our bodies don’t have an infinite supply of energy for us to use. Your rest day allows your body to catch up with the additional demands you are putting on your energy supplies, laying down fresh glycogen stores for use in your next workout.
This is particularly important if one of your aims is to build muscle: if your glycogen stores are insufficient to fuel your energy usage during your training sessions, your body will utilise protein in its place. And you need that protein to repair and build muscle tissue.
2. Repair and Build Muscle
The way that exercise, especially weightlifting, works to build muscle is actually by damaging the muscle fibres. It is your body’s repair of these damaged fibres that causes muscle growth (hypertrophy). But the growth doesn’t occur while you are working out. Instead, it happens when you rest. If you are training too intensively too often, your muscles don’t have the chance to repair and build new fibres, meaning you won’t get the results that you want.
3. Avoid injury and fatigue
The harder we workout, the more tired our muscles feel. That’s how we know it’s working, right? But when our bodies are tired, we are more likely to lose form and injure ourselves through improper technique. Scheduling in rest days allows our bodies a chance to properly recover in between training sessions, making us less likely to get hurt.
Rest days can be especially important for runners and others concentrating on one form of exercise. Repeatedly doing the same motion can put strain on your joints, especially if you are running on hard surfaces. Taking the time to rest gives your body a chance to repair any damage.
4. Give yourself a psychological break
So often you’ll hear that reaching your training goals is as much to do with your mind as with your body. And it is true. Giving our minds a chance to rest is as important as resting our bodies to ensure we can come back to training with a refreshed sense of focus and purpose.
5. Make time for other hobbies and activities
Particularly if you are training with a specific goal in mind, exercise can be time-consuming. While those hours spent in the gym are hopefully worthwhile, it is important to make time for other things as well. Rest days give you back some much-needed hours to enjoy other hobbies, spend time with friends and family, or just laze on the sofa for a while.
6. Catch up on sleep
If you’re regularly up before the sun to fit in a run or a gym session before work, then your rest day is a valuable chance to catch up with some rest. And getting enough sleep is important for our health and wellbeing, as well as reaching our fitness goals. Check out our post on the importance of sleep for muscle gain if you are not convinced!
Making the most of your rest day
Now that you know why rest is so important to help you reach your training goals, as well as to avoid injury, let’s look at how you can use your rest days to best effect:
1. Have a lie-in
As we’ve already said, sleep is hugely important to your health, both physical and mental. Take full advantage of the extra hours in your day to catch up on a little extra sleep. Not only will it help with muscle growth, sleep is also integral to the healthy function of our immune and digestive symptoms. Getting enough protects your body against a whole range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, depression, and diabetes.
2. Nourish your body
Nutrition is always important to keep your mind and body functioning healthily and happily. But it is especially important when you are working towards particular fitness or weight-loss goals. Keep the amounts of protein in your diet high to support the repair and growth of your muscles and don’t be tempted to cut calories – your body still needs fuel, even though you aren’t using as much energy. Including a good range of healthy carbohydrates from fruit, vegetables, and nutritious whole grains is important too to rebuild your glycogen stores ready for your next workout.
3. Don’t forget to drink enough too
Our bodies can’t function properly unless we get enough liquids – water is essential to everything from our digestive system to our cardiovascular system to healthy skin and eyes. When we exercise, we can easily become dehydrated, but even on rest days it is important to stay well hydrated to keep your body working efficiently and ensure you aren’t starting your next workout already low on fluids. The Association of UK Dieticians recommends drinking at least 1.5-2 litres per day.
4. Use gentle exercise and stretching as appropriate
Exactly how restful your rest day needs to be depends on the intensity of your training the rest of the time – having some days where you don’t exercise at all is important to refuel and repair your body. But stiff and sore muscles don’t respond well to an entire day on the sofa, so you may want to incorporate some gentle stretching or movement into your rest day.
Some gentle yoga, a slow walk, or a rejuvenating swim are all good options to stretch out any sore muscles. Just remember to keep it low intensity – you don’t want to accidentally turn your stretching session into a full-on workout.
5. Enjoy your downtime
We looked a little at the importance of having a psychological break already – using your rest day to spend time doing other things that you enjoy is important to make sure your mind gets a rest as well as your body. Use the time for a little self-care. That might mean catching up with your social life, doing other hobbies, or having a long bath and an early night. Whatever activities fill your cup and leave you feeling relaxed and happy are good options to include in your rest day.
How often should you schedule a rest day?
There is no hard and fast rule for how often you take a rest day, although most experts recommend having at least one per week. Really it will depend on you – how long you have been exercising for, what your training goals are, the types of workout you do, and how intense they are.
The best way to know when you are ready for a rest day is to listen to your body. If your body is feeling sore, tired and sluggish, if you are finding it harder and harder to motivate yourself to work out, and if you feel your stress levels rising, these are all good signs that you need to take a break.
If you are new to exercising regularly, then you might need to go a little more by the calendar at first, as you are still getting into the habit of working out. Once you have established a sustainable exercise habit, listening to your body’s cues is the best way of knowing when to take a rest day. If you are just getting started with exercising, read our tips for beginners to get yourself established with a regular routine.
Far from being the lazy option, taking regular rest days is vital to reaching your fitness goals. Avoid injury, promote muscle growth, and give your body and mind a well-earned break by scheduling at least one rest day every week. You’ll return to your workout regime the next day feeling refreshed and ready to get the most from your training session.