Many people put a great deal of effort into healthy living because they want to take proactive steps forward with their fitness. Day in and day out they train and eat right. They put together what they believe is a solid routine. But the one element often ignored is rest.
Providing yourself with proper rest is one of the essential elements of your fitness routine. It can prevent injury, improve the quality of your workouts and help you assemble a more sustainable routine long term. Rest doesn’t exclusively refer to days off, but also to active recovery workouts and your sleep schedule.
No matter whom you are, at least one day of complete rest is recommended as part of your routine. For many, two or even three days of recovery is even better. These recovery days can prevent injuries by allowing your muscles and bones to regenerate and allow the inflammation in your joints to subside.
If you’d like, you can make one of those days active recovery. Active recovery refers to light, low-impact workouts like swimming, cycling, yoga or light jogging to loosen up your muscles while simultaneously continuing to improve your fitness and provide another physical outlet that will keep your mind engaged and prevent boredom from setting in.
The recovery days also provide a great deal of value by improving the quality of your workouts. If you were to train hard for four or five consecutive days, you don’t just suffer from soreness. The quality of your workouts decreases.
It’s a typical case of diminishing returns, where you feel like you’re giving your all in your training sessions but you’re no longer getting quality work because you’re just too fatigued. Your body will lack the energy to put in a solid workout and if you’ve been training with adequate effort, your muscles will probably feel tight and heavy.
If your goal is to train for high intensity, speed or power or you have other goals of improvement, it’s difficult to do so when you’re completely drained. So build appropriate rest days into your routine to give yourself that extra edge you need.
In addition to the physiological benefits, rest days provide a psychological benefit of preventing burnout. When you over train, it’s not just your body that fights back, your mind also resists. The mental fatigue can quickly turn to burnout, which leaves you unmotivated, even dreading your workouts. This leads to cutting sessions short and a diminished drive to push yourself each day. Taking days off allows your mind to recover and it can keep you excited and hungry to keep training hard.
The other key element of recovery that may seem obvious, but often gets overlooked, is sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential to moving forward with your training. You cannot improve if you aren’t rebuilding and the majority of the repair that happens to your muscles, bones and joints occurs while you sleep. Your energy levels also receive a boost by getting quality sleep.
You should aim for seven or eight hours of sleep per night. And when you sleep, aim for uninterrupted sleep and a consistent sleeping schedule. Changing your bedtime and wakeup routines sporadically makes it difficult for you to sleep well consistently at night. Poor sleep can lead to diminished energy levels and potentially even injuries, so figuring out a sleep schedule that works for you and prioritizing it can keep you healthy and keep your fitness gains on an upward trajectory.
Eating right and working out are critical to reaching your fitness goals. This is undeniable. But what’s also undeniable is the importance of recovering correctly. Think about yourself as an athlete. Eat, train and rest like an athlete. Take days off so your body can bounce back and you can continue to train hard. Get a good night’s sleep every single night. And don’t be afraid to mix it up with some cross-training active recovery. Your routine will improve in quality and become more sustainable long term.
Frequency, consistency and intensity are the keys to success. Your rest allows you to improve in each of those areas as you work to reach your goals.