Rest days are a critical part of your health/fitness routine.
You’ve probably heard before, at least once, “it’s good to take a rest day at least once a week.” Or maybe you’ve even said something similar to yourself before…something along the lines of, “Today’s my rest day. I’m not going to do anything.” Maybe it’s because you don’t have time. Maybe it’s because you have a headache. Maybe it’s because you simply don’t feel like it. But did you know that rest days actually have a real purpose when it comes to your fitness? You need rest days just as much as you need active days. In this blog post, I’m going to outline some really interesting points you may have not known before about rest days. I hope you guys find some of these interesting or insightful!
- Your muscles need a break! Something that is very important to learn about is the science behind lifting weights. When you lift weights, what you are doing is tearing your muscle fibers. If you don’t give your body enough rest after a lift, the benefit will not show from training those muscles. This is why you’re supposed to split up your lifts. For example, I wouldn’t train legs on Monday and on Tuesday…but I might train them on Monday and Friday or Saturday.
- Over-training can negatively affect your sleep. I just recently learned about this, and I think it is fascinating. Too much exercise puts your body in a state of restlessness, in other words, it puts you in an alert mode where it can be difficult to fall asleep. Rest days can be great for bringing your heart rate down, and if the heart rate is slow and steady before going to bed, this helps you fall asleep easier. This point also relates to why you may have heard it is bad to exercise late at night before bed. I do not work out past 8pm, because at this time I like to do my relaxing rituals, like reading, taking a bath or doing a face mask.
- Injury prevention. This is a pretty obvious one, but interestingly, the immune system can over heat if you are working your body too hard everyday. This is because our immune system is what repairs our muscles and joints after a workout, so if our muscles don’t have time to rest, the immune system cannot make all these repairs, and this is an injury waiting to happen.
- Take a day to reset. Mental fatigue is a problem, just like physical fatigue. By taking a day to rest, you can mentally catch up on everything you have going on in your life. You can write goals for the week, figure out what needs to get done, and even plan your workouts. Just like our bodies, our brain needs resting as well and sometimes days the best thing you can do is just chill out on the couch, read your favorite book, watch some shows and cook your favorite food. And you don’t have to feel guilty or bad for doing this once a week…it’s actually good for you!
- Hormonal Issues. Sciencey talk up ahead…but this information is so, so vital to understand. Cortisol and DHEA are our stress hormones. DHEA has a building influence, while cortisol is the opposite…it has a tearing down effect. Normally, not under stress, these hormones are in balance with each other and not out whack. However, if you over-train, these two can become imbalanced. If you are resting and recovering properly, the body will be able to re-balance the cortisol and DHEA levels. If no recovery happens, the body will keep pumping out cortisol, which will over take the amount of DHEA being produced. Side effects of this include, craving heavy carbohydrates at night, making you feel exhausted, increasing your cholesterol, decreasing serotonin levels, and depleting vital vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins and magnesium (relates to sleep issues!)
Well what about yoga, walking around the block, stretching etc…? In general, it’s best to just listen to your body. There are times on my rest days where I feel up to going to yoga, foam-rolling, going for a walk or doing some stretching. There are other days where I literally want to not worry about exercise, and just hang out with my friends or chill. Regardless of what you choose to do on your rest day, it is most important to make sure you’re fitting at least ONE day a week where you are not partaking in strenuous exercise, particularly if you normally do every other day of the week. In all depends on what your body is feeling like, but DO NOT ignore those cues! If you’re hamstrings are aching so bad that it hurts to walk up stairs, do NOT train legs even if it’s “leg day” on your schedule. You guys get the idea. Be smart, and respect your body (as I always say) because it does so much for you, that sometimes it deserves a nice, solid break.