How to take a rest day without feeling guilty about it for better health + performance

Do you feel guilty when you take a rest day? If you find it harder to slow down than to go fast, this article will help you make peace with rest.

Most fitness fanatics know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to high-level performance, yet some still over train or feel guilty when they take a day off. Here’s the truth: Rest days are an essential part of training and when you get the MOST from your time working out.

Exercising creates tiny tears in the muscles. When you allow the muscles to rest, the tissue is able to repair itself using proteins and amino acids. This creates stronger muscles over time, which appear leaner, especially combined with the fat-burning process. It’s this rebuilding process that makes you stronger so refusing to take rest days will negate all that hard work you’ve done in your workouts. While it may feel like you’re slacking and make you worry that you won’t see results, time off allows your body and mind to fully recover to reap the benefits.

Think about how you feel after a poor night’s sleep: Your cognitive skills are fuzzy and your body starts to fall into a catabolic (breaking down) state, which can skyrocket stress, sap muscle strength, and cause mood shifts. The same fatigue happens on the body when you don’t allow it to recover properly from exercise. Never taking a day off sets the body up for a breakdown. You become more susceptible to severe muscle soreness, a suppressed immune system, a decrease in strength and performance. Not only that but over time over-training can also cause irritability, mood swings, excessive fatigue, weight gain (oh yes!), heart-muscle damage, thyroid dysfunction, brittle bones, amennorrhea (losing your period), and overuse injuries which can have life-long impact. Not to mention the mental health complications that can come from too much working out like OCD, depression, and anxiety.

That being said, taking rest days can actually be the hardest part of a training program. Sounds like an oxymoron, but for some of us, forcing ourselves to leave the running shoes, not go to yoga with friends, or step back from the weight rack and hot-step ourselves out of the gym is a very real challenge.

People often worry that taking a rest day will set them back in their training and delude themselves that somehow they’re the superhuman exception but in reality not resting will catch up with you. The best athletes take rest days — yes even Olympians take days off! But seeing as there are a lot of misconceptions about resting, here are my suggestions for making REST days a healthy part of your training:

HOW to to take rest days (without feeling guilty about it)

1. Make rest a non-negotionable part of your training. Get in the mindset that resting isn’t “cheating” and that your body deserves time to reap the benefits from your hard work in the gym. Remind yourself that time off is PRODUCTIVE and when your body has time to rebuild to come back stronger.

2. Regularly assess how often you should rest. Everybody’s body is different and how often you need to rest is unique to you and your current training load. Its best to play around with different rest day frequencies to see what feels best to your body. As a general guideline: If you are starting out with a new exercise program or are a beginner exerciser, rest every third day (that is, exercise two consecutive days and rest the third). More experienced exercisers should take a recovery day at least once a week. In addition, its a good idea every eight weeks include a week where you decrease your training load and/or cross train with new, different activities. Regularly look at your training program and intensity to define how often you should include rest days week to week. I’ve done the work for you within the Strong Body program by giving you a schedule on when to take rest days and what to do.

3. Schedule your rest days. Plan ahead for rest days and put them in your calendar. Decide what you want to do on your rest day to remove the temptation to worry about not exercising. Schedule WHAT you will do on your rest day and when. Just don’t be too rigid about your plan. If you wake up one morning feeling extra sore or sick, take extra time off.

4. Define what rest means to you. What you decide to do on your rest day depends on the intensity of your workouts leading up to it. For example, if you are killing it in the gym day in and day out, your rest day should be a day completely off from taxing your body. You might go for a casual walk at most, but no great effort to do more physical work than necessary should be made (read: no gym!). However, if your workouts have been light to moderate intensity all week or you’re a beginner exerciser, you can take a more active recovery day. That might include playing a sport outside, taking a yoga class, or going for a longer walk. Everybody’s body is different and how you rest will vary week to week. The important part is that it HAPPENS and that it is part of your training plan.

5. Take a mental break as well. When you DON’T take a rest day, the fatigue and distress extend psychologically. You’ll notice mental changes like decreased vigor, motivation + confidence, raised tension, depression, and even anger anger. That’s why it’s important that any activity you do on your rest day should also help your mind take a break. Whether that’s journaling, a cooking class, an evening with friends, a walk in the park, or taking the dog out with your spouse, do whatever clears your head and stops you from thinking about counting reps or reaching your goal. You’ll be fresh and ready to train once you’ve had mental time off.

6. DONT RESTRICT YOUR CALORIES OR EAT LIKE AN A$$HOLE JUST BECAUSE YOU ARENT WORKING OUT. This is a BIG ONE. Just because you didnt work out doesn’t mean you should drop your healthy nutrition habits. Don’t restrict your calories because you didn’t “earn them” from working out or binge on sweets if you feel guilty from not exercising (read this post). Maintain a normal, balanced, healthy diet and eat mindfully. I teach you how to have a POSITIVE relationship to your diet in my Strong Body lifestyle program (which course students have reported is one of the most VALUABLE tools they’ve gained from enrolling). Nutrition is an essential piece of recovering right — you have to nourish your body with good foods in order to come back stronger. Eat healthy no matter whats on the workout agenda. Good in = good out.

7. Get enough sleep. Nothing messes up your system more than not getting enough shut-eye. One of the symptoms of over-training is having a hard time falling asleep and/or insomnia which can start a vicious cycle of over-exercising and under-resting. Make sleep a priority and get the hours you need nightly. It may be hard to get to bed on time, but its a habit worth working for. you deserve to feel good and recover right.

8. Do something for OTHER parts of your health on a rest day! Remember: fitness isn’t about looking good. Its about mental health, life satisfaction, and energy levels. On a rest day, focus on the OTHER parts of you that can use self care. If you have a hard time not working out, it may help to build hobbies and habits outside of fitness. Remember: when working out becomes your life, you need to work on your life. Call a friend, take a class, meditate, take up a hobby — anything you find that helps give your mind and soul a workout. I give you a lot of self care suggestions as part of my Strong Body Lifestyle Program.

Learning when and how to rest is a constant process and a balancing act. I am by no means perfect — I’ve struggled with my propensity to workout too much and too hard. But this is why I’m writing about it. I rest now. ( I still have crazy moments… dont we all?) but resting is a valuable part of my healthy lifestyle. And it’s made a huge difference. Finding the right balance takes constant tweaking and adjusting as your life evolves and changes. But once you learn to embrace the rest day as not just an “off day” but a “productive-in-a-behind-the-scenes-ways” day, it’s a lot easier to recover right. The most important thing about rest is that it happens and that you get healthier, stronger, and happier over time.

I schedule rest days FOR you in the Strong Body coaching program. This helps take the pressure off, when you know HOW you are going to take a day off and when to do it! I work with you to help you make the most of your training and feel GOOD in your body. It’s a lifestyle program you can follow for LIFE. Join us.

What’s your philosophy on recovery? How do you feel about rest days? How many rest days do you take per week? What is your favorite thing to do on your rest day? I’d love to hear how you rest below in the comments.

Be good to yourself — your body loves when you give it rest.

Caroline

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Originally published at carolinejordanfitness.com on March 25, 2018.