Knowing when a rest day might be the answer
While taking a load off may seem like a relatively easy task to complete, one of the most difficult aspects of implementing a workout program is knowing when to rest, and how much to rest. And if you’re like me, chances are—you’ve made the mistake of not giving your body enough rest on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, insufficient rest can lead to injury, fatigue, decreased performance, and loss of enthusiasm or motivation. This can derail training in the short-term, and create frustration, chronic injuries, and inconsistent results in the long-term.
While most people understand these consequences and have likely experienced some of them first-hand, trying to make decisions based on our body’s feedback can be incredibly challenging. So, what’s the secret to knowing when to take a rest day? It all starts with learning to fall in love with rest.
I’m a big believer in the importance of the rest day – not only in being sure to take one every single week, but also in adding on additional days as necessary.
When my body feels taxed or tired I rest. It is not uncommon for me to train 4 or 5 days a week.
The Beauty of Rest
Rest is one of the most important aspects of a workout program because it allows the body to adapt to the training it has been exposed to. In other words, training doesn’t make you stronger—your rest does.
Yes, of course—there must be exposure to adequate intensity and frequency of training to initiate the adaptation process. But without appropriate rest, muscle breakdown can exceed muscle recovery and growth, which puts the body into a catabolic or destructive state.
To build fitness and strength, you do not need to work at maximal capacity, or push through pain. Furthermore, you do not need to workout every day, or hours at a time to see results.
While there is absolutely a place for going hard and using maximal efforts, it’s best to error on the side of “less is more” – especially if you are just getting into fitness and learning the signals your body is giving you. Overtime, you can re- evaluate your plan and make slight increases in intensity and time depending on your goals.
So, when considering your training, think about the following equation:
Training = Work + Rest. Without establishing a balance overtraining can occur.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is when intensity, duration, frequency of training, or any combination of these factors exceeds an individual’s capacity for adaptation. In other words, it’s when the body is exposed to more stress than it can handle.
There are many stressors, positive and negative, the body endures: physical, emotional, mental stress. Working out or training is just one type of physical stressor. Working out alone can lead to over taxing the body never mind if there are other life stressors at play.
Common Overtraining Symptoms
There are a number of overtraining symptoms that include tiredness, tightness, decrease in performance, increase in injuries, restlessness, change in menstrual patterns, and more.
Here are some potential signs of overtraining:
1. You are sore.
Highly dependent on nutrition, if you’re eating enough while training hard but still feel intense soreness after your workouts, there is a chance overtraining has set in. Different than the usual soreness from training, it will linger for a few extra days and might be a little more painful.
As most newbies often do too much too fast, overtraining is common in beginners
Remember the first time you trained your arms and you couldn’t wash your hairfor a week? Or how about the first time you did legs and dreaded walking up stairs for a week?
We all love waking up with a little bit of muscle soreness as a sign that we worked hard and had an effective workout. A little bit of soreness is fine, but if you are sore to the point that you’re experiencing limited range of motion or doing simple movements causes discomfort, take a rest day.
2. Your sleep has become restless or broken.
Results from a workout don’t happen during a workout – they happen during sleep! A restless night can cause havoc on hormones, alertness and fitness performance.
One night of restless sleep will not be detrimental but consistent interrupted sleep will just be an additional stressor on your system.
3. You feel weak or “off”.
This is personally my best indicator. I’m not often sore yet sometimes I start into a workout and feel as if every move takes 10 times the amount of energy than it should. Doing a simple push-up feels as if I am sporting a weighted vest, and jogging 200 meters feels like a mile. Decreases in your athletic performance, irritability, tiredness, feeling sluggish, or a change in appetite can be caused by hormonal changes and is a good indicator that you need more rest or recovery.
For me this feeling can occur after I’ve had 3-4 really heavy or intense workouts within the past 5 days or if I am severely under-slept or stressed. Exercise is an amazing tool to help us perceptually feel less stressed but it an additional hormonal stressor on your body.
4. You stop seeing results.
Believe it or not, working out too much can actually cause you to lose muscle and gain fat! If it was as simple as energy balance (burning more than you consume) then the more you train the better. The problem is that hormones play a large role in the equation.
Overtraining causes your body to produce inadequate amounts of testosterone (bad for the ladies too) while producing higher levels of cortisol. The problem for both men and women is that your body increases both insulin resistance and fat deposition making you an efficient fat storing machine. For most of us (if not all) this is counter-productive to our goal.
Additionally, overtraining can result in injuries such as stress fractures, inflamed tendons, ligament strains or tears, and more. In this case, you won’t be taking just a day or week off; you could be sidelined for months.
Don’t let your training keep you from training. Be smart and listen to your body.
How To Avoid Overtraining
Once overtraining sets in it may take days, weeks, or even months, to recover completely. If this is the case, you may have to take an unplanned break from exercising in order to fully recover. So, to avoid this scenario, make sure to train smart and allow your body adequate time to recover.
Sleep is cheap, effective, and so simple a caveman could do it. And it’s something where most people really miss the ball. Sleep is so important because it helps repair your body. Aiming for 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is idea to allow your body to recover.
Your diet plays a HUGE role in recovery. Without the proper nutrients, you’re shooting yourself in the foot before the race even begins. You wouldn’t get in your car to drive to work without any gas, or with the wrong fuel, would you? Your body needs quality fuel.
To prevent overtraining and promote good recovery, you should have anadequate intake of protein, fats, and carbs. Make sure you are fuelling your body for what it needs. If this is something you need help with then please ask us.
One thing rarely taken into account is your body’s stress level. You need to consider both training as well as outside stressors. If everything else is on point, and you are still not achieving results from your program, you might want to give some thought to whether stress is the culprit.
Just as I mentioned above, taking at least one or two days in between training sessions helps you recover much faster, but this doesn’t mean you have to stay out of the gym all together.
Non-impact activities or “active rest” days can aid in your recovery. Walking, yoga, swimming, spending some extra time on a foam roller or doing mobility will help flush out toxins and aid in your recovery.
Genetics, as well as the length of time you have been training also play a huge factor in your ability to recover from intense training.
The Struggle of the Rest Day
When it comes to exercise we know that it is good for our body and that some activity is beneficial. Perhaps this is what leads up to believe that more must be even better, right?? NO. Like everything, moderation is key and relative.
There is no denying that exercise becomes addicting. Maybe not at first, but once it has become a part of our daily life, it becomes something we crave. We want more, and some of us even feel guilty if we don’t get a sweat session in. Just the idea of taking a unplanned day off from the gym is enough to cause heart palpitations and sweaty palms.
The problem is that some of us don’t realize we’re causing harm to our body by being in a state of overtraining until it’s too late.
Armed with this information, many people still struggle with knowing when to take a rest day because of the relationship many of us create with working out, and the preconceived notions that exist around fitness, success, and self-worth.
Most of us find comfort in having a schedule and keeping to a routine, especially when improvements are happening, and goals are being reached.
People also tend to struggle with rest days because they have bought into the idea that progress won’t occur without suffering. This can lead to engaging with potentially damaging behaviours, like “pushing through the pain,” and performing workouts when overly fatigued or sore.
This is normally driven by the thought that missing a day will impede your progress or somehow make you gain weight. This is NOT the case. Hopefully by now you have come to realize that taking a day off will not impede your results or make you gain weight, it will actually help you achieve your goals by allowing your body to recover and your hormones (our good old friend cortisol) to chill out.
One missed workout or even a week of missed workouts won’t change where you are. It takes roughly 1-2 weeks to lose cardiovascular fitness (due to a decrease in mitochondria and VO2 Max). But even if you do feel “out of shape,” the body remembers where you were and will get you back to that level within just a few workouts. The really great part will be that you’ll come back feeling fresh and recovered, allowing you to push beyond that previous level to become even stronger.
Listen to your body! It will tell you what it needs and will thank you when you do.
Live long and prosper my friends!
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