The Importance Of Taking A Break From Exercise & When To Take A Rest Day
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
What Are The Benefits Of Rest Days And Why Do You Need Them?
Speaking from my own personal experience - and from watching clients - I know how intrusive and persistent the 'more is more' mentality can be.
When you exercise, you're creating microscopic tears in your muscle fibres. Your body then rebuilds these tears with new fibres, leading to an increase in visible muscle mass and strength. The problem is simple - your muscles cannot rebuild and be torn down at the same time.
The best description I ever heard, and one I pass on to my clients, is to think of exercise as the architect and rest as the contractor. The exercise breaks down the muscle, providing a blueprint for your body of where to strengthen. Rest is where the strengthening (building) actually takes place. This happens in general exercise, too - not just lifting weights.
In summary: you're only getting stronger when you're resting, not when you're working out.
Rest also encourages beneficial growth hormones released during good-quality sleep. You're in a permanent battle with cortisol (your stress hormone), which causes muscle to degrade. Failing to take enough rest, especially during endurance-based training, leads to cortisol increase. This is emotionally unpleasant and obstructs the positive effects of the growth hormones you're trying to encourage.
I can say, first hand, to anyone over training: take a deep breath, three days off, you'll come back looking and feeling stronger.
How Often Should You Rest?
How often to rest depends on your current activity levels and training intensity. The vast majority should take at least two full days of rest per week; even Floyd Mayweather is known to follow this structure.
You can incorporate rest into your training by splitting your training days to target unrelated areas of the body. These include: legs & core, back & biceps, chest & triceps. Each of these workouts would have one day of rest in between.
Personally, I recommend 3 full-body workouts per week, with 48 hours of rest in between. I
Lastly, I recommend that you take a full week of rest every 8-10 weeks of training, Again, this is in line with professional athletes, so there's no need to feel like you're taking the easy route.
What Is Rest And How Should I Take It?
The dominant attitude is that the gym is where you thrash yourself, and rest is pure indulgence.
High-quality rest from exercise involves:
8-10 hours of good quality sleep.
A high-quality, protein-filled diet with enough calories to support muscle growth and replenish glycogen (energy) stores.
Gentle activity to stay mobilised and ward off DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This could be a gentle walk or stretching session, for example.
At a more advanced level, you may choose to take a 'decompression week', which involves continuing your regular routine but at 40% of the usual difficulty. This could be a 40% shorter running distance or 40% lower weight of dumbbells.
Rest is not the time to crash out on the sofa, stay up late on your phone and eat junk food that feels 'earned' from a good workout. The rest is when you're getting stronger, so you want to keep your blood flowing and help your body do its job.
When To Take A Rest Day
One way to know you need rest is that you're finding the same activity increasingly difficult. If movement is feeling sluggish and flat, and workouts are taking twice as long as they should, it's a strong sign that your body is depleted and needs some time to recover.
You might find yourself becoming increasingly susceptible to illness, and feeling a constant sense of fatigue. This is a sign you're in danger of burnout or are already there. It's time to take a break immediately and let all your hard work pay off as you rebuild.
Lastly, your emotional state can tell you everything. If the gym is becoming a source of stress and anxiety due to excess training, cut yourself some slack and take a week out. Cortisol, your stress hormone, is known to obstruct muscle growth. You're there to look after yourself, not run your body into the ground. Enjoy some time off and come back stronger than ever.
I've listed several more reasons in an article I contributed to, called '7 Signs It's Time To Take A Break From Working Out'.
When Should You Seek Help From A Pro?
If you can't seem to coordinate your rest period without feeling negative repercussions in your performance, it might be time to get some additional help. Personal trainers or qualified performance coaches can create a resting regimen to optimise your results and leave you feeling much better off. You can get in touch with me for a free consultation, and I'll do my best to help!