Knowing when to rest is a tricky one, and something a lot of people struggle with!
If you have an established workout routine and exercise to a relatively high intensity four or five days a week, rest days should be an important part of your schedule.
Rest days allow your muscles to replenish their glycogen stores, reducing muscle fatigue and preparing your muscles for their next session. Rest days can also help to prevent injury, as over-exercising puts repetitive stress and strain on your muscles, increasing your chances of getting injured.
However, it can be hard to take a day off training, especially if you’re part of a community like a CrossFit gym, where part of the enjoyment of working out is the social interaction with the group. Or what if your planned rest day coincides with a workout you really like the look of? Rest day = major FOMO!
If this sounds familiar, it can be useful to find a half-measure and work towards taking a full day off training. For example, you could try doing some mobility work or yoga, spend a few hours gardening, or go for a swim or light jog. If you really can’t stay away from the gym, you could try an active recovery session on an exercise bike, making sure to keep the intensity down.
There’s another side to this as well, though, and it’s to do with your allostatic load.
We all experience many, many stressors in life such as work, relationships, family, finances and even exercise and nutrition, and the cumulative burden of these is called your allostatic load. If kept at a manageable level, stress can be a really positive thing and push you to reach your potential, but too little stress can hinder progress and too much stress can be damaging to your health and lead to burn-out.
Even if you don’t exercise that often, for whatever reason, sometimes it might be the right decision to take a rest day even on one of your few scheduled workout days, depending on where your stress levels are on that particular day.
A bad night’s sleep, a run-in with your boss, feeling slightly under the weather, hormonal changes… whatever your existing stressors may be, adding an intense workout into the mix can elevate levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which may be the last thing your body needs.
If you’re not quite sure where you’re sitting on the stress spectrum and find it difficult to gauge whether you are taking rest days when you should, take a look at this useful infographic from our friends at Precision Nutrition.