When you are laying out your plan for your weekly workouts, are you including rest/recovery days? If not, you should be! Some of us love to go hard all the time, but avoiding adequate rest days can set you up for things like repetitive stress injuries or overtraining, which will eventually force you into taking rest days—whether you like it or not. It’s important to include those rest days into your exercise program to allow your body to fully recover from the stresses of hard exercise but still help you move forward toward reaching your goals.
So, what does it mean to take a rest day vs a recovery day? A rest day is just that. A day of low activity that you spend RESTING. Resting your body, resting your mind, if you take a full rest day make sure you focus on getting a few extra ZZZ’s, eating well and staying hydrated so that when you want to push your body again the next day it’s ready to go. A recovery day, however, focuses on choosing activities that help your body to heal and reset back to a better state, therefore preparing it for the next time you will be asking it to perform for you.
How much rest your body requires depends on the level of activity you are asking it to perform. In general, if you use a muscle group to failure or have an extremely intense workout, optimally, those muscles need 48 hours to allow for proper fiber repair, allow for regrowth and to help prevent injury. You can meet these rest goals by alternating which muscle groups you work so that while one group rests the other is being strengthened, but even if you develop a pattern of this type of work/rest rotation it’s still important to take a day here and there to fully recover and allow your body to reset so you can continue to see gains on those working days.
But what do you do on a recovery day? Valid question that we get all the time. There are tons of options of great ways to spend a recovery day. The most important thing to do is to listen to your body, does it feel tight and need to stretch? Maybe you are exhausted and worn out, and a little extra sleep sounds invaluable. Have you been feeling drained or sluggish? Perhaps use that day to reevaluate your nutrition or reset yourself by focusing on lean proteins and greens to help rebuild your muscles, and tamp down any inflammation you may be dealing with. Your Recovery day should always include lots of water to stay hydrated and carving out some time for stretching or foam rolling to release any tension on your body, and increase flexibility.
Maybe you choose to enjoy your friends and family, get in a few hours extra at work instead of rushing out to catch your class at the gym, or maybe sleep in an hour longer because you don’t have to squeeze in a workout that morning. If you want to keep moving try to find a lower impact activity than your usual workouts. Things like Yoga, Pilates, SUP or a nice walk can be great choices for a recovery day to keep your body moving without interrupting its ability to properly recover. Whatever you decide your recovery day should look like, enjoy it. Not only does your body need the rest but your mind does too. It takes a lot of mental toughness to stay committed to a vigorous exercise routine and your mind benefits from a little break once in a while as well.