A question I get asked frequently: Are rest days important? Here is an unpopular opinion you probably haven’t heard before.
Your rest days, or the days you’re not doing a formal workout, are just as important as days you train.
I know, it’s a crazy concept. And before we get into a few key reasons as to why rest days are important, let’s first clarify what a rest day is.
When you hear the word “rest” what comes to mind? For most, hearing the word “rest” means fantasizing about finally being able to put your feet up, turn the TV on, drown out all the noise of the world, and watch your favorite show. Rest is usually associated with complete relaxation.
That isn’t the case when we are talking about rest days or days off from the gym. A rest day is simply a day where you aren't doing any sort of formal exercise, especially intense formal exercise. Differentiating rest days from complete relaxation days is important, and the first key to rest days will tell us why.
I remember when I first started working out. I would obliterate my body in the gym, and on my rest day, I would kick my feet up and be as lazy as possible. I did this because I thought the more movement I had, the less I would recover. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In fact, light activity can actually help your body facilitate recovery and alleviate the sore feeling you may have if you went a little hard in the gym the day before.
What we do in the gym and in our formal workouts is send our body a signal. It may be a signal to increase strength, build muscle, or improve cardiovascular endurance. The workout is where the signal is sent.
But the rest of the time, especially on days off, is where the body adapts and responds to that signal.
If we didn’t give our body’s time to recover by continuously training with intensity, we would actually do more harm to our bodies than good. They may be resilient, but they aren’t made to continuously take a beating. By the way, your workouts should never be about beating yourself up. I was just using that word to illustrate a point. The purpose of your workout should always be to get better, not punish yourself.
Taking time away from the gym gives you a chance to explore other things that you may not have if you were in the gym. Think about what you can do with a few extra hours each week. Use that time to explore something new. Do some yoga. Take your kids to the park and play with them. Go to a coffee shop and just enjoy being in the moment. Get some chores done.
Rest days are important because not only will they give you a day off from working out and giving your body a break, it will also free your mind and schedule.
What a rest day should really be called is a “reduced intensity day”, because reducing the intensity is what can allow your body to recover well. Again, a rest day doesn’t have to be a sedentary day.
More isn’t always better. It’s not always better to go harder, lift more weight, push yourself to the limit. There is a lot of good that lies in moderate intensity as well. It’s all about doing the least amount of work to elicit the most amount of change. I am confident that you will be pleasantly surprised when you make your workouts about progressively improving, rather than getting sore, sweating your butt off, or pushing yourself until you want to puke. High intensity is good at times, but not all the time.
One thing you can do is start incorporating mobility sessions on your rest days. The more mobile you become, the better your performance will be in the gym, and you’ll increase the likelihood of greater results. So, next time you find yourself wondering if rest days are important, remember these key takeaways:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam is a fitness professional, baseball fan, and cookie fanatic based in Fort Worth, Texas. After hanging up the cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. As an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, he is constantly moved to help people improve in all walks of life.