The importance of rest days in an exercise programme

As a Personal trainer many people ask me for advice on how to lose weight, improve fitness, tone up or build muscle.  People listen carefully and when discussing the key points they all nod their heads enthusiastically – cut out processed food. Check.  Drink lots of water. Check.  Use a mixture of resistance and cardio work. Check. Take regular rest days…….er, what? Out of all the advice, this is the one that people find the hardest to get their head round.  Surely if you want to lose weight then the harder you work the more you will lose? No. In fact pushing yourself too hard, without any rest will actually hinder your weight-loss.

Your body needs rest to recover and grow making rest days one of the most critical factors needed to see the changes in your body. When you are doing any type of exercise, especially weight training or resistance training, you are ripping apart your muscle fibres. Rest days allow the muscle fibres to recover; they grow with quality and become stronger. It allows the body to learn from and adapt to the recent physical stress, and be better adapted for the next physical challenge. And the heavier the weights, the longer rest days should be.

The adaptation is when you will start to see the positive changes to your body and adaptation takes place during the rest and recovery phase, not during the workout! Too much intensity or too little recovery blunts the adaptation therefore resulting in plateau rather than continuous improvement. And nobody wants that.

For beginners to an exercise programme, even if you are not using heavy weights, it is  important to give the muscles enough time to recover. Like with anything, everything is a progression and you don’t want to put too much stress on your body right away as this will result in exhaustion. Tiredness can lead to negative thinking and low energy levels. Being tired can lead to over eating and craving of sweets and refined carbs. Just because you exercise every single day, doesn’t mean that you will lose a lot of weight.

A good night’s sleep is very important. This is when your body makes the most changes. If you aren’t getting adequate amount of sleep, then the changes will be minimal, even if you are working out very hard and eating really healthy. If you weight train and don’t get an enough sleep, or train too often it can become nearly impossible to build muscle and we know how important muscle is! As the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and more weight you will lose. The recommend amount of sleep for the average adult is a good 6-8 hours and this is what you should be aiming for. This is as important for optimal mental function, as well as physical recovery.

You should have at least one day per week with absolutely no training- resistance, cardio or otherwise. Then, depending on the nature of your workout intensity, the number of muscle groups worked per session, and your overall training amount, you may need more rest days in addition to that. I aim to have at least two complete rest days each week. Enjoyable, low-intensity activities, such as a walk or a leisurely cycle are perfectly ok.

During your rest days, it is important to take it easy.  No matter how tempted you may be to workout on a rest day, you should restrain yourself.  Remind yourself that your body will use your rest days to repair and rebuild your muscle tissue.   Rest days also give you the mental edge in workouts.  When you embrace the time off you will come back stronger and work harder in workouts. That is a great feeling.

So relax and enjoy. And let’s be honest, if you are training as hard as you should be, rest days are well deserved, enjoy every minute!


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