If exercise is part of your daily or weekly routine, how do you tell if you need a rest day? Working out regularly is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mind, body and soul. In addition to strengthening your bones and muscles, exercise can be incredibly impactful at reducing your risk of a host of diseases, preventing injury and even boosting your longevity overall, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which is about 30 minutes per day for five days out of the week, and there’s a reason they don’t recommend more than that. Like anything else, it is possible to overdo it when it comes to exercise and it’s important to be able to tell when you need a rest day. “Our bodies aren’t meant to be active 24/7, as that depletes important energy reserves and diverts attention from other tasks and projects throughout the day,” says Caleb Backe, C.P.T., a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “Not following a balanced and diverse schedule or giving your body the chance to rest properly between exercise sessions can all damage one’s health in more ways than it can help it.”
How do you know when you need a rest day or if you’re going overboard when it comes to exercise? The best way to tell is to listen to your body and look out for signs including constant muscle soreness, decreased energy levels, muscle strain and injury. “Being sore after a tough workout is normal; however, being sore every day isn’t good for your body and could be a sign that you’re overdoing it,” says Stephanie Mansour, a Chicago-based weight loss coach and corporate wellness trainer. “With soreness comes decreased energy, which also is a telling sign that you should maybe take a rest day or two.” She also finds that some of her clients ignore pulled muscles or strains when they’re used to working out every day—another sign that they may not be listening to their body.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you need a rest day, look out for these key signs.
Muscle soreness or pain
While a little burn here and there when you’re working a muscle can be a good sign that you’re working it out effectively, your muscles shouldn’t feel sore to the extent that it’s impacting your day-to-day activities. “Soreness can be normal and not represent a red flag, but it’s up to you to learn where your baseline is in terms of soreness that is normal or a sign from your body that it needs a break or that you need a rest day,” says Backe. “Muscle pain may be indicative of an injury that requires even more of a break, and a doctor should be consulted if any pain lingers for more than a couple of days.”
Your energy feels inexplicably drained
Exercise is supposed to increase energy levels, so once you start feeling extra tired, Mansour warns that it may be your body signaling it may need a rest day. Backe agrees, adding that feeling more tired than usual—falling asleep at your desk or dozing off at an earlier hour than normal—is a sign that your body needs a break. “Rest day indicators are not exclusive to our muscles—our entire body will feel it if you’ve been working out too much, which can result in plain tiredness,” he says. “Again you need to learn your personal baseline level for fatigue in order to understand what’s normal tiredness and rest day tiredness.”
Your workouts are becoming more challenging
“After weeks and months of working out, our muscles should become stronger leading to increased endurance and stamina and improved athletic performance,” says Backe. “If you find that you are not progressing in your workouts, or worse, that they are becoming more challenging than they used to be—insufficient rest days may be the culprit.”
You’re experiencing muscle strain or injury
While these might seem like obvious signs that you need a rest day, Backe warns that many people tend to overdo their exercise when they get into a routine that they love—even when they’re uncomfortable. “Working out with a pulled or strained muscle can lead to serious injury,” he says. If you feel like you may have a pulled muscle, he recommends taking a rest day to gently stretch, massage and ice any irritated areas. Come back to your exercise routine when you’re feeling better and you will likely see more rewarding results.
You’re having cold or flu-like symptoms
While working out too much is not going to give you the cold or flu, running down your immune system because you’re overworking it can put you at greater risk for catching illnesses from other sources. “Working out too frequently and not allowing for adequate rest time will make our bodies work harder than they need to in order to recover, potentially resulting in depleted levels of immunity,” says Backe. “If you find yourself becoming more susceptible to illness, consider incorporating more rest time into your workout routine.”
You’re experiencing unintentional weight loss
If you aren’t trying to lose weight, yet you see the scale tipping downward, Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness, warns that it may be a strong signal you are overdoing your exercise. “If too much weight is lost, this may signal that not enough calories are present for proper nutrition or too many are being burned during exercise and may not be available to nourish the body, which can lead to other issues like lower bone density,” he says. “Adding an extra snack before your workouts and bolstering a post-workout meal with extra fats, like nuts or nut butters, with omega-3s will help add calories and anti-inflammatories—but you still need a rest day!”