Why Rest Days are an Important Part of a Good Training Plan

It's as important to keep yourself as accountable to your rest days as you are to your gym sessions - here's why!

Let me start by saying two things. Firstly, I am passionate about the topic of taking rest days and think it’s a critical part of any good training program. Secondly, I really love working out and find it super hard to take a rest day.

You see my problem?

In my defense, the reason I love working out so much has nothing to do with obsessing over my body, or worrying I’m not doing enough. I honestly just love movement - it’s something that has always centred me, like a good meditation. 

That blissful 30-60 minutes really clears my head and gives me a precious bit of ‘me’ time that I honestly never get anywhere else. And I’m not picky – anything from circuits, sprints in the park, weights workouts, even dance classes, hot yoga, or surfing do the trick. If it makes me sweat, I’m in!

But alas, I’m a trainer who really does know better and so every now and again I have to remind myself to stop, chill out and rest up, in order to perform and feel better.

Here’s why it’s important to keep yourself as accountable to your rest days as you are to your gym sessions:

Think of it like a facial

Facials and peels are great for your skin, right? They encourage cell turnover and hydration, stimulate collagen and give you a dewy glow. But imagine if you were to get one every single day, maybe even a few times each day. Yikes! Your skin would never have a chance to properly recover from all that stimulation and you’d end up with a lot of inflammation and irritation. It’s kind of similar with your muscles – the whole point of working out is to create change in your body, just as you would stimulate collagen in your skin. If you get the balance right and allow time for recovery, you end up with good quality muscles, hydrated connective tissue and plenty of energy. But do too much without allowing adequate recovery time, or eating the right foods and all that effort will go to waste, as your body struggles to keep up and repair properly.

For your mind

When people ask what my favourite method to get in shape is, the best answer I can give is, “consistency”. Turning up regularly and embracing your workouts with both your body and mind will always bring better results than just going super hard for a few weeks, then giving up when it all becomes too overwhelming and not working out again for another 6 months. By scheduling rest days, you avoid burnout and boredom, so you stay motivated and your mind is focused when you do hit the gym.

For your muscles and other tissues

When you workout, you place strain on your muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints. If you never give yourself a day off, you run a greater risk of injury due to overuse. In fact, one of the most important parts of an Olympic athlete’s training program is their rest time and recovery protocols, so if it’s essential for the world’s top athletes, you know it’s serious business!

For your immune system

Your immune system is activated whenever a muscle or tendon is put under stress, or torn/strained. That’s not necessarily a problem if you give your body time to do its job, but if you’re not resting, eventually the immune system becomes over-worked and freaks out. The result? You get sick and rundown.

For your metabolism

If you want to optimise your metabolism, rest days are just as important as gym days. This is because as your body repairs, it builds more muscle cells to burn more calories and ultimately increase metabolic rate.

For your performance

Not only does the body strengthen itself in the time between workouts, it also replenishes energy stores, repairs damaged tissues and balances hormones.  So for maximum energy, speed and strength next time you hit the gym or the track, make sure you don’t over train.

For your energy levels

Aside from the physical symptoms, signs of overtraining include feelings of staleness and depression, general exhaustion and a short temperament. To keep your energy levels and mood elevated, listen to your body and rest up when you need to. Also remember that if you’re training hard, you need to focus on active (short-term) recovery to keep energy levels up too. This means cooling down after your workouts, continuing to move gently on those ‘in between sessions’ days and replenishing fluids and energy stores properly after a workout to prevent muscle breakdown. Hello post-sweat meal! Protein, vegetables and a little complex carb will do the trick for most people.

For your sanity

Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just nice to have a little sleep in, start your day slowly and not feel guilty about skipping the gym. Yep, rest days are great for your sanity too!

So how much rest do you really need?

The short answer is that everybody’s different. Genetics, stress levels and existing injuries or health concerns, as well as the kind of workouts you’re doing all play a part in determining just how much rest is right for you. Some people need to take every second day off, whereas others can train almost every day and be totally fine.

The important thing is to listen to your body and simply take a rest whenever you’re feeling a bit sore and tired.

This doesn’t mean you have to sit still - if you’re a runner, you might still take a slow walk on your recovery days, or slip into the water for a gentle swim. Gym junkies can head to a yin yoga class, do a core and stretch session, or spend 20 minutes on the cycle or row machine.

And remember, sleep is super important too, with 7 hours being the magic number.

So really, all I’m saying is: workout, eat, sleep, rest, repeat.

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