Embracing Physical Rest
Welcome to part two of my series on rest! My last post covered mental rest, so this post I’m shifting my focus to physical rest… because a refreshed mind is pretty useless if your body is falling apart. One of the most important parts of physical rest is sleep… but it’s so important that I’m saving it for its very own post next week. For the purpose of this post, when I say “physical rest,” I’m referring to dialing back on physical activity.
Benefit of Rest Days
Even if you’re brand new to fitness, you’ve probably heard the term “rest” day. What might not be so clear is why we need rest days and how many rest days you should take. First off, let’s establish that unless you won the genetic lottery or you’re a straight up humanoid, you need at least one solid rest day per week. When you’re working out, you’re literally breaking down your body and then your body rebuilds itself a little stronger and a little faster. Pretty crazy, right?
So, that rebuilding period is just as important at the breaking down period. If you’re lifting weights, this is why you don’t want to work the same muscle group two days in a row. It might seem like every other day needs to be a rest day then, right? Well, you can certainly do that but it’s not really necessary. Your body can repair more quickly from some forms of exercise, like running. And for weight lifting, you can get more creative with how you split up your workout (ex: chest & shoulders one day then back muscles the next day).
So, in theory, if you plan out your workouts well enough, you could go on infinitely without rest – some people believe this… I do not. There’s this thing the fitness community calls “overtraining” and it can be a real bitch. Basically, if you keep pushing your body to the limits day after day, your ability to recover is going to slow down. You’ll start noticing your progress dropoff, you’ll be tired and cranky all the time, and you might even start to have other physical problems (insomnia, nausea, anxiety, etc). Giving yourself proper rest prevents overtraining.
Physical Rest Allows Mental Rest
In addition to the physical benefits, rest days can have a lot of benefits for your mental health. Going to the gym takes time, and even if you love it, it’s hard. It takes as much mental energy and focus as it takes physical stamina. And just like you need a day off from work to recharge your mind, having a break from working out can give your brain a bit of a break in addition to your bod.
Rest days also give you more time back in your day to devote to something else. Maybe that means having the time to join your friends for happy hour after work or having an extra hour to knock out some errands or just an extra hour to sleep in. Spending time at the gym or on the trail is great, but we all have a lot of other stuff going on in our lives too!
How Many Rest Days Should You Take?
Unfortunately, this is another one of those “you’re a unique snowflake, dammit” situations. The number of rest days you need is going to depend on a lot of factors: your fitness level, genetics, what workouts you’re doing, how active you are at work, etc. Usually 1-4 rest days per week is the standard (notice that’s a pretty big range though).
I think it’s also important to recognize that stress can impact your ability to recover. During stressful times, you may need to take an extra rest day or two… especially if you usually only take one rest day per week. It really boils down to learning to listen to your body and understanding your limits.
Physical Rest Doesn’t Mean Being Idle
One last thing I want to throw out there is that taking a rest day doesn’t have to mean doing zero physical activity. In fact, doing a little bit of physical activity can help actually aid in your recovery. You’ll hear a lot of people refer to this as “active rest.” Active rest could be something simple like taking time to stretch and foam roll, or it could be something where you actually break a sweat like riding a bike. The important thing is that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it at a very low intensity and not stressing your body. Personally, I love taking rest days to do some light yoga and take my pup for an extra long walk.
The TL;DR version of this post:
- Just like mental rest, physical rest is going to look different for each person.
- Listen to your body and be willing to give your body an extra rest day during stressful times if you feel you need it.
- Know your limits –push yourself to them but don’t push past them.
- Remember that rest days are essential for progression!