Taking time off from working out may seem like the very last thing to help you reach your fitness goals, but it may be one of the most overlooked benefits for your body’s performance. Rest days and time off are critical for your body so that muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. Building in a rest day can also help maintain a balance between home, work and your fitness goals. Without time off, or the all-important rest day, it can lead to overtraining, fitness plateaus, or injury.
There are many reasons, scheduled or unplanned, for needing to take some time off of training. Whether it is that planned, very busy spring vacation with the family, or maybe that yucky cold or sickness going around the workplace, it is important to listen to your body and take some time off for your body to reset.
But how do you know when your body needs time off? Feeling sick, or feeling your body isn’t recovering like it used to between training sessions, can be red flags that it is time to slow down and take that time off. Without proper rest your body can’t repair its muscles, leading to overtraining and/or injury. Some signs of overtraining include persistent muscle soreness, elevated heart rate, ongoing illness, irritability, loss of motivation, and insomnia. Another sign of overtraining is adaptation to exercise. Adaptation is when our bodies undergo the stress of physical exercise, adapts to this stress, and then becomes more efficient working through it over time. Once your body adapts to that given stress, your body requires different/additional stress to continue to progress. It is the alternation between periods of work, adaptation and recovery that will take you to a new fitness level.
Rest and recovery is an important tool and can look very different from one person to another. Recovery is everything that happens after the end of one workout and the start of the next. Rest doesn’t mean absolute stillness. It includes eating, sleeping, mental and physical quietness, and any other low intensity activities to keep the body moving. Adequate amount of sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery because it provides time for you to reset mentally, as well as for your body to recovery muscularly and hormonally. Properly hydrating and re-fueling is also key for aiding in your body’s recovery process. Stretching, along with heat, ice and compression, are other great techniques during recovery periods and can also lower your risk of injury. Low intensity exercise, such as a slow pace walk, playing with the kids or pets, or light bicycling is a great way to keep your body moving and blood flowing.
Proper recovery is just as important as proper training. Breaks in your workout cycle will help your body repair and return stronger. With short term or long term periods of rest, be sure not to let the breaks take away from your motivation or goals. It is always a little bit harder, mentally and physically, to return after a vacation or getting out of the groove from being sick. Take your rest as time to mentally refocus on your goals and come back stronger to CRUSH THEM!
So remember: proper periods of recovery and rest are important elements in reaching your fitness goals. Incorporating these routinely into your fitness program will pay out in your long term success.
Sources: Breaking Muscle.com, American Council on Exercise and Verywell.com Sports Medicine