Most of us have a certain goal in mind when we start a training routine. Whether this is to compete in an athletic event, improve our strength, or achieve a healthier lifestyle, we are always working toward something. Our goals are motivating, and we want to work as hard as we can to achieve them, but sometimes this can backfire on us if we don’t take time to rest.
While it may seem counterintuitive to rest when you’re trying so hard to achieve your goals, without the appropriate amount of rest, your body will never have a chance to recover and perform its best.
Think back to a time when you were really sick, and you didn’t have much energy. Then you woke up one morning and were feeling much better, so you jumped up and started working hard to get everything done that you hadn’t been able to do. That night you felt worse than ever! This is because you didn’t let your body fully recover, and now you’re sick again!
A very similar thing happens when we don’t allow for recovery time within our workout plan. As you exercise your body uses up fuel and electrolytes; your blood oxygen levels decrease and acidity increases; by-products from the body’s fuel-making processes start to build up; and even the distribution of the blood in your body is altered (1). Without adequate rest our bodies can’t recover from all these changes, and we’re less prepared to perform our best during our next workout.
So what is adequate rest and recovery?
This will depend on you, your fitness level, and your current goals. The general rule for weight training is to give yourself at least one day off in-between training sessions. This can happen in a multitude of different ways. If you perform an entire body workout every time you lift weights, then you shouldn’t lift weights at all the next day. If you spend a longer amount of time training each muscle group and only workout your upper body one day, then you could work your lower body the next day while letting your upper body rest.
But remember, the higher the workout intensity, the longer the required rest (2). So if you are working your upper body at a high intensity and with a high volume, you may need to allow yourself two days of rest before working your upper body again.
You might still be thinking that this doesn’t make sense. But thinking back to our sickness analogy, if you don’t allow enough time to fully recover, you won’t be able to perform your best. Even with an increased number of workouts, you won’t be as effective as if you trained well-rested on fewer days.
Well we’ve talked about weightlifting, but what about cardiovascular exercise? What are the requirements for rest days if you’re a runner, a biker, or a swimmer? The general guidelines are similar – don’t do the same thing back-to-back. This gives you many options.
You can do a cardio workout three days a week with resistance training in-between. You could cross-train with different modes of cardiovascular training and run 2 days a week, bike 2 days a week, and swim 1 day a week. Or if you are training for a long bike race and want to bike every day, you could incorporate various types of cycling training to add variety to your workouts. Remember the rule though – the harder the workout, the longer you’ll need to rest before completing a similar workout again. So alternate hard days with easy days; sprint days with slow, long rides; and hill workouts with easier flat terrain.
So far we’ve mostly talked about active recovery – using a different type of exercise to rest the muscle groups worked the previous day. But don’t start thinking that taking a day off isn’t still necessary. Try to take 1 or 2 days each week and give your body a break. This doesn’t mean that you should just sit around all day. Definitely go on walks or take your family for a hike if that’s what is relaxing for you. Or maybe you like to get some yardwork or cleaning done on your day off. Taking some time for yourself and taking a break from your typical workouts will give your body and your mind a break. This will help decrease the likelihood of overtraining and of getting mentally burned out.
Besides actually taking time for rest and recovery, make sure you are taking care of yourself in other ways. Focus on eating a well-balanced diet with food from all the food groups; this way you can be confident that your body is receiving the nourishment it needs. Stay well-hydrated throughout the day. Keep a water bottle with you and try to drink when you feel thirsty. And last, but definitely not least, try to get a good night’s sleep as much as possible (2). By actively taking care of yourself, you will increase your effectiveness in training and recovery.
We’re all busy and want to make the most of every exercise session, and this is how:
Make goals. Train hard. And don’t forget to REST.
Interested in setting up a solid routine that gives you adequate training and rest?? Schedule a free session with one of our fitness professionals!
1. Mike, J. N., & Kravitz, L. (2009). Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient. IDEA Fitness Journal, 6(2), 19-21.