Stemming from the most recent article regarding regeneration and the importance of allowing our bodies to regroup, this article will dive into the importance of rest days. Now, rest days are necessary to allow the body to recover because they allow the muscles and other tissues to rebuild, but they also play a large role in preventing central nervous system fatigue. Exercise is highly physical but it goes deeper than that. Your mental and emotional states have a large influence over your physical abilities. Rest days are not a sign of weakness or being unmotivated. In fact, I would argue the exact opposite. Rest days are a sign of intelligence, patience, and a true sign of adherence to not only your exercise program, but to improving your long-term health.
While exercising, we oftentimes immediately assume that more is better. In some cases, this is absolutely true, especially on a microscopic level. For example, when trying to build more muscle, typically you should increase the total volume that you are lifting. When wanting to get faster, you probably should spend more time working at a faster pace. When we zoom out and look at the macroscopic level and the bigger picture, yes, we want to spend more time working towards our end goals, but there should also be more rest and recovery days that come with those increases in intensity. When pushing harder than you may be used to, physically and mentally, you will notice so many incredible benefits that you hadn’t before. You will also notice that the body may not be at its peak performance each and every day/workout. Resting and allowing it to regroup, rebuild, and reset will allow you to improve your longevity, sustain motivation, and not lose that excitement for workouts.
The reason that we need to remain motivated and keep our excitement for working out is because this is a long process. Obtaining true, lasting results takes time, hard work, and patience. We don’t get results over night. It takes weeks, months, years to get where we may want to be. This may seem overwhelming but when you create an environment where you enjoy showing up to the gym on a regular basis, it makes it significantly easier to sustain in the long run. Incorporating rest days is a little trick to help us crave the gym. When we work out on a regular basis and thoroughly enjoy it, removing ourselves from the gym a day or two per week can create this conception of us wanting to go back even more. If we create and use this motivation, rest days can be a means of rebuilding excitement and ensuring that we do, in fact, work on longevity. There are little mental and emotional tricks that we can use to make sure we maintain that enjoyment of exercise. Once we lose that passion and satisfaction of working out, we are setting ourselves up for failure because it can become difficult to sustain.
I say this day in and day out: “We need to do a little bit of what we want and a lot of what we need.” This applies to workouts, nutrition, relationships, work, and everything under the sun. If we strictly do what we want and never what we need, we may have fun in the short term but we probably won’t notice long term success. If we do the opposite and do nothing that we enjoy and everything that we have to do, we burden ourselves and burn out. Finding that right balance for you is crucial to anything in life. If we don’t progress in the right direction by taking the necessary steps, we won’t get anywhere. If we don’t enjoy what we are doing, we won’t stick with in for long. We need to find that equilibrium, and it may be different for each of us. This applies to rest days, as well. Maybe you dread exercise and rest days are more frequent for starters because it allows you to get away from something you don’t enjoy that much. That is okay. I am here to tell you that if you rest every other day but this allows you to continue working out for a longer period of time, stick with it and keep doing what you’re doing. Maybe you struggle with even getting in one single rest day each week because you feel that if you don’t workout you will digress and lose all of your progress. That is okay too. I am here to tell you that rest days can be incredible additions to your program that will actually get you to that end goal even faster. It may seem backwards but sometimes it is important to work smarter, not harder.
Allowing yourself to take a rest day can be a hurdle for many. This is normal. It isn’t just you that feels this way. We tend get in our own heads and become our biggest critic. The body is an amazing thing and after years of training others, as well as doing my own programming, it is so much fun to see what the body is capable of, when we allow it. Beginning with your long-term goals, creating stepping stones, and then tackling it day by day is the best way to get where you want to be. One foot in front of the other. It sounds simpler than it is but if we can allow ourselves to take a rest day to recover, we will get to our goals more efficiently and with less chance of injury. These rest days can serve as a means of motivation to remain driven in the gym, but also play a significant physical role in our body’s makeup.
When we think of exercise, we automatically associate it to physical health and even your aesthetic, or how we look. This is the end product of all the hard work put in but your physical being isn’t the only aspect altered through exercise.
Being healthy is so much more than what your body looks like. More importantly, the health and functionality of your muscles and internal organs is what will provide you with long-lasting health and wellness. Exercise plays a major role in aiding in the organs to function properly, regulate blood pressure and cholesterol, building lean muscle, burning visceral (the fat surrounding your organs) and subcutaneous (the fat that sit directly under the skin) fat, as well as so many other physical benefits. Just because you have abs or big muscles doesn’t necessarily mean you are the healthiest version of yourself. On the other hand, someone may physically be healthier and in better shape even if they don’t necessarily look like an Instagram fitness model. Our perception of healthy has become so distorted because of a variety of factors but what is truly most important is that we get healthy from the inside out. Take care of your heart, organs, gut microbiome, and muscles, and you will end up seeing the physical repercussions.
Along with the health of your internal and external being comes the nervous system. Too much high intensity exercise with too little rest tends to take an extreme toll on our central nervous system. You can push your body to extreme limits and it will surprise you at what you are capable of but if your central nervous system over works and becomes fatigued, your body then puts a ceiling on what you are able to accomplish. When we don’t allow our body to rest, it wears down much more than our muscles and internal, essential organs. The central nervous system is made up by the brain and spinal cord. These send and receive signals to and from the muscles while exercising through the peripheral nervous system. When we are exercising and our muscles contract, this sends a signal from the brain, down the spinal cord, to the muscle motor unit that is firing. This connection is known as the neuromuscular junction. When the muscle receives this signal, it contracts or flexes. The relationship between the muscular system and nervous system is a close-knot one. When we overdo it in the gym without properly planned rest days, we not only fatigue our muscle groups but we also put additional strain on our central nervous system.
What does a rest day look? This depends on who you are and what your body needs. Exercise, and therefore rest days, are extremely individualized. Our bodies are all so unique and special so we need to find what routine works best for us to not only feel and look the way that we want, but to remain consistent and stick with our program for a long duration to get lasting results. For some, rest days consist of mobility work while others would prefer a long walk while others may take a day to lounge on the couch and remain relatively inactive. All of those are viable options for your rest day but you should decide to make that “unproductive” day as productive as you need to help your body recover. Listen to your body and it will take amazing care of you, inside and out.
If there was an easier way to achieve the results we all want, I promise I would let you in on that secret. Sure, there are quick fixes and fad diets that can show physical results relatively fast but those are not sustainable and oftentimes are just a fluke. It’s time to start taking responsibility for your health, working hard, eating nutrient dense food, being kind to yourself, and listening to your body when it is telling you that it needs a break. Taking this scheduled rest day is a great way to regroup, regenerate, and get motivated to take on the next round of workouts. Just like eating one salad with grilled chicken won’t get you to your end goal, one day away from the gym will not ruin all of your prior progress. Don’t beat yourself up over a rest day. Enjoy that day of recovery that you’ve earned. Use it to take care of your mind and body so this fitness journey can become one that you thoroughly enjoy so you are able to stick with it for a long time. Rest days are important. Spend time relaxing, with family or friends, doing mobility or low intensity steady state cardiovascular exercise, or even put your feet up and breathe. You, your mind, and your body all deserve it.