Since the early days of gym class, you’re taught the importance of exercise. But, how often do you hear about the importance of rest and recovery after you exercise?
Chances are, not that often. However, rest and recovery after strenuous training can be just as important for your health and well-being as the exercise itself.
Exercise And Training Put A Strain On The Body
Periods of exercise and training can put a heavy strain on the body’s muscles.1 In order for your body to repair and replenish itself, you must rest.
Without a period of recovery, muscles can become fatigued, very sore, and even damaged. This can result in decreased performance and injury.2 None of this will make for a great next day on the race track or at the gym.
Why Is Rest An Important Part Of Training?
Taking a break might feel counterintuitive to achieving your fitness goals. Try to not think of it as slacking off, though. Instead, consider it an important part of your overall routine.
Your body undergoes many physiological changes while you rest. After exercise, you don’t return to a pre-workout state. Instead, your body enters a dynamic period in which your cardiovascular system adapts to the stress encountered during a workout. Ignoring that period of adaptation might prevent your body from fully reaping the rewards of exercise. As such, it’s believed that the rest period is just as crucial as the training period.3
Additionally, exercise creates tiny little rips and tears in your muscle tissue. During rest, your body’s cells work to repair these rips. This healing process makes your muscles stronger and more flexible. Keep in mind that this strengthening only occurs if you allow the muscles to recover.4,5
When Is It A Good Idea To Rest?
There’s no magic number when it comes to how often you need to rest. Much of it depends on your fitness level and how hard you’re working out. No one is built the same, and no one experiences the exact same workout. You need to do an honest assessment of your own stamina and fitness levels.
However, if you do moderate exercise for one hour a day, you’ll achieve the doctor-recommended amount of weekly activity in 3.5 days. So, you could use that as your gauge and take a break about every 3-4 days. Still, much of it depends on how much stress your muscles receive and how high you get your heart rate up when you exercise.6
The last thing in the world you want is to hurt yourself while trying to get in shape. It could put you in a position where you’ll have to undergo long-term recovery without doing any exercise at all.
Talk to a doctor to determine exactly how often to rest during your training. Do not continue working out if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Every Athlete Is Different
Many factors affect recovery time and efficiency. All of these should be considered when developing a recovery plan for your training:
- Type of exercise or workout (low-impact exercise vs. high-intensity)
- Sleep time
- Level of current fitness
- Stress levels
- Muscle groups used 7,8,9
The best way to get an accurate rest schedule is to talk with your doctor. They can help you design a recovery schedule that best suits your needs and lifestyle.
Active Rest Days Between Training
If sitting around and resting isn’t your idea of a good time, you might be in luck. There are some active recovery techniques that you can try which are low-impact and can still aid in your recuperation. Try some of these low-impact exercises to keep that blood flow going without over-exerting yourself or taxing your muscles:
- Yoga or light stretching
- Casual swimming
- Casual Biking10
One popular activity for recovery day is the use of a foam roller to stretch and potentially increase flexibility. Using a foam roller may help prevent the onset of muscle soreness, increase your range of motion, and enhance your performance.11
Take Care Of Yourself On Recovery Days
There are a few things you can do for yourself on recovery days that don’t involve any exercise at all. Read about them below to help get the most out of your rest day.
Provide Yourself With Adequate Nutrition And Hydration
Restoring your carbohydrate, protein, and fluid levels are crucial to post-exercise recovery. Without these essential nutrients, you may
experience reduced recovery and performance.12
It is highly recommended that you maintain hydration throughout the day after a workout. Fluid loss should be no more than 2% of your body weight. That’s a tricky number to measure, but try to keep it in the back of your mind as a reminder to keep hydrated.13
Like many aspects of exercise, there’s no golden rule when it comes to post-workout nutrition. Everyone’s requirements are a little different depending on age, size, and type of exercise. Talk to a doctor that specializes in nutrition to design a nutrition plan for
The Role Of Sleep In Recovery
A good night’s sleep can be vital to your rest and recovery after a workout. Proper sleep is associated with increased performance as well as reduced risk of injury in athletes.14
When you exercise, you burn off vital energy and fluids. Deep sleep can help restore the body after the exerting effects of exercise. Additionally, poor sleep inhibits carbohydrate production. This can lead to a decrease in energy levels.15
The body does more than rest while you sleep. In fact, it’s actually hard at work performing lots of muscle repair. It’s during sleep that the body does some of its best recovery after a hard workout. As such, a hard workout requires a good night’s sleep.16
Keep Track Of Your Exercise
Maintaining an activity log may help you fine-tune your rest requirements. Keeping track of a few key elements can provide a more precise assessment of your training and rest requirements. Here are a few items you can record to help tailor a fitness recovery plan:
- Sleep periods and quality
- Levels of fatigue and stress
- Calorie and food consumption (including times you eat)
- Distances, times, and intensity of training
- Heart rate17
Rest Up To Stay In Shape
Exercise is all about taking care of your body and your health. It would be a shame to ignore your body’s need for rest and recovery. It could jeopardize all your hard work and possibly even your health.
Allow your body to repair and refuel itself every few days after moderate or difficult workouts. By resting and recovering, you give your system the opportunity to restore itself, helping to increase your endurance and strength. It’s not often that you can get so much by doing so little, so take advantage of it.