Figuring out what to do on rest days is just as important as nailing a solid workout routine. In fact, planning your rest days should be a considerable part of creating an exercise plan that works for you.
This is because contrary to what you may think, taking the right amount and quality of rest days can actually help propel your fitness goals forward. Knowing when to give your body a break to recover from your exercise workout, sport training, or physical activity offers a great deal of benefits. It’s all about proper muscle recovery.1
Read on to learn more about the benefits of rest days, plus some ideas on how to maximize these days for your health and well-being.
Muscle Recovery 101: Why Your Body Needs Rest Days
Whether you do low-impact exercise, high-intensity workouts, or strength training, the concept is the same: Your muscles need adequate time to repair and replenish energy stores.
While a lot of people seem to believe in the “no pain, no gain” adage, it isn’t a rule to live by. Muscles need adequate recovery time and should never be overworked. Overworking your muscles can lead to fatigue and a host of other problems including:
- Muscle discomfort and a lack of mobility
- Compromised form and focus
- A decrease in motivation to workout again in the future
- Other serious health issues and injuries2
Whether you’re training for a marathon or just trying to reach a personal best, never push your body past conceivable limits. Remember, exercise simply means putting your body into stress — and your body needs time and support to recover from that and come back stronger.
But that doesn’t mean skipping hard workouts at the gym to laze around on the couch. There’s an intentionality to active recovery that even pro athletes need to master — a need to focus on de-stressing both mind and body, rehydrating, and getting proper sleep to benefit the muscles.3
Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, here are some tips for maximizing your rest days.
Recovery Day: Relax The Muscles With Foam Rollers And Stretching
On your rest days, consider doing a lot of stretching to soothe and release pressure from your tired muscles. Gaining more and more popularity is the idea of self-myofascial release, a method of using a foam roller or special balls to massage the muscles.
Here are just some of the potential benefits of self-myofascial release on your mobility and muscle recovery:
- Aiding muscle relaxation as you use the foam roller to help release tight spots from strength training or high-intensity interval training;
- Supporting blood flow to the muscles as the roller stimulates optimal circulation;
- Supporting your range of motion;
- Supporting the function of the central nervous system4
While it’s easy enough to do foam rolling in the comfort of your own home during recovery days, it might be a better idea to bring one to the gym and ask a personal trainer to show you a few self-myofascial release techniques first. Once you’ve got it down, you can feel free to do it safely on your own.
Recovery Day: Activities To Try In Place Of A Workout
It can be tough to swallow completely staying still on rest days, especially if you’re used to training daily. But active recovery includes a wide range of benefits. Here are some ideas:
- Do mind-body workouts that help you center yourself while giving your muscles a good stretch, like yoga or tai chi.
- Go for a leisurely walk or long hike and reconnect with nature, whether solo or in a group.
- Conversely, hop on a treadmill or stationary bike in the gym without really pushing yourself too hard and raising your heart rate too much.
- Grab some friends and do a fun activity together, like rollerblading or swimming in the local pool.
- Do some light core work via low-intensity body weight exercises to support hip and lower back mobility.5
You can even do some chores around the house, like gardening, decluttering the attic or garage, or repainting. These underrated physical activities will do your body some good while also helping you clear some stuff off your to-do list.
Recovery Day: Hydration And Nutrition
You don’t have to dramatically alter your diet on recovery days. In fact, experts say you shouldn’t worry too much about appetite changes on days you don’t workout.6 These fluctuations are normal and to be expected. You could feel hungrier on days you don’t work out because exercise naturally suppresses your appetite.7
It’s imperative to stick to the same healthy eating plan you have in place on your training days. Focus on good sources of protein, adequate carbs and fiber, and hydration. Don’t be tempted to throw the whole day away on cheat meals and sinful sweets that could hinder your body’s recovery.
Your body needs to replenish lost fluids and power up for the next workout day, so don’t skimp on your water, green smoothies, and water-packed fruits and veggies.8
Workout Recovery: It’s About Finding Balance
Ultimately, you should never consider your rest day as a wasted one. With the right active recovery plan, you’ll still be taking care of your body in the best way possible — by knowing when to give it a break and achieving the true balance it needs to thrive.
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