Female athlete taking rest after exercising at gymIt may seem counterintuitive, but rest is actually just as important as training for improving performance. Exercising everyday can lead to muscle exhaustion and form deterioration – prime causes of injury. Scheduling rest days gives your muscles a critical opportunity for rest, repair and rebuilding. A good way to think about this is to imagine the difference between a sharp saw and a dull one. Rest days help you sharpen the saw, allowing you to bring fine-tuned equipment to the performance task. Overtraining or training without planned rest days is very much like performing with a dull saw. You may cross the finish line but you won’t be at your best.

How to incorporate rest days

The two most common options are complete rest days and cross-training or active recovery days. Here is a look at both.

Complete rest days are just what they sound like. On these days you refrain from engaging in any exercise at all. You may even take some time to care for your muscles with activities such as massage, foam roller work or ice and elevation. All of these activities support recovery and help you return to your workout routine in top form. Include protein in your rest day meals and snacks to support muscle repair and vegetables rich in antioxidants to support elimination of free radicals. Our bodies produce more free radicals when we exercise. These are associated with chronic health problems. Foods with vitamin C and E and beta-carotenes can combat their effects. Examples include sweet potatoes, carrots, blueberries and purple or red grapes.

Cross training days provide variety and help you build stamina. The activity you choose will depend on your goals. For example, if your goal is to get in some cardio or build stamina, you may opt for some time on the elliptical or a game of tennis. If you want to build some flexibility or focus solely on recovery you might choose yoga, a barre class, a walk or a few rounds of golf.

Other considerationsWow, that was a hectic workout!

  • Sometimes the idea of taking rest days is of concern because of worries about falling off of the exercise wagon or lost training time. Combat this concern by planning in advance. Make your weekly workout schedule and include rest days so it doesn’t feel like you are just flaking out.
  • Listen to your body. If you notice that performance is declining, you’re feeling run down, or your muscles are sore, chances are you need a rest day. If you are recovering from an injury or over the age of 40, it is a good idea to include at least two rest days in your weekly training plan.
  • Excessive training can also lead to burnout and boredom. Rest days provide balance that can help your routine stay fresh.

Rest days give your body time to adapt to the stress of training. Do your best by giving yourself a day or two off each week. The performance rewards will be worth it.