When many of us are on our fitness drives, we have a tendency to get tunnel vision. The end goal is in sight – usually a holiday or a wedding – and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get fit and look good for that occasion.
We knuckle down and don’t stop, with a plan to work out hard all the time, day in, day out, so that we can reach our goals in the best possible shape. Sometimes, it feels like everything or nothing, and if we miss the gym on one day, we feel like we’ve left ourselves down and failed.
So we do everything we can to get to the gym and work out, seven days a week.
But this isn’t good. This isn’t the most efficient or effective way to train, and it won’t help you achieve your goals any quicker. In fact, it could be detrimental to them. Because a rest or recovery day is just as important as a workout day – if not more.
Why Rest Days Are Important
Take a look at any professional athlete, and you’ll see that they place just as much an emphasis on their rest days as they do their training days. That’s because recovery is vital to our muscle development and fitness regime.
Without a recovery day, you will not be able to reach your goals. Your body will not be able to repair any torn muscles or grow new tissue, so you won’t be building up this muscle – you’ll just be ripping it down every time you train.
You’ll also be hitting your immune system hard, not giving it chance to recover and replenish. This will lead to illness, and force you out of the gym for a longer period of time. The same is true of overtraining; if you push yourself too hard, without a rest, you’ll develop repetitive strain injury in muscles and joints, mental fatigue, and you might not be able to sleep well at night.
That’s why you need a rest day.
But, that doesn’t mean you have to slump out and be completely inactive. Recovery days are a great opportunity to try something different and focus on an area of your body or training routine that you wouldn’t normally do. Take a look at some of our suggestions below.
Get some active rest with a stroll outdoors
Many people swear by active rests. They don’t stop completely, but instead just turn down the intensity level and work out at a slower, more gentle pace. A walk, particularly outdoors, is a great place to start.
You’ll still be keeping the blood flowing through your legs and muscles, and you’ll be able to relax in the fresh air and countryside, breathing in plenty of oxygen to help replenish damaged tissue, stretching your leg muscles, and lengthening fibres.
It’s a great activity to spend time with the family too, releasing some of that feel-good hormone, serotonin.
Focus on relaxation with a little bit of yoga
Gentle yoga routines and controlled salutations are another perfect workout or activity for a recovery day. They’re not high intensity, so you won’t be doing any repetitive damage to your muscles, and they will help you focus on your breathing and your mind, slowing your heart rate and stretching out your muscles.
You’ll be able to relax, whilst still challenging yourself a little, so you will feel like you have done some form of exercise. This will help lower cortisol levels, which controls any stress you might be feeling. Opening up your chest in a pose like Warrior 2 can help you to feel strong and confident, boosting your self-esteem as well!
Rotate the joints that are often overlooked
Our joints are basically the glue that holds our body together, and if we don’t look after them, we could easily develop problems that will affect our workouts. Mobility training is often overlooked, but it’s a great thing to do during a rest day to prevent future injuries.
Focus on the rotation of all your joints, in particular, your shoulders, wrists, ankles, knees and hips. You don’t need any equipment – just a bit of space to move around in freely, slowly rolling those joints, increasing your range of movement and strengthening the rotation. Lying on the floor and rolling a ball under your body can help, as can using a fitness band to move a joint back and forth.
Ease any tension with a foam roller
Continuing with a look at those little things you don’t normally have time for on a full workout day, a foam roller is a great piece of equipment to make use of during that recovery period. Using it slowly and effectively, you’ll feel the benefits immediately.
Placing it under your body, you’ll roll it back and forth in a very slow motion over your legs, arms, backside, shoulders and back. Don’t just go up and down – multi-directions are key as you target nerve endings, ease contracting tendons, and hit the deep tissue in your muscles to soften and release any tightness.
Boost your flexibility with a solid stretch
Finally, a recovery day is the perfect opportunity to get in all those stretches that many of us neglect during a gym session. We might have a super quick cooldown and go through the basic motions, but we should really be spending a good 5 to 10 minutes stretching every day.
With a rest day away from the gym, use that spare to time to take care of your muscles and aid their recovery. Take your time to follow a full stretching routine, from your toes right through to your neck, easing into different postures, gently feeling the stretch, and then releasing slowly.
You’ll refresh your whole body, open up your lungs, and be ready to hit the gym with a renewed vigour tomorrow.