Most of us, myself included, tend to have a love/hate relationship with them. We know we need them, but can feel “guilty” for not exercising. We forget that recovery is a very important component of our fitness, and essential to making safe + smart progress towards our goals.
Thinking about the quality of recovery just as much as we do about the quality of our workouts is key. Exercise creates two different types of stress on our muscles: metabolic stress that comes from the energy stores in our muscle cells being depleted, and mechanical stress that is created by the actual physical damage to the structure of our muscle proteins. It is important to note that our bodies cannot differentiate between the type of stress put on our bodies, and that “life stress” also plays a part in the total stress placed on our bodies. If you are going through a crazy stressful time at work or at home, it may be beneficial to back off the high intensity workouts for a little while.
If our muscles are constantly under stress and in a state of breakdown, it is impossible for them to recover and come back stronger than ever. When you train at a high intensity, your muscle fibers literally start to break down and “fray”. As they repair, they come back slightly more resilient and stronger than before. The repair phase happens when we give our muscles the proper rest and nutrition (hellooo protein + hydration) to recover. Constant stress on the muscles can also put your body at a higher risk for stress or overtraining injuries, which will force you to take FAR more rest days to recover than the one or two a week as part of your training plan would!
So - how do you know you might need a rest day? Some common signs:
Harder than usual to wake up
Lack of concentration
Higher stress levels than usual
Harder time falling/staying asleep
Lower heart rate variability (HRV)
How many rest days should I be taking per week?
There is no set formula for this, and will depend on the type of exercise you are doing. If you are primarily strength training, one day a week could do the trick. When you are working your chest, for example, your back will have a chance to recover. When you are isolating your hamstrings, you aren’t destroying your glutes, etc.
If cardio (running, biking, you name it) is more your jam, you might need 2-3 rest days per week from this activity to allow the muscles you are hitting repeatedly a chance to recover.
Remember that a rest day doesn’t have to mean sitting on your couch and watching Netflix all day (although, no judgment here if it does!). Take a walk, stretch, jump in a restorative yoga class, foam roll - anything that will loosen your body up without putting unnecessary stress on it.
BUT Coach Tay, what if I still feel guilty for not working out?!
I feel you. And I’m here to tell you - it’s OKAY to give your body a breather. Listen to what your body is telling you. If you wake up exhausted and have no desire to move after 3 days in a row of crushing your workouts, give yourself the opportunity to rest. Your next workout will be SO much stronger because you took the day off and allowed your body ample time to recover - I promise.
Ask yourself this question, and answer honestly: Am I only working out today to close my activity rings/hit some arbitrary goal an activity tracker set for me? If that is the answer…let that sh*t go. As someone who went FAR too long judging her success by if she closed the rings on her Apple Watch (even when her body was BEGGING for a breather), it’s not worth it. Personally, this is why I switched to a Whoop. Unlike completely arbitrary move/exercise/stand goals that stay the same day to day, the Whoop measures your resting heart rate (RHR) and HRV throughout the day and overnight to establish your baseline. Once your baseline is established after a week or so, it will start recommending levels of “strain” that you should subject your body to each day to balance your level of training with the level of recovery your body is currently at. It has enabled me to lose the “guilty” feeling, and to train smarter rather than harder. I’ve only had it for a few weeks, and already feel more “free” in my workouts than ever before. And guess what - my performance has increased all around :)
So there you have it, friends - permission to give yourself a day off (or two!) when you need it. I promise you won’t lose all of your progress overnight, and your body WILL thank you for treating it with the respect and kindness it deserves.
Sending all of you hugs & good rest day vibes -