Fitness Devotees PSA: Rest days are just as important as heavy-workout days. Not to mention, just as effective. This is not a drill. Rest days can be the key to a healthy and consistent workout schedule for both your mind and body.
Yet, people often ditch days off in fear of interrupting a new routine or because they believe it’s necessary to push through to prep for something a race or wedding. The thing is, there’s much to be lost if you continually dismiss rest days.
So, how is it that a day void of a sweat is helpful and not hurtful? Let’s start with the basics. While you’re getting in a good workout (“Planks, Plyos, and Pikes,” anyone?) you’re actually causing micro-tears in the fibers of your muscles.
In order for these fibers to recover and reconstruct your muscles (ergo, become stronger) they need a break in intensity. The thing is, moving and creating blood flow will carry nutrients throughout the body that help with repair. Meaning, “break in intensity” isn’t code for sleeping in all day.
Active recovery—low-intensity exercises done after big workouts—are typically done after something especially taxing (such as a marathon) or on recovery days, and can prevent you from becoming stiff, developing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), or becoming unmotivated (read: lazy).
For the purpose of this article, rest days and active recovery days are synonymous. Although many refer to rest days as strictly days of complete rest and inactivity.
You may find you need total rest days every once in and while (the kind where you don’t move from the couch), but that doesn’t mean you should remain inactive on rest and recovery days. Making sense?
Now, say you’ve finished a gym session, had your recovery shake, and cooled down by foam rolling. Tomorrow’s a rest day, but what exactly should you do? What qualifies as a low-intensity, recovery exercise? Why even bother?
We took the guess work out of it by rounding up the most effective options, plus why you need to include them, stat. Scroll through to see what you should be doing on rest days. Spoiler: Vegging out isn’t one of them.
Day in and day out you tune into Aaptiv and hit the gym, potentially unaware of body parts and routine actions that need correcting. Muscle imbalances and joint dysfunctions happen more often than most of us realize. That means that performing exercises and actions that counter any negative effects is powerful. But, you don’t need to be an expert in physiology to do corrective exercises. In most cases it’s as simple as dynamic stretching and foam rolling.
Bottom line, if you have stitch in your side or feel something wonky, you won’t be able to get through a workout smoothly. Avoiding corrective practices can even lead to injury and negate your workout altogether.
Taking note of the condition each part of your body is in and using rest days to undo any imbalances can absolutely change the way you perform. Take a day to go slow and practice on your form.
Using good form is the best way to correct imbalances and prevent further ones. Foam rolling and dynamic stretching will also help correct many problems. Specifically hip openers and stretches that increase spinal mobility.
Flexibility and Mobility Exercises
Let’s be clear: Flexibility and mobility are not the same thing, but should be used in tandem to improve your movements and workouts overall. See, while flexibility refers to lengthening your muscles (stretching and bending), mobility refers to your joint movement and range of motion (moving easily). After all, what good is a strong body if you’re unable to use it properly?
After working out, your muscles and nervous system are more likely than not worked up and in need of cooling down. When it comes to flexibility exercises, both static (held) and dynamic (range of motion) stretching will assist in relaxing them and jump-starting recovery, from a post-workout cooldown to a rest day stretch session. On a similar note, including range of motion exercises (like foam rolling, leg swings, and marches) will improve your nervous system and prepare your joints for future workouts.
Yoga is the ideal downtime exercise. Not only is it relaxing and beneficial psychologically, but also, it’s a form of flexibility and mobility that can be done daily, no problem. Unless you’re twisting yourself into a pretzel, no significant amount of stress will be put on your joints. Plus, it puts you in a position (or ten) where you’re spending extended amounts of time in a stretch, loosening up your muscles and making up for any pre- or post- workout stretching you’ve been skimping on.
If you enjoy working out, chances are you choose to do something active in your spare time. This could be swimming, biking, playing a sport with family or friends, dancing, laser tag—literally anything you enjoy that keeps you moving. Yes, even running around after your kids. So long as it isn’t a workout on-par with your usual routine intensity, chances are it fits into this category. Swimming, specifically, is a top-notch option for rest days, since it’s low stress (thanks to weightlessness), engages multiple sets of muscles, and involves cardio. Even better to take advantage while we savor the end of summer.
You could consider this the best of both worlds when it comes to recovery days. You can enjoy your “off” time without falling into immobile territory (ahem, all-day Netflix binge). After all, we’re built to move. The more often you do so—especially by doing something you enjoy—the less likely you’ll feel unmotivated and lethargic the next day.
Walking or Hiking
Arguably the easiest to just get out and do, walking and hiking stand as highly recommended recovery exercises. Both have the potential to burn extra to significant amounts of calories, while not shocking the body and remaining relatively low-impact.
Not to mention, either is a good opportunity to be outside in the fresh air. Besides, having a rest day shouldn’t deter you from that 10,000 steps per day goal.