This is a significant part of the training regime that can often be overlooked. It is so important to any fitness progression and yet for some reason it seems to be neglected and under-appreciated because it’s neither sexy nor impressive.
Whether your exercise is HIIT based cardio, exercise classes or weight training, everyone needs periods of rest and recovery. Whenever you put the body under stress during your fitness sessions you are disrupting the natural balancing system of the body, and it needs time to return to normal and heal.
While you may think that being in the gym as often as possible will accelerate you to your goals quicker, this can actually be counterproductive. Torturing yourself everyday isn’t going to make you bigger, faster, leaner or stronger. You have to have sufficient periods of rest to let your body move forward.
It’s important rest days are viewed as such, and that you don’t just think of them as a day off. This dangerous mindset often lets people believe that on their rest day they don’t need to stick to their nutritional plan. Wrong. It’s is just as important that you continue eating well on rest days as you need those nutrients to repair, replenish, and prepare your body for the next training session to come. Depriving it of the protein, carbs, fibre, good fats, etc that it needs will stop your body performing at its maximum capacity, be it building or recovering.
Don’t use rest days as “cheat days;” you’re only cheating yourself.
Similarly, you should still be drinking just as much water as you would do if you were preparing for/tackling a big session. Give your body the things it deserves to recover. Flush out all the unwanted waste products and toxins from your system with water and you’ll feel instantly rejuvenated and ready for the next session- hydrate your muscles, skin and brain!
Another thing to consider on your rest day is weather you are giving your mind a break, as well as your muscles. Address your coffee intake on these days: does it need to be as high as it is, or could you cut back/ eliminate it altogether? Caffeine doesn’t allow your brain to have the down time it needs, plus you’ll feel the effects of it more on days when you do use coffee or energy drinks to boost your workouts.
So what is it you can actually do to be productive on a work day?
Well, first things first, reduce your stress levels!
(Easier said than done, I know.)
This may seem pretty broad, and that’s because it is! Reducing stress is important to let the body truly relax, and it can be achieved in a number of different ways. This could mean avoiding interactions or tasks that stress you out. It could mean enjoying some “you” time, taking time out of your day to focus on your needs, a long bath or shower for example. Or it could mean enjoying a stress-free pastime like reading or listening to music. Anything that will help you to unwind.
Another idea to consider on your rest day is some light activity. Perhaps your body is crying out for some TLC in the form of a 15-30 minute stretching session. Take your time to allow your breath to deepen those stretches, and tell your brain it’s okay to let go of the day-to-day tensions you are holding. Stretching could mean simply performing static holds, or it could be an more free moving, animal-flow type session to loosen up. You could even incorporate some foam rolling to really relax every inch of your muscles.
You could enjoy some un-intensive cardio in the form of a walk with your dog, or accompanied by your favourite music playlist. This might even mean hitting the gym and watching a download from your phone as you exercise. Light cardio is anything that elevates your heart rate just slightly, but you should definitely still be able to easily hold a conversation without panting! Anything low impact that will let you zone out for 15-30 minutes. You could even refer to going out shopping and wandering around the mall for the afternoon as light cardio, provided it isn’t stressing you out and you are on your feet and active.
Another excellent rest day practice is mindfulness. 10-20 minutes of meditation is enough to give yourself the space you need to clear your head of any clutter for moving forward with motivation and drive. When I say “meditation” I don’t expect you to be running to get on your genie pants and light some incense, I simply meant taking the time to sit and close your eyes and just breathe. Inhaling positivity and exhaling negativity. If you’re new to meditation and don’t know where to begin there’s a really useful app called Headspace, which essentially talks you through the session. You have a 10-day free trail period to see if you like it when you first download it.
Sound too simple to actually make a difference? Well in all honesty, the hard part isn’t deciding what to do with your rest day, the hard part is actually sticking to it. In the end though you’ll feel more driven to move back into your training the next day having continued working on your wellness even outside of the gym.
The best way to combat any laziness that a rest day may inspire is to make a schedule ahead of time. Just as you would plan your exercises in the gym, committing yourself to a to-do list will mean you’re less likely to neglect your exercises. This could be as detailed as you like, and can take any form. Many people will use their phone for this sort of thing, but I still think you can’t beat the satisfaction of taking pen to paper and being able to tick off tasks as you complete them. The other bonus of organising your day in this way is that it gives your mind a rest knowing that you have it all written down and organised.
I was one told “start every day by making your bed.” That way whenever before you’ve even left the house you’ve already got your first task done- I take this advice every day, not just on rest days!
If you enjoyed this article and have any questions please do get in touch, and of course if there’s anything you’d like to learn more about in my next article let me know!