The Importance of Rest Days & Active Rest Days
When you’ve committed to a certain workout regimen, from getting into shape to training for a specific event or something else altogether, it’s easy to get excited. You’re making positive changes that will impact the rest of your life. Whether you have some weight to lose, want to tone things up or want to prove to yourself that you can do more than you ever thought possible, there’s a lot of motivation behind whatever activity you’ve committed to.
This is why it’s so easy to go overboard and why so many athletes of all levels fall victim to going too far. While many workout plans offer advice and ideas for giving it your all and being your best, far too many conversations leave out something that’s just as critical for increasing physical fitness: rest and active rest days.
For many people, rest seems counter-intuitive to meeting fitness goals. Doing nothing is what you were doing before; why would you want to incorporate that into your plan for the future? Let’s step back and look at why rest is so important, and how you can incorporate it into your workout schedule.
Rest Prevents Injury
This is a plain and simple fact that cannot be overlooked. When you’re active all the time – especially in a new routine – you’re using different muscles and body parts in new ways. When these body parts don’t have a chance to rest, they’re going to be more prone to injury.
Signs and symptoms of overtraining – and too little rest – include:
- Increased levels of fatigue that go beyond a little soreness the next day
- A lack of concentration
- A disruption in a normal sleep pattern
- Trouble performing at the same level as before
- An increase in resting heart rate
If ignored, these symptoms can lead to serious problems and injuries that can be avoided with a little rest.
Rest Days Increase Performance Rather Than Decrease It
It’s a common train of thought: If you’ve built yourself up to a certain level of performance, you don’t want to let it slip. Isn’t that what will happen if you rest? No; and here’s why.
Rest allows for a period of rebuilding. It’s important to note that rest days should be strategically placed into a workout schedule following extremely strenuous days. They should also last one to two days at most – barring any levels of tapering leading up to specific athletic events like marathon running. When hard workouts happen, muscle fibers are broken. When they are rebuilt, they become strong – this is why strength training is effective.
A few statistics that prove rest will not hamper your performance include:
- It takes aerobic power approximately 2 to 3 weeks to decline, and even then the rate is 5 to 10 percent.
- It takes two months of complete inactivity to lose gains that you’ve worked for.
- Muscles retain a certain memory for weeks for most people, and months for others. They’re made to perform.
Rest does not hinder your athletic abilities; instead, it complements them.
Rest Leads to a Healthier, More Focused Athlete
During periods of extreme strain, chemicals are released that suppress the immune system. These same chemicals can cause a burnout that can cut any exercise regimen short by decreasing interest and the ability to perform.
This means that even the most fit individuals might be doing themselves harm if they don’t take rest days to allow those chemicals to subside. Rest days lead to healthier athletes who are less prone to sickness and more able to focus on what they want to accomplish.
Rest vs. Active Rest
Pure rest days are easy to understand. They’re meant for recovery and that means you do nothing; plain and simple.
Active rest, on the other hand, refers to activities that complement the standard workout routine but at a reduced intensity and/or volume. Those involved in strength training might reduce weight loads and sets to keep muscles moving, but without as much strain. Runners might do light jogs or brisk walks. Bikers might hop on an exercise bike for a leisurely spin.
How to Set up Active Rest Days
Passive or complete rest days don’t need much of a definition. Simply do nothing. Active rest, on the other hand, might need some defining or rules to be effective.
The basic rules of active rest are that:
- The athlete performs at a volume that is one-half to two-thirds that of a regular workout.
- Intensity is decreased to be around 60 percent of the athlete’s standard maximum heart rate.
- The workout should be refreshing rather than depleting.
- Endurance athletes should reduce workout times to one-half of their standard – if a runner runs for one hour a day, an active rest day would be about a 30 minute jog.
A standard training program should include at least one day of complete rest and one day of active rest. For beginners, this should be increased.
Examples of Active Rest
Passive rest doesn’t require examples. It is what it is.
Examples of active rest include:
- Using weight machines set at lower settings than normal, rather than a day of heavy free weights. This allows for focusing on form rather than numbers.
- Running on an underwater treadmill to keep the muscles moving without the strain on joints.
- Using ellipticals or stationary bikes to increase the heart rate without the strain.
- Going on a hike or doing something outdoors that doesn’t fall into the standard realm of exercising.
- Practicing yoga to focus on stretching and relaxation rather than gains.
As an athlete, incorporating rest and active rest into your routine is critical for achieving your fitness goals. Follow the tips above to get started.
[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]Adrienne Erin is a health-conscious freelance designer and avid writer. When she’s not glued to her computer screen, you might find her experimenting with new juice and smoothie recipes, growing a batch of microgreens, or planning her next roadtrip. To see more of her work or get in touch, follow @foodierx on Twitter or visit her blog, Foodie Fitness.[/thrive_text_block]