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Why fitness rest days are really not optional

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Fitness junkies: One or two days a week, don’t put your running shoes on; put your feet up instead. (Photo: Oh Happy Day)

 

Over-training sounds like a problem faced by triathletes and Olympians, but if you’re a gym rat or are spin-class obsessed, the risk may even be greater, says Exceed Physical Culture founder Ed Cashin.

“I believe that most people over-train because they have motivation without direction,” says Cashin, a renowned trainer with more than 25 years of experience. “The elite athlete gets daily massages, has a dietitian planning his or her meals, has coaches monitoring every part of his or her training plan, and doesn’t work full time at another job.” (Sounds nice, right?)

You, on the other hand, probably deserve a break once in a while instead of driving yourself insane with the thought of missing a day of cardio.

High intensity workout classes may up your need for a rest day, says Ed Cashin. (Photo: Exceed Physical Culture)

High intensity workouts may up your need for a rest day, says Ed Cashin, pictured teaching at Exceed. (Photo: Exceed Physical Culture)

Why a rest day matters

The most basic reason for taking a rest day is scientific, says renowned private trainer Brooke Marrone. “Your body repairs its muscles and replenishes its energy when it’s not at the gym,” she says. This allows you to be at 100 percent so you can work harder when you are exercising, which means the return on your sweat investment will be greater.

You also want to avoid the mental fatigue that may sap your motivation. “You’re going to get burnt out if it feels like there’s constant pressure to go and you don’t look forward to your workouts anymore,” she says. Use your rest day to forget about exercise entirely, she suggest, and have dinner with a friend or get a manicure instead.

How to do it

"I think that taking one rest day is absolutely necessary and taking two is absolutely fine, as well." (Photo: Brooke Marrone)

“I think that taking one rest day is absolutely necessary and taking two is absolutely fine, as well.” (Photo: Brooke Marrone)

Both Marrone and Cashin say one recovery day a week is generally enough for the average exerciser, but your particular regimen may affect how much rest you need.

“Higher intensity workouts, exercises targeting specific muscle groups, and workouts that require you to work to your full potential until fatigue will generally require more recovery time,” explains Cashin. Classes at Exceed that use HIIT or the TRX (targeting specific muscles), for example, call for more rest time, while “lower impact workouts incorporating compound exercises that stop before complete muscle fatigue” require less.

And while it may sound cliched, the best strategy is to listen to your body and give it a break if it’s asking you for one. “Sometimes your body feels exhausted and you might need that extra day off,” Marrone says. Cashin agrees. “In the long and short term, it will do you much more good than harm to skip one day of exercise.” —Lisa Elaine Held