As humans, we value routine. When working out becomes part of that routine, it can be hard to recognize when we need a break! Not to mention, taking a rest day can bring up feelings of guilt when we're dedicated to our exercise regimen.
But taking rest days is critical! When you work out, you're creating little microscopic tears in your muscles. This muscle damage is ultimately what helps us get stronger, but we need to build in time for rest to rebuild! If you ever feel guilty about taking rest days, know that our muscles grow during rest! Plus, adequate rest minimizes your chances of an overuse injury.
The amount of rest days you need is completely dependent on your body and your workout regimen. Some people can just handle more days of intense exercise than others. For example, professional athletes need a lot less time off than your average person, but they've trained their entire lives and their body is used to it.
Likewise, your needs are dependent on your workout regimen, too. For example, someone who regularly does High-Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) will need more rest days than someone who walks for their workouts.
So what are the signs you need a rest day? And how should you spend your rest day? Keep reading to find out!
Firstly: Know that your body has different requirements day-by-day and week-by-week.
You know how some days, you're just ravenously hungry? And other days, you really don't feel like eating much. It's the same way for exercise. Some days, you might feel like you could cycle endlessly. Other days, you want to collapse as soon as you even see the bike.
Just like your body has different capabilities on different days, you will also feel different week-by-week. Maybe one week, you feel great exercising 6 days straight. Then other weeks, you might need more rest days. So don't beat yourself up if it's been a slow week and your body still shows signs of needing more rest. That's okay! Don't be afraid to listen to your body.
Signs you Need a Rest Day
1. Ongoing muscle soreness.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common, and everyone has experienced it! This is what happens after we've created the microscopic tears in our muscles after working out. As our body repairs itself, it experiences soreness.
DOMS is most likely to happen at the beginning of a new fitness regimen, or when you increase the intensity of your workouts. It can also happen when you try a new exercise. However, although it's completely normal, it shouldn't stick around for more than 2 to 3 days.
If you discover your soreness isn't going away at a normal rate, your body is telling you that your muscles aren't recovering from your previous workouts. Take a rest day!
2. Extreme fatigue.
If you feel extremely fatigued, it's not time to load up the pre-workout and hit the gym. Especially when you know you've gotten enough sleep, extreme fatigue is a sign you need a break from the gym. Remember, growth happens during rest. Don't beat yourself up for being exhausted!
Plus, extreme fatigue can be a sign of physical or mental illness. Take your time resting to check in with yourself. What other symptoms are you experiencing? Connect with your body in a mindful way, and check in with yourself!
3. Unexplained pain.
If you have any pain that won't go away, and you don't know the cause of it, give yourself a rest day and consider going to the doctor! Overuse injuries are unfortunately common, and they happen so gradually you might not notice it at first. Just because you didn't experience an acute injury doesn't mean you aren't injured!
Don't worry about your time out of the gym, because pushing through an overuse injury can put you out of the gym for much longer than if you stop quickly and get control of the situation!
4. Emotional issues.
Physical exercise has so many benefits for your mental health! From mood-boosting endorphins to serotonin, exercise makes you feel better emotionally. But too much of anything can be bad! Overexercising can cause emotional issues.
When you're physically burnt out, your hormones can become unbalanced. For example, your cortisol levels can be all over the place, causing you to feel extremely stressed for no apparent reason. If you find that you're experiencing emotional issues, take a rest day and see if that helps!
5. You're dreading your workout.
If the thought of working out makes your stomach turn, you may want to take a rest day. You might be just burnt out. But if the thought of working out continuously gives you a negative reaction, reconsider your workout regimen. Maybe the thought of lifting weights makes you sick, but dancing makes you excited. Take a few weeks to explore alternative workouts to see if you can get excited about exercise again.
6. You've had a few bad workouts in a row, or you're not getting any stronger.
Let's face it, we don't always improve. Our well-being journey will include plateaus, and that's nothing to worry about. But if it's been a particularly long plateau and you don't feel any stronger, or if you feel awful during your recent workouts, take a day off to rebuild!
You've decided you need a rest day. What do you do during it?
There are a variety of options for how to spend your rest day, and we're here to walk you through them:
1. Active recovery.
Active recovery is a low-intensity workout. Although you're being active, it still allows for recovery. Some examples include walking, swimming, or yoga. Active recovery can actually be more beneficial for your body than completely resting, because it increases blood flow, reduces soreness, and reduces lactic acid build-up in your muscles.
However, avoid active recovery if you feel more than just soreness. If you feel an overuse injury coming on, don't opt for active recovery!
2. Work out a different part of your body.
Let's say your arms are super sore, but you still want to work out. If your legs feel completely fine, then have do a leg workout. As long as you're giving the sore part of your body a rest, you can get back into the gym and focus on another area of your body.
3. Completely rest.
You can also just jump on the couch, get under your covers, and relax. If that's what your body is craving, do it. By listening to your body's needs, you ensure your workout routine is sustainable. If you don't take any passive rest days ever, yet that's what your body is craving, it may lead to burnout or an overuse injury. There's no shame in listening to your body!
However, when you completely rest, make sure you're still helping your muscles! Whether you focus on eating enough protein, muscle recovery therapy, taking an Epsom salt bath, or getting a massage. make sure you are helping your body in some way on your rest day! Remember: sleep is also vital, so take a nap if you want!
Whatever you do, remember that rest days are part of your journey. They are the days when you'll actually grow the most! Don't feel bad about needing or taking rest days. They are so important to keep you feeling physically well!