We live in a very fast-paced, go go go society in which working harder, running faster, lifting heavier, doing more is celebrated. I am sure we have all found ourselves stuck on that hamster wheel feeling at some point that our feet barely touch the ground. But this really should not be celebrated and thankfully it is finally starting to change. There have been more and more cases of burnout highlighted in the media which is causing the “rest days are for the weak” mantra to be challenged and encouraging more people to say actually, rest days are for the strong.
Whether it’s work, life, training or both the benefits of a rest day are unparalleled. We are going to talk in terms of training but the premise can be applied to all walks of life. I am a firm believer that the days you spend not training are just as important as the days you spend training. Rest days are critical to development, whether it is strength, running, cycling, swimming – the days you are giving your body recovery are the days you make gains in performance. The work you do in building strength, becoming faster or gaining endurance is done during a training session but the gains are made in the rest and recovery. It allows your muscles to make the changes you have asked of them, allowing them to perform during your next session.
Recovery time depends on the intensity, type and duration of exercise as well as your underlying physical fitness. Rest is as important as training itself, as this is where muscles are rebuilt and grow back bigger. Muscle recovery also gives your body a change to repair all the damage caused by exercise and clear lactic acid from your system.
During recovery, satellite cells repair the microscopic tears sustained during exercise. They replicate, mature and fuse to the damaged muscle fibres, forming a new muscle protein strand that increases the size and strength of the muscle to ensure it can keep up with future demand. This is a process called hypertrophy.
It is important to realise that everyone is different and adaptation occurs in different ways for everyone but listening to your body will help you to ascertain exactly what your body does need.
Following on from this, rest days are vital to injury prevention and to avoid over training – these two go hand in hand. If you keep asking your body to perform day after day after day without recovery time it will start to break down, so it is important to look after it!
Rest and recovery also allow your body to regulate its energy systems, resulting in a healthy metabolism that maximises fat burning and total energy use. This replenishment of energy reserves is necessary to maintain energy levels, support upcoming exercises and assist in effective weight loss.
A final point I would like to make is that often I have clients say to me that they feel more motivated than ever after a holiday or short break from exercise. The mental switch off can really reinvigorate your love for workouts. Whether it’s a week or a couple of days it really can do wonders for your motivation and drive.
My advice is to train 3-4 times per week for example 3-4 strength sessions of 30-40 minutes, focussing on different muscle groups. On the other 3-4 days you don’t need to just sit still, you can include some cardio if you wish but certainly walking as well as Pilates or yoga would give you a well-rounded training week. Allowing yourself those rest days will undoubtedly benefit you in the training days to come.
How do you spend your rest days?