Getting regular exercise and staying active are an essential part of life today if you want to remain healthy. However, regardless of whether you are feeling extra motivated to workout or you are training for some competition, too much exercising is not always the answer. As important as exercise is, rest days are equally important, and any successful fitness regimen cannot be complete without the required number of rest days. Taking regular breaks from your workout routine gives your body the time to recover and repair. Read on to find out more about why you need to add rest days in your fitness regimen.
Let us look at some of the benefits of having regular rest days built into your workout routine.
Why You Need To Add Rest Days In Your Fitness Regimen?
It Allows The Body Time To Recover
Exercise is important for both your physical, mental and emotional health.(1,2,3,4,5) Contrary to what most people believe, a rest day is not about just lazing around on the couch all day. It is during this resting time that the most important benefits of exercising are taking place within the body. Rest is needed for muscle growth, which is the most important benefit of exercise.(6,7)
Regular exercise can create some microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, and when you take rest, cells known as fibroblasts work to repairing these tears. This process helps that tissue heal and grow, which results in having stronger muscles.
Furthermore, the muscles also store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. When you exercise, the body breaks down this glycogen to produce fuel for your workout.
When you rest, it gives your body enough time to replenish these glycogen energy stores before you start your next workout.(8,9,10)
It Reduces The Risk Of Injury
Rest days are necessary for staying safe as you exercise. When the body becomes overworked, you are more likely to fall out of form, take a wrong step, or drop a weight. Overtraining also increases the exposure of your muscles to repetitive strain and stress, which greatly increases the risk of overuse injuries. This can even force you to take more rest days than planned, thus throwing your routine off track.(11)
It Helps Prevent Muscle Fatigue
Rest days are required for preventing exercise-induced fatigue. It is important to keep in mind that regular exercise depletes the glycogen levels of your muscles. If these glycogen stores do not get replenished, you will go on to experience muscle fatigue and increased muscle soreness.(12,13)
It Helps Promote Healthy Sleep
Regular exercise is known to benefit your sleep, but taking rest days in between also plays an important role in supporting healthy sleep.
Regular physical activity helps increase the levels of energy-boosting hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the body. However, constant exercise with no rest can lead to an overproduction of these hormones. You will start having a challenging time getting good sleep, which will further worsen your fatigue and exhaustion.(14)
Rest days help you get better sleep as they allow these hormone levels to return to a normal and more balanced state.
It Improves Your Overall Performance
When you fail to get sufficient rest, it becomes difficult to carry on with your normal exercise routine – forget about challenging yourself and increasing your fitness level. For example, you might start to feel less motivated to do run another mile or do an extra rep.
Without proper rest, even if you keep pushing yourself, overtraining will only reduce your performance. You may also experience poor agility, slower reaction times, and decreased endurance.
Rest days will have the opposite effect on your body. It will not only increase your energy levels but also prevent fatigue, thus preparing your body to continue successful workouts.(15,16)
How To Build In Rest Days In Your Routine?
The perfect rest day is different for everyone. How the ideal rest day should look like also depends on the frequency and intensity of your normal workout routine, as well as the lifestyle you follow outside of exercise. Here are some basic tips on how to incorporate rest days in your workouts.
Including Rest Days in Running
Running is a common form of cardio exercising, but it needs a different approach to rest days as compared to other cardio exercises. If you are a beginner to running, you should begin by running three days in a week. Running too much too soon can also cause muscle fatigue and lead to overuse injuries.
On other days, you should allow yourself to do different activities or just take rest. These other workouts should focus on involving the muscles you are not using while running.
Rest days are especially important when you are training for a marathon.(17) In the last three weeks before the actual event, it is a good idea to rest more frequently. A running coach or personal trainer can explain exactly how these rest days are based on your individual goals.
Including Rest Days in Cardio Exercises
If you are doing light cardio, there is usually no need for the typical rest day. Light cardio includes activities like slow dancing or leisurely walking. Unless your doctor has recommended, otherwise, it is safe to continue doing these activities every day without taking a rest day.
However, if you are doing moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, then you must include rest days in your routine. It is typically recommended that you take one rest day after every three to five days. If you are doing vigorous cardio exercises, you should take more frequent rest days. It is also possible to include an active rest day in your routine by only doing a light workout, such as gentle stretching.
If you want to find out when you should be taking a rest day, follow the recommendations for aerobic activity. Every week, adults should be getting around 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. If you are practicing vigorous aerobic activity, you should be getting around 75 to 150 minutes of activity. You can also come up with a combination of moderate and vigorous activity and adjust the activity time accordingly.
These aerobic activity guidelines will help you plan your rest days accordingly. For example, if you want to do three days of 50-minute vigorous cardio activity, you can plan your other workouts and rest days around these three days.(18,19)
To Achieve Weight Loss
If you are exercising to lose weight, you still need to have regular rest days built into your routine. Rest will allow your muscles to heal, rebuild, and grow. When you have more muscle, you will end up burning more calories while at rest. This happens because muscles burn more than fat. Furthermore, you will also feel more refreshed, and you are more likely to stick to your workout routine.
What Should You Do On A Rest Day?
If you are putting in a rest day in your routine, it is but natural to want to get the most out of this rest day. You can consider doing the following:
Yoga And Low-Impact Workouts
Yoga is one of the best things for you to do on a rest day. Not only will it prevent burnout, but it is also excellent for improving your body awareness, flexibility, and breathing.(20,21) Yoga also helps in building strength while also loosening your muscles.
Yoga also provides a sense of calmness, making you feel refreshed and ready to face your next workout. As it is, you do not need a lot of time to do yoga poses. Even 15 to 20 minutes will help you reap the benefits of yoga.
Similar to yoga, low-impact exercises are also perfect for a rest day. Low-impact exercises help you remain active without overstraining your body. Here are some examples of low-impact exercises:
Focus On Your Diet And Protein Intake
When you are on a rest day, your body needs fewer calories since you are not as active. However, instead of trying to cut down on your calorie intake, you should spend this rest day listening to your body. It is still important to continue taking enough proteins even on your rest days because protein consumption will help support the muscle repair that happens when you are resting.
What Are The Signs That You Need A Rest Day in Your Fitness Regimen?
Here are some sure shot signs that you need to take a break from your workout routine:
Fatigue: You need to watch out for extreme exhaustion, and if you feel completely spent, it is a big sign that your body needs to rest.
Sore Muscles: While it is normal to experience sore muscles after you exercise, but persistent soreness could indicate that your muscles have not recovered from the past workouts and they need rest to heal.
Persistent Pain: Joint or muscle pain that does not go away even when you are not exercising could be a sign of an injury. Take rest to let your body recover.
Sleep Issues: Having persistent high levels of cortisol and adrenaline makes it difficult to get quality sleep and is a sign that you are overdoing it.
Emotional Changes: You may not realize it at times, but when you are physically stressed out or burnt out, hormones like cortisol and serotonin can become imbalanced in the body, causing changes like mood swings, crankiness, and irritability.
Reduced Performance: If you suddenly find that even doing your normal routine feels strenuous and difficult, or if you stop seeing any progress, take a rest day and let your body recover.
Regardless of whether you are a seasoned athlete or you are exercising for yourself, taking regular rest is critical for your body. It is necessary for preventing fatigue, repairing muscles, and overall performance. To make the most of your rest days, you can continue doing low-impact workouts like walking, dancing, and even yoga. These activities will help you remain active, even as your body rests and recovers.
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