Why are rest days important?
Your training program will only benefit you if you have adequate rest to allow your body to recover. It is only with a sufficient number of rest days that progress can occur, no matter what your goals are. In order for your performance in the gym to trend upwards you need to allow the muscles and central nervous system to have adequate time to repair themselves as well as refuel. Not taking enough rest days can lead to overtraining which will increase your cortisol levels (a hormone produced when you are under stress) leading to hindered progress or even moving a few steps back in your training goals. Other problems caused by increased cortisol include hindered sleep, increased risk of injury, increased fat around waistline and decreased muscle mass aka catabolism.
How often and when should I take a rest day?
During normal training weeks you would want to take 2-3 rest days spaced out from each other. Here are two examples:
A week with 2 rest days
Chest & Back
Leg and core circuit
|REST DAY||HIIT + 5-8 km run||Weight training: Shoulder & arms||REST DAY||HIIT + 4-6 km run|
A week with 3 rest days
Chest & Back + 5 km run
Legs and core
|REST DAY||Weight training: Shoulder & arms
|REST DAY||HIIT Training
5-8 km run
Notice that in the week represented in figure 1 rest days are spaced 2 days apart from each other. Also, in both figures 1 and 2 back to back weight training days are followed by a rest day. Not only is that necessary for your muscles to recover after those sessions but also for your central nervous system, which is being put to work especially as the intensity increases.
When it comes to illnesses or injuries you should be taking more days off as the energy requirements to heal can be really demanding, so to ensure a speedy recovery it is best to take a few more rest days. However, if you feel like you are up to it, you can train at a low intensity AND at a low volume. Just be sure to avoid any part of your body that you have injured.
Deloading is also something to be considered. If you are unfamiliar with the term, deloading is when you scale back an aspect of your training after a peak in your training cycle to prevent plateaus and overtraining. You can deload by decreasing intensity, decreasing volume or increasing the number of rest days. Personally, I think decreasing training volume throwing in an extra rest day or two is the best way to deload but I’ll go into detail about that in another blog entry.
What should I do on a rest day?
Just because you are taking a rest day, that doesn't mean that you should be doing nothing. In fact, that's the worst thing you can do for your body. Activities you can do on a rest day include:
- A long walk
- Dynamic or static stretching
- Foam rolling
- Mobility exercises
- A leisurely bike ride
- Anything that will slightly elevate your heart rate for at least 30 minutes