Just as pre workout and post workout nutrition are important to optimizing your workout, rest days/recovery are an integral yet often overlooked component of quality training. As we are bombarded with messages to get active, with smart watches that remind us to move and more, it is easy to forget that more is not always better. If you have fallen trap to the go-go-go lifestyle, in which workout challenges at fitness studios promote frequent workouts or streaks, you may be over exercising.
To help you better understand the importance of rest days and the impacts we have created this short guide to rest days and recovery.
REST DAY BASICS//
Rest days are important for several reasons. First and foremost, rest days are an opportunity for your body to recover. You see, when you are training, you are frequently depleting your cells' energy stores, raising your heart rate, depleting enzymes, increasing lactic acid and more.
So, this recovery includes the normalization of physiological functions (think blood pressure, cardiac cycle, heart rate), a return to homeostasis of cells, restoration of energy stores (blood and muscle glucose), and the replenishment of cellular energy enzymes that help with metabolism and cell functioning. Basically, during a rest day or a period of recovery, your body is able to adapt to the stress it underwent during the workout in order to repair and replenish muscle and tissue. This replenishment is especially important as it reduces muscle fatigue and soreness.
There are two different types of recovery: immediate/short term and long term. Rest days can be either kind of recovery. Immediate/short term recovery occurs within the hours after a workout and can be active such as a cool down or another form of low intensity movement. This is also known as active recovery, in which you move your body to aid in the recovery process. For example, if you strength train on Monday you can take an active recovery day Tuesday by taking a walk to help your muscles recover. Immediate/short term recovery is also aided by quality post workout nutrition, you can learn more about that here. During short term recovery, your body mainly works to repair soft muscle tissue (think muscles, tendons, and ligaments) and removes chemicals that build up during the workout (cite).
Long term recovery can be longer periods of rest or milder training that give your body time to adapt. Long term recovery is often built into a professional athlete’s training schedule, they may taper their workouts (reduce length/intensity) in the weeks prior to a race or go through periods of reduced intensity/cross training. (cite). These longer periods of rest help the body to more fully adapt and prepare for a race or a big event.
Important to both short term and long term recovery is proper nutrition (like pre and post workout meals) and sleep. Consuming complex carbohydrates around a workout and on rest days helps to replenish glycogen stores and consuming protein helps with muscle repair. A Mikuna Chocho Superfood Protein shake or any one of our recipes provides a quality dose of carbs and protein, so if you need some meal inspiration check out our recipe library.
Research shows that quality long sleep is correlated with improved performance and endurance, as well as improved recovery. Rest days can also help to improve sleep. When you workout, your body produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and too much of these hormones can negatively affect sleep quality. Rest days give your body a chance to regulate these hormones, improving your sleep and your performance.
Rest and recovery also help you to stay safe and reduce injury during a workout. When your muscles are depleted and your energy is low, you may be more likely to use incorrect form and injure yourself. Additionally, resting helps to reduce the risk of repetitive strains/stressors which can reduce risk of overuse injuries. Sleep is also important because it is a time when growth hormones are released. These hormones stimulate muscle growth and repair, bone building, fat burning, and help with recovery.
THE RIGHT REST FOR YOU//
The amount and kind of rest days you take (active or inactive) depends on your normal exercise routine and your goals. The American Council on Exercise recommends taking rest days according to FITT, Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. For example, if you run just one mile a few days a week you may need only one rest day in between runs but if you run a 10k you may need a few more rest days before your next intense workout. And the type refers to the kind of recovery you undertake and if it is active or passive. Cross training can be a great form of active recovery, especially less intense exercises such as yoga, walking, light cycling, or swimming.
If your main forms of exercise are light cardio activities like walking or slow dancing you don't really need to incorporate rest days. Your body can manage doing these activities almost every day as they do not cause much muscle damage or chemical buildup.
More intense cardio can necessitate rest days. HIIT, circuit training, cycling and other vigorous kinds of cardio can damage your muscles, make you sore, and cause an elevated heart rate so allowing for proper recovery is important to improvement. Running is an especially high impact sport that puts stress on the body and triggers inflammation, meaning rest days are a must. Running too much can cause many overuse injuries like tendonitis, shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures, and adequate rest can help to protect against these conditions.
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