Whether you’re an avid runner, cyclist or yogi or you prefer the variety afforded by a big box gym, there’s something we all have in common: the need for a good recovery day. Taking one or two days off per week helps the muscles repair after the stress exercise imposes upon them. The more intense your workout, the greater the need for recovery.
Of course, recovery doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. For some, a rest day involves sitting on the couch or getting a massage. For others, it might involve an easy bike ride or some yoga. Find what works for you, and embrace the day off.
For some added inspiration to give yourself a break, below are five great things about recovery days according to science and experts.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, resting between intense workouts is critical for muscle tissue to repair and grow. This process can take 24–72 hours, depending on the intensity and volume of the exercise. For strength training, the ACSM recommends taking at least 48 hours between working the same muscle group. So, you can lift weights on back-to-back days, but just be sure to mix things up from one day to the next.
We’re all susceptible to plateaus, those pesky situations when your body just stops responding to your efforts. The same goes for fatigue, where we just can’t seem to recover our energy. Taking a rest day helps you overcome those scenarios by allowing your muscles to recuperate. Research out of the University of New Mexico shows overtraining can result in impaired performance — not just in training, but also in daily life, where it can manifest as illness or chronic fatigue. Give your body the rest it needs, and you’ll be primed to keep moving forward with your fitness goals.
Between work and other responsibilities, exercising can sometimes feel like another one of life’s obligations. And that’s the last thing you want from your workout. “When you don’t take a rest day, the fatigue and distress extend psychologically,” says Caroline Jordan, a personal trainer, fitness instructor and author of “Balanced Body Breakthrough.” “You’ll notice mental changes like decreased vigor, motivation and confidence, raised tension, depression and even anger.” She suggests choosing a recovery day activity that gives your body and your mind a break by doing something you enjoy, like taking a walk in the park, cooking or enjoying an evening out with friends. “You’ll be fresh and ready to train once you’ve had mental time off.”
Exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your muscles, bones and joints. But too much exercise can result in injuries. “Staying active and mobile is incredibly healthy, but you can definitely overdo it,” says Matthew Martin, a certified personal trainer and CrossFit coach. “It seems strange because exercising is a great stress reliever, but exercise also causes stress on the heart, muscles, joints and bones. Too much exercise without enough rest is a recipe for overuse injuries like stress fractures and tendonitis.”
Maybe you have a hobby you’ve been neglecting or you need to catch up on some work. Or maybe you just want to spend more time with your friends and family. All are great reasons to give yourself a day or two off from exercise. “Whenever I make workout plans for my clients, I always build in a couple rest days,” says Martin. “You need time to let your muscles do their thing, but you also just need some time to enjoy life outside of the gym. It keeps you from getting too burned out, which makes exercise more sustainable long term.”