How Rest Days After Exercise Will Benefit Your Workouts

Smiling woman resting in bed
Some extra rest might be just what your body needs.

by Mary Lambkin

As you think about your ideal gym routine, here's one important part that might surprise you: rest. That's right; when it comes to working out, a little R&R can go a long way. While it takes time and patience to begin seeing the results of your well-spent time at the gym, once you do, it's only natural to want to keep pushing for more. But as any longtime gym goer will tell you, taking a day off is actually what you need. Rest days after exercise help your body recover so that it can come back to the gym stronger.

What Is a Rest Day?

While rest days after exercise may sometimes involve actually catching up on some rest, it can also mean you just go about your day as usual. In fact, active rest is what's best for your body. If you have the day off, you might want to go for a walk with a friend, do some yard work or spend some time on your feet cooking up a storm in the kitchen. One of my favorite active recovery exercises? Taking a trip to Costco. Pushing an oversized cart, plus loading and unloading the car while juggling a baby, counts as a mini-workout in my books! According to the American Academy of Sports Medicine, a little bit of light activity won't impair your body's ability to recover.

Why Do Rest Days Matter?

Your body needs rest just as much as it needs activity, and if you're not giving yourself time to recover after a string of workouts, you're at risk for muscle soreness, injury, depression, fatigue and poor sleep, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). These symptoms of overtraining won't only make you a grumpy gym-goer, they'll also limit what you get out of your workout. Overstressing sore muscles can result in a lackluster workout or, even worse, an injury that could force you to the sidelines for weeks. Additionally, the constant stress on your body could compromise your immune system, putting you at risk for infection or illness.

Simply scheduling a day off can help you avoid the doctor's office. As the ACSM notes, taking one to two rest days per week will keep you in top shape to return to your workout with full energy. If you've had a particularly difficult workout, the American Council on Exerciserecommends resting for 48 to 72 hours as your muscles recover.

How Do I Know It's Time for a Rest Day?

Once you're in the routine of knowing when you're going to the gym, you'll want to have your regular rest days scheduled on your calendar. By planning your workouts in advance — including intentional rest days — you can make the most of your fitness regimen. For example, many runners take their rest days before and/or after their longest run of the week, so that their legs have time to prepare for and recover from their hardest run.

In addition to your scheduled rest days, you should always remain open to the idea of an unplanned rest day. Sometimes we just feel "off" for no reason, and the thought of working out isn't appealing physically or emotionally (or both!). It's important to listen to your body. As you become a regular exerciser, you'll learn to identify when your body is telling you that it needs rest. May you rest well, and reap the benefits at your next workout!

 

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.