Whether you have a tough time working out at all, or, like me, you struggle to take a single day off, you should always make sure to take at least one rest day per week to let your body recover.
For some of you who still find working out on a regular basis a struggle, you probably have absolutely no problem with rest days. I know a lot of people look forward to their rest days, and love taking a day off and just lounging around.
Yet for those of us who have come to enjoy training and have trouble sitting still, rest days can be the hardest days of the week. I promise I wasn’t always this way—yet these days I actually dread rest days because I know how much better I feel after a workout. On rest days, I don’t get that same satisfactory post-workout feeling or get to take the time out of my day to just be completely focused and in the zone.
Yet it’s absolutely crucial that you take at least one day off a week to let your body rest and your muscles recover. Failing to do so will almost always lead to overtraining, and eventually, some sort of injury—basically your body’s way of forcing you to rest.
While I used to have a designated rest day per week, I now try and listen to my body to determine when I need a rest day, usually about every five, sometimes six, days. Yet even on my rest days, I make sure to keep moving. It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but I’ve learned over the years that I do much better when I take active rest days, versus spending the entire day laying on the couch.
Here are some of the benefits of taking active (versus completely sedentary) rest days:
You Still Get to Eat a Lot
Some people are much hungrier on days when they work out and find that their appetite is reduced on rest days. This is beneficial for staying lean, since you obviously burn more calories on workout days, and less on non-workout days. Eating more on workout days (usually in the form of an extra post-workout meal) and less on non-workout days allows for your body to naturally regulate its calorie intake and makes getting—and staying—lean easier.
For super active people, however, it doesn’t always work this way. Personally, I tend to find myself absolutely famished on rest days, usually wanting to eat more, or at least just as much, as on workout days. This may be due to a slight caloric deficit if I was especially active that week, or just my body asking for extra calories to help with recovery.
For that reason and others, I still try to move as much as possible on rest days, even though it’s not in the form of an actual workout. That way I can continue to eat how I want to and not worry about gaining extra weight.
You Won’t Get Quite As Sore
If you’ve ever done a super intense leg or upper body workout then barely moved for the next couple of days, you’ve probably noticed that your muscles tend to feel more sore than if you would have done some light activity over the next day or two.
By doing light activity the day after a tough workout, you’ll help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness as well as assist in moving waste products out of the muscle, repairing minor tears in the muscles and supportive tissues, and replenishing depleted glycogen stores to help you recover faster.
This is another reason I always make sure to do something active on my rest days.
My Typical Rest Days
Here’s what I do on my typical rest days:
The main thing I try and do on my rest days is to walk—a lot.
I’ll walk to coffee shops to do some work, to the grocery store, and to go out to dinner. I tend to like to get moving first thing in the morning, so I’ll take my dog on an extra long walk bright and early that day (which she’s always happy about). I try not to sit too much on rest days, and by the end of the day I’ll usually have walked around eight to ten miles, if not more.
I love to walk because it relaxes me and is an effortless way of getting around (except when I hit those San Francisco hills!). I prefer to have a destination versus just walking to walk, which is why I love living in cities since there’s always something to see. If you live somewhere where you have to drive everywhere, you’ll definitely need to make more of an effort to walk.
Foam rolling is an awesome way to work out those inevitable muscle knots and keep you from getting overly tight, and it’s something I almost always try to fit in on my rest days.
Not only does foam rolling help reduce soreness and keep tight muscles from turning into injuries, it also feels awesome (albeit in a painful way…) on a day after a tough workout.
Here are some of my favorite foam rolling exercises and ones that I regularly do on rest days.
Although you shouldn’t go full contortion mode on rest days since extreme stretching can actually tax your muscles and cause further damage, some light stretching can be a good idea on rest days.
I like to do some light full body stretches like these ones on my days off, usually at night when reading or watching TV. If yoga is your thing, feel free to go to a class or do yoga at home on rest days. But just make sure it’s the light and relaxing type of yoga—if it makes you sweat and your muscles burn, it doesn’t count as a full rest day.
One of my favorite ways to spend active rest days is to just play. This could be any fun activity that gets me moving but isn’t overly strenuous. Some of my favorite rest day play activities are:
Outdoor games – Outdoor games with friends or family are in my opinion the best way to spend rest days. This could be a game of bocce ball, lawn bowling, throwing a frisbee or football around, or really just anything that gets you moving around but doesn’t make you sweat.
Indoor games – If the weather isn’t nice enough to be outside, indoor games are a fun way to spend rest days as well. Think activities like ping pong, miniature golf, bowling, shuffleboard, or pool. They may sound dorky but you’re bound to have fun! 🙂
Swimming – If it’s warm out, swimming for fun is an awesome way to spend a rest day. Just make sure it’s the splashing around type, not the intense-lap-swim-for-time type.
Biking – Biking around the city (or the countryside if you’re more of a nature person) is a fun and relaxing way to spend rest days. This tends to work better if you live somewhere flat, however, since too many hills can turn any easy bike ride into a strenuous one.
What’s your favorite way to spend a rest day? Let us know in the comments!