Stop Exercising, See Results: How To Rest And Get More Fit

This is why you need to stop feeling guilty about taking a day off from the gym

Stop Exercising, See Results: How To Rest And Get More Fit

Did that get your attention? How can resting make you fitter? After all, resting too much is one of our society's biggest medical threats. Knowing when and how to rest can make the difference between workout results that never quite come, and seeing regular, measurable improvements in your fitness level. 

If you're like me, taking time away from workouts is an exercise in guilt management. Of course, there are sick days, family emergencies, after-work cocktails, or even work snafus that might keep one from going to the gym.

Then there are those days. You know those days. They are the days when you wake up with a headache or you get caught up emailing an old friend and you just don't make it to your usual workout appointment with yourself. Those days are the guilty days. Like that fifth glass of red wine, those days seem so appealing and often, in retrospect, are not worth all the regret. If you've planned to work out, my advice is to stick to the plan.

This isn't to say a day off is regrettable. Days off should be built into your exercise program and adhered to as diligently as days on. They should be planned every 3-6 days, depending on how intense your workouts are. Jogging 5K and doing a few pushups (and rarely sore the next day)? You can probably take a day off every 5-6 days. Hitting crossfit or a great bootcamp, or working with a trainer (and sore after almost every workout)? You should probably plan a rest day every 2-3 days, particularly after your most intense workouts. 

What's a rest day? It's not a day of bonding with Netflix. It can be from time to time—if you are feeling really torn up after a big race, or if you sense you might be coming down with a virusbut rarely does your body need a day flat on its back. Most rest days are best spent in "active recovery" doing everyday tasks and light exercise that will move those sore muscles and draw blood and nutrients to the areas you are healing and building after a hard workout or long week of exercise sessions. 50K bike ride? Probably not. A spin down to the farmers market with your kids? Great idea.

Days off can be great days to go for a walk, go play with the kids, or just get some housework done with that extra couple of hours. During this blissful respite from your ordinary workout routine, your body is doing some miraculous things:  

  • repairing its muscle fibers to build them bigger and stronger and to prepare you for your next strength training workout
  • stocking up on carbohydrates to fuel you for your next walk or jog
  • resting and relaxing all those tight muscles and tendons
  • rehydrating

It is, in essence, getting fitter. As you play with the kids or just catch up on your errands, your ordinarily active body is luxuriating in some much deserved time out to process all the work you've done over the last few days. Studies have even shown that competitive athletes, such as gymnasts, who often train seven days a week for several weeks or months on end, actually gain strength and muscle mass when forced to rest during times of injury. You don't have to be that extreme. You may take one or two days off every week and enjoy those gains on a regular basis rather than pushing yourself to the point of injury. You'll probably never get a gold medal, but you'll also probably not undergo a double hip replacement at 50. 

When the rest is over, you will head back to the gym, the yoga studio, or the track with a clear head and a ready body. And, hey, you might even get a bit of housework done in the process.

Are you resting TOO much? All that sitting is killing you.

Start your rest day with this energizing morning yoga flow to stretch tight muscles.

Try this gentle, 20-minute core workout to get the kinks out on your rest day.