Are Rest Days Important for Exercise?

We are always told to stay active and exercise regularly. But whether you’re training for a race or feeling more motivated it’s not always better.

Rest days are as important as exercise. In fact no successful fitness regimen is complete without rest days.

Taking regular breaks allows your body to recover and repair. Regardless of your fitness level or sport this is a key part of progress. Otherwise skipping rest days can lead to overtraining or burnout.

Here are the benefits of regular rest days.

1. Allows time for recovery

Contrary to popular belief rest days are not about slacking off on the couch. It is during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise occur. Specifically rest is essential for muscle growth.

Exercise can create tiny tears in your muscle tissue. But during rest cells called fibroblasts repair it. This helps tissue heal and grow resulting in stronger muscles.

Your muscles also 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 to avoid exercise-induced fatigue. Remember that exercise depletes glycogen levels in your muscles. If you don’t replace these stores you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness.

Also your muscles need glycogen to function even if you’re not exercising. By getting enough rest you can prevent fatigue by allowing your glycogen stores to replenish.

3. Reduces risk of injury

Regular rest is essential to stay safe during exercise. When your body is overworked you’re more likely to lose shape lose weight or take the wrong steps.

Overtraining also puts your muscles under repetitive stress and strain. This increases the risk of overuse injuries forcing you to take more days off than planned.

4. Improves performance

When you’re not getting enough rest it can be difficult for you to go about your normal routine let alone challenge yourself. For example you may be less inclined to do an extra rep or run another mile.

Even if you force yourself to overtrain it can reduce your performance. You may experience decreased stamina slow reaction times and poor agility.

Rest has the opposite effect. It increases energy and prevents fatigue preparing your body for a consistently successful workout.

5. Supports healthy sleep

While regular exercise can improve your sleep rest days can also be helpful.

Physical activity increases energy-boosting hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. However constant exercise can overproduce these hormones. You will struggle to get quality sleep which will only increase fatigue and exhaustion.

Rest can help you get better sleep by restoring your hormones to a normal balance.

The ideal day off looks different for everyone. It depends on the intensity and frequency of your daily activities and your lifestyle outside of exercise.

However there are some general guidelines for incorporating rest days into various workouts.

6. Cardio

Usually light aerobic exercise does not require rest days. This includes activities such as leisurely walks or slow dancing. It’s safe enough to do this every day unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

However if you’re doing moderate or vigorous cardio rest days are essential. A day off every three to five days is recommended. If you do vigorous cardio you’ll want more frequent rest days.

You can also spend active rest days by doing light exercises like gentle stretching.

To determine when you should rest consider the advice on cardio. Adults should get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.

These guides can help you plan your days off. For example if you want to do three days of vigorous 50-minute cardio you can plan rest days and other workouts around them.

7. Running

While running is a form of cardio it often requires a different rest day approach.

If you are a beginner start running three days a week. Running too much too fast can lead to fatigue and overuse injuries.

Allow yourself to rest or do different activities on other days. Your other workouts should involve muscles you don’t use while running.

If you’re training for a marathon rest days are even more important. During the last three weeks before the event it’s best to get plenty of rest. A personal trainer or running coach can explain how to rest based on your goals.

8. Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding or weight training incorporates rest days by rotating the muscles worked.

After you’ve worked a specific muscle group let it rest for a day or two. This gives your muscles a chance to repair and heal.

Train different muscles on other days. Be sure to work the opposite muscle to maintain balance.

One way to have rest days is to allocate a day to each body part. For example Monday could be leg day Tuesday could be chest day and so on.

9. For weight loss

If you want to lose weight you should still have regular rest days.

Rest allows your muscles to rebuild and grow. When you have more muscle you burn more calories at rest. That’s because muscle burns more energy than fat.

Plus when you feel refreshed you’ll be more likely to stick with your workout routine.

To get the most out of your days off consider the following:

10. Diet and protein

On rest days your body generally needs fewer calories because you are less active. But instead of trying to omit a specific number of calories listen to your body. It naturally “demands” less food through feelings of satiety and hunger.

It’s important to eat enough protein even on rest days. Adequate protein intake supports muscle repair that occurs during rest.

Active people need 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This should be distributed evenly throughout the day.

On rest days, you should also focus on:

  • Carbohydrates.Eat complex carbohydrates to restore your glycogen levels. Depending on your activity level you need 3 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • Water.Even if you don’t exercise you must drink enough water. Staying hydrated prevents muscle cramps and provides nutrients to the whole body.
  • Fruits and vegetables.Fruits and vegetables provide healthy carbohydrates and nutrients that support recovery.

11. Yoga

Yoga is one of the best things you can do on your day off. It’s great for improving body-aware breathing and flexibility. It can also help you build strength while relaxing your muscles.

Plus yoga promotes calmness and leaves you refreshed and ready for your next workout. You don’t need a lot of time to enjoy the benefits of yoga. Helps recover from exercise in just 10 to 15 minutes.

12. Low-impact workout

Just like yoga low-intensity exercise is a great rest day activity. Low-intensity exercise helps you stay active without putting undue stress on your body. They also allow you to enjoy your workout in an easier way.

Examples of low-impact workouts include:

  • Walking
  • Casual swimming
  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Kayaking

If you notice any of the following signs it may be time to take a break:

  • Sore muscles.While it’s normal to feel sore after exercising persistent soreness is a red flag. This means your muscles haven’t recovered from past workouts.
  • Fatigue. Watch out for extreme fatigue. If you feel exhausted give your body a break.
  • Pain. Muscle or joint pain that doesn’t go away can be a sign of overuse injury.
  • Emotional changes.When your body is exhausted hormones like serotonin and cortisol become unbalanced. This can lead to changes such as irritability paranoia and mood swings.
  • Sleeping issues.High levels of cortisol and adrenaline can make it difficult to get quality sleep.
  • Reduced performance.If your routine is feeling difficult or if you don’t see progress take a day off.

If you’re new to exercise or you haven’t exercised in a long time consult an exercise professional such as a personal trainer. You can also consult an exercise specialist if you want to try a new activity like fitness or marathon training.

A professional can determine the best workout based on your fitness level. They can also help you increase intensity duration and speed in a safe manner. Most importantly they can explain how to schedule rest days based on your personalized routine.

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned athlete regular rest is critical. This is necessary for muscle repair to prevent fatigue and overall performance.

To get the most out of your rest days do low-impact exercises like yoga and walking. These activities will help you stay active while allowing your body to recover.

Remember without adequate rest you are unlikely to achieve the goals you set out to begin with. Resting your body is the best thing you can do for fitness success.

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