June 13, 2013 by mybattlebuddyfitness
Written by Melissa Eisner & Elisabeth Meany
I was in Chicago over the weekend, I forget how much I absolutely love that city (though I should probably go back when it is freezing cold in the dead of winter, I may have a different perspective). I had so much fun seeing old friends, walking around the neighborhoods, eating some great food, and generally relaxing and enjoying the moment. Except my workouts. I was stressed about getting in a workout every day while I was there. I felt like since I was allowing myself some flexibility in what I was eating, I needed to be on the ball and working out to at least balance the scales. On Friday, I worked out in the morning and the evening (since I was going to go get some Indian food, needed that second workout), and on Saturday I woke up early to get in a long run.
Friends wanted to get together for brunch Sunday morning before I left, and I had some other friends that wanted to grab coffee before brunch, which would mean that if I did both, there was no shot at a workout that day. So what was more important: friends and enjoying the day, or a workout?
In the end, I decided (and reluctantly I might add) to take the day off. Which is crazy when I think about it, as it was the FIRST day off I had taken in 4 weeks. 4 weeks of working out on some level every day. EVERY DAY! I never thought I would be that person that was exercising every day in a million years. Yet here we are.
Let’s start off with why I have been afraid to take a rest day: 1) one rest day is going to lead to two rest days, then to three, and before I know it, I won’t be working out (FALSE) 2) one rest day is going to mean a really bad workout the following day (FALSE) 3) all of the hard work and strides I have made over the last 4 months will evaporate with one rest day (FALSE). It is a fear of the rest day, a very real, totally irrational fear.
And for the record, the world didn’t come to an end, my Monday run was better than my Monday run had been in weeks. I slept in a bit later Monday morning because my body was rested. You can go elsewhere to read all about the science behind days off, but the bottom line is this: rest days allow your muscles to repair and recover from all of the work they do when you are training. It helps to reduce fatigue, to BUILD muscle, and to prevent injury. More reading will show that you would have to take 14 days off in order to see losses in fitness and performance.
So let’s Ask Mrs. Meany: How often should I take a day off?
Rest days are essential. I have been getting on Melissa’s case for weeks now about her stubborn resolve to not take a rest day. If you are working out consistently and with intensity, your body NEEDS rest days. Your muscles grow and change at rest. If you don’t rest, how are they going to change and grow? In addition, if you are pushing yourself all week long, you need a rest to avoid burnout and injury. Have you ever had a great workout on Monday, and then noticed on Thursday that your legs feel like lead and it’s harder for you to catch your breath? It’s likely because your body is fatigued from all the work that you’ve made it do throughout the week.
If you are just getting started or just getting back into a consistent exercise routine, it can be tough to know when a rest day is necessary. It’s a fine line to walk between overtraining and doing the right amount. In general, for beginner exercisers, or those who are starting up after a long break, I recommend that you give your body two rest days per week. Your body is probably going to be pretty sore while it adjusts to the new demands that you placing on it. You can try doing either three days of working out followed by one rest day, or two days on, one day off. Play with it and see what pattern you like better. Unless you are feeling EXTREMELY sore and fatigued, I don’t recommend taking two rest days in a row. I’m sure some trainers would disagree with me, but my reasoning for this is more mental than physical. I personally think it’s really tough to get back into the swing of your workout routine after taking off two days in a row. At this point, you’re trying to create a new habit for yourself, so I think it’s important to put yourself back to work (even it’s only a short, low-intensity workout) after one day of rest.
If you are a workout veteran, then one day of rest per week should be sufficient. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are putting in really long workouts or doing some kind of super-specific training for an event, then perhaps you would need more than one day. But for most of you out there who are just generally trying to be healthy, one day per week is usually good. I always tell my clients that I like them to work out hard 5 days per week, and then use that sixth day as an “active rest” day.
What the hell is “active rest?” My definition of active rest is doing something that is out of your normal everyday workout routine. Perhaps you round up the kids, the spouses, and the dogs and go for a hike. Or maybe it means going for a stroll on Sunday with your friends. Maybe it even means some serious power shopping with the gals, or a romantic bike ride with your significant other. The goal is just to get your heart rate up for about 30 minutes doing something you enjoy. This will help break the monotony but also ensure that you get a sixth day of movement in.
So, for all of you out there like Melissa—sit back and look at your calendar. How many rest days have you given your body this month? It might be time to take a day off. Kick up your heels and enjoy!