Once you’ve found your workout groove, it can be tempting to give it your all and skip rest days.
But, as any seasoned athlete or exercise enthusiast will tell you, a rest day is just as important as a workout day.
It’s important to take time out to recover between workouts for a load of reasons – some of which we’re going to talk about today.
So, if you’ve ever felt guilty for taking time off from the gym or working out, keep reading to learn why your recovery time will help you in the long run.
The health benefits of taking a rest day from the gym
A rest day promotes muscle recovery
Did you know that the body stores one of its main energy sources in muscles? Muscle glycogen is the stored form of glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. When your body doesn’t need to use the glucose energy, it goes through a process called glycogenesis which allows it to be stored.
Glycogen is stored mainly in the muscles and liver, as well as a small amount being stored in the brain. Due to the muscle mass of the body, about three quarters of the total glycogen in your body is stored in the muscles.
So, the glycogen stored in the muscles is mainly used as a source of energy fuel for your muscles, and when you exercise, particularly for prolonged periods of time, the glycogen levels are depleted. Rest and a healthy diet are really the only ways to restore this glycogen, otherwise you risk suffering from muscle fatigue.
In addition to needing to recover from the depletion of glycogen in the muscles, the muscles also need time to “repair” the tiny, microscopic tears in the muscle tissue that are caused by exercise. While tears might sound like a bad thing, these tears actually help the muscles to get stronger and grown.
During your recovery time, your body replaces and repairs the tears in the muscle fibres, helping to fuse muscle fibres together to form new muscle fibres. If you don’t give your muscles time to recover, then you run the risk of not only getting muscle fatigue but causing yourself an injury.
Rest days help to manage adaptation
Adaptation in exercise is important. It is the process of the body developing new skills and learning how to manage new levels of physical exertion.
When you start a new exercise program or say you’re a beginner in any form of physical movement, when you start, you’re going to be sore and tired and perhaps not be able to perform all exercises properly. But, over time your body will adapt to the exercises and then you can move onto the next level.
Well, when it comes to adaptation and exercise, it’s important to have a good balance between how you increase the intensity levels of exercise and rest and recovery. If you go too hard too soon and try to push your body to its limit, you run the risk of injury or muscle damage. And while you want to encourage the body to learn and grow strong, this can only happen if you allow the body time off to recover.
That’s why you’ll always see in rest days and a steady rate of increased intensity in programs developed by personal trainers.
Rest days encourage a strong mind
While there are clear physical benefits of rest days, there are also some mental health benefits to gain from taking a day off.
While there are lots of benefits that come from physical exercise, it’s also possible that our habits can sometimes turn into obsession. Finding the healthy balance between regular exercise and rest and recovery time can help you keep an obsession in check. Exercise and the feelings you glean, as well as physical benefits you may experience from it can be addictive for some people – whether it’s how good it makes your feel, how much weight you’ve lost, or the personal best goals that you’re smashing – these results can drive people to overtrain and spiral into a no time for time off mentality.
Overtraining and not giving yourself time off can lead to injury and an unhealthy obsession, which is why it’s important to ensure you’re incorporating time to rest from the beginning of any exercise program.
Another mental health benefit that comes from taking rest days is that your sleep may improve. Exercise can help to promote healthy sleep, however, overworking your body can actually interrupt your sleep, which can then have an impact on how well your body recovers physically – which we know now that you need proper rest and sleep to allow your muscles to repair and grow. The lack of recovery for your body can then lead to a lack of results in the gym – the body needs balance to function well.
Is a rest day really just a day?
You’re probably wondering how many days you need to rest to allow your body to recover – and that really is dependent on the type of exercise you’re doing and the intensity of it.
On average, people tend to take a rest day every 5 days or so, but the number of days and regularity of rest days for your may be more or less frequent.
A personal trainer can help to guide you on this, they can work with you to understand your goals, monitor your fitness levels, and ultimately help you find the perfect balance of exercise and rest.
What should I do on a rest day?
There are two kinds of rest days – passive and active.
A passive rest day is one where you take the day off from exercise entirely, while an active rest day is where you may still participate in low-intensity exercise, such as stretching, cycling, walking or even yoga.
If you exercise at a more intense or vigorous level, you might find that a passive and an active rest day each week works well for you.
There is no wrong answer when it comes to rest days, as long as you are actually allowing your body to rest and recover regularly.
What are the signs I need a rest day?
If you’re not sure if you’re resting enough your body will give you some clues. Here are some of the signs that may indicate that you need a rest day:
- General feelings of fatigue
- Constant soreness
- Poor workout performances (usually a few in a row)
- You feel run down
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