No, we're not talking about lazy Saturdays or the days when you hit the snooze button more times than you probably should, just to get a few extra minutes of sleeping bliss. We're talking about the recovery time your body needs between hitting the same muscle group twice. It's more important than you think.
Rest days are an essential piece of a healthy exercise program. Your body needs roughly 48-hours to recover between exercises that target the same muscle groupings. That doesn't mean you can't exercise -- you can still do so every day. Just try to focus on other areas of the body.
Why is this so important? It can affect more than you think:
Exercise puts stress on the body, including the joints, which don't have much padding for projection from injury. The knee, ankle and hip joints take a particular beating with respect to the repetitive nature of running. Without regular rest breaks, they may become sore and swollen. A much needed rest between bouts of exercise will help avoid this problem and keep your joints healthy.
In general, it takes your body almost two weeks of non-activity before you start losing a noticeable amount of your progress or performance level. So don’t think that taking a day or two off from training will set you back all that hard work you’ve put in.
Are your sleep patterns all over the place? Over-training could be the culprit. Too much exercise can put your body in a constant state of restlessness or on high alert making a good night’s sleep tough to achieve. A telltale sign is an increase in your resting heart rate. Taking those rest days can help bring down your heart rate, which can help get you a night of sound sleep.
Rest days scheduled throughout a training period will help reduce the risk of injuries due to over-training. Over-training happens when too much stress is put on the body without adequate rest periods. It is much wiser to allow for rest days than end up benched for weeks or even months because of injury.
Muscle Repair and Strengthening
Rest days are crucial to facilitate muscle repair and strengthening. During exercise, you don't build muscle, you break it down. The building process happens during your rest days. Rest days help you recuperate so you can, for example, lift more, run faster and walk longer during your next workout session. Fitness and performance don't start to suffer until you take more than two weeks off of training.
The body uses glucose, a carbohydrate, as an energy source. Glucose is primarily stored as glycogen in the muscles as well as the liver. Glycogen breaks down within the muscles during exercise to give you energy to workout. Rather than loading up on carbs, however, concentrate on eating a healthy diet that includes many different foods, including those carbs, but that's low in fat.
Rest days help you regroup. Too much exercise without adequate rest can lead to burnout. You'll become physically and mentally drained and find it hard to drag yourself to the gym. Your health is too important to let that happen. Take those breaks, chill out, recuperate, restore your energy and come back refreshed, healthy and ready to dive into your workout again.
Inadequate Rest and Their Potential Solutions
The signs of inadequate rest are irritability, chronic soreness, weight loss, compromised concentration and performance, frequent illness and excessive tiredness. You can rectify these issues by taking days off to completely rest up.
You can also schedule cross-training for your rest days. For example, if you're a runner, engage in a low-impact exercise such as swimming when you're not running. Light exercise on rest days can help keep you loose without overtaxing your body.
Rest needed depends on many factors including your age, activity, and nutrition, but everyone needs some. If you work out intensely but don't allow for down time, your body will be less apt to reap the benefits. Get That Rest!