You know you’re supposed to exercise most days of the week in some form or fashion, but one of the more confusing aspects of working out is what about rest days? How many rest days should you take and what does ‘resting’ mean? No, it’s not couching it all day…sorry.
What Is a Rest Day?
The first thing you should know about rest days is that they are really, really important. Yes, the workouts are where you burn the calories and lift the weights and do all the work you need to change your body. But the rest days? That’s where the behind-the-scenes work happens.
In fact, the rest days, those days when you recover from you workouts, are when your body makes the most progress. Exercise is kind of like stress to your body, but in a good way.
You need to put that stress on your body if you want to lose weight and get fit. But, your body needs time to adapt to that stress and that’s where your rest days come in. This is the time your body rebuilds muscles, bones, nerves and connective tissue.
It’s also a great mental break as well, especially if you tend to work out every single day.
Okay, you now have permission to take rest days, but what exactly do you do?
Rest vs. Active Rest
Believe it or not, there are different ways to rest and you’ll choose one or the other based on how you feel and the workouts you’ve done.
An exercise rest day doesn’t necessarily mean lying motionless for hours while watching Netflix (although there is a time and place for binge-watching, in my opinion). It just means that you’re not doing any structured exercise, but you’re still moving around. Moving around increases circulation which helps your body recover and grow stronger and fitter.
Moving around increases circulation which helps your body recover and grow stronger and fitter.
On a rest day you might do small things throughout the day just to stay moving, like:
- Take the stairs
- Set an alarm to stand up every hour
- Take a few leisurely walks
- Walk your dog or play with him/her in the yard
- Do some grocery shopping
When to Take a Rest Day
So, how do you know if you need a rest day? That’s pretty easy – If you really feel like you need it. I would recommend a rest day if:
- You’re really sore – Some stiffness and soreness is normal, but if you can barely move, you may need several days off
- You’re exhausted – Sometimes rest is better than exercise when you’re really tired
- You’re not feeling great – A rest day is what you need if you don’t feel good or maybe you’re coming down with a cold
- You just need a break – Sometimes your mind needs a break more than your body, which is fine as long as you don’t take too many days off
Now, active rest is a little different. As the name suggests, it’s not as leisurely as a rest day, but nor is it as intense as a workout day.
Here are some ideas for what to do on an active rest day:
- Take several brisk walks throughout the day
- Do some stretching or yoga
- Do some light cardio
- Do something physical – Cut the grass, rake leaves, wash the car, wash my car, etc.
What You Need an Active Rest
An active rest day is a great option if your body (or mind) needs a break, but you still have enough energy to do something more than just puttering around. The more you can move around, the better.
How Much is Too Much
Of course, there’s a small window there that, if you take too many days off, it’s like you’re starting all over. If you’re very sore, try active rest days until you’re not sore anymore. Beyond that, here’s what happens when you take a
- In 3 weeks, you lose about 5-10% of your aerobic power – it takes about 2 months to completely lose all gains, so you’ve got some wiggle room
- Muscular strength and endurance lasts longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months, but if you take more than a week off, you’ll probably experience some soreness when you get back to your workouts
The bottom line? There’s no right answer to how much rest you need since we’re all different. You may need to experiment but the best thing you can do is pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you.