Rest days are a crucial part of any successful fitness plan – in fact, they’re just as important as the training itself. Here’s how to make the most of your days off.
Whether you’re in the early days of your new fitness routine or have been training for a while – it’s easy to get caught up in a “more is better” approach to fitness. Especially during lockdown, with online home workouts at our fingertips and our social lives on the back burner.
However, going too hard and leaving little to no time for rest isn’t sustainable – overtraining leads to increased risk of injury and symptoms such as fatigue and a loss of motivation – it could even result in burnout. All of which we need to avoid in order to create a sustainable fitness habit that lasts well into 2021 and beyond.
Why are rest days so important?
Rest days give your muscles time to repair, adapt and strengthen – and allow your nervous system to recover from the stress and tension it’s been through during training. Taking the day off of exercising enables you to feel more energised and perform better when you do work out again – which enables you to not only reach your goals, but also stick to them.
How often should you take a rest day?
The number of rest days our body requires depends on several factors such as: how new we are to exercise, plus the type, frequency and intensity of your training. It’s important to check in with how your body is feeling each day to ensure you aren’t neglecting any signals from your body.
6 trainers share their rest day routines:
Get the basics right
Samantha McGowan, an online coach and personal trainer at WE11 in London, currently trains six days a week and takes one rest day – but she says not every session is high intensity.
“I always do an outdoor walk on rest days as it feels good for both my body and mind – especially during lockdown. Once I’ve done my walk, I relax and watch as much Netflix as I like. I keep my food consistent across the week to help my body recover from the last session and prepare for the next one, while staying hydrated. I also love soaking in a bath full of Westlab salts and bubbles.
“When you’re not training, focus on getting the basics right. Nourish your body with regular meals and snacks to help you recover and to fuel upcoming training. Stay hydrated, get enough good quality sleep each night and work on mobility movements and stretching.
“I didn’t get to where I am (training six times a week and recovering well) overnight. It took time – consistency is key, so be kind to yourself and take it one step at a time.”
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Take a “podcast walk”
Ele Breitmeyer, a personal trainer who specialises in pre- and post-natal training, takes one active rest day and one “duvet day” each week.
“On my rest days, I wake up at the same time I normally would and start my day with a coffee. But instead of exercising, I head out on my daily “podcast walk” – a ritual I started over two years ago. These walks allow me to kickstart my day with some gentle activity, make a dent in my daily step target and take some time for myself with either an educational podcast or just something that makes me laugh – I currently love Sha**ged, Married, Annoyed.
“On my ‘duvet days’, I allow myself to completely unwind and catch up on Netflix with my boyfriend and two kittens – we’re currently loving Cobra Kai, the spin-off of The Karate Kid.
“I try to help clients break the mentality of “the only bad workout is the one you didn’t do”. This quote can be damaging in that it encourages people to overtrain – leading to an inability to listen to their body.
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s the importance of slowing down and prioritising our physical and mental health. An extra rest day each week will not negatively impact your progress in the long run.”
Eat protein-rich foods
Courtnay Osborne-Walker, a personal trainer, run coach and co-founder of digital run club Cardio Collective, takes two rest days each week.
“Often, my rest days look like a 20-minute stroll in the park while listening to an audiobook, or a 30-minute stretch and mobility flow to my favourite playlist. But equally, sometimes I’ll have a Netflix marathon or read a book instead. It’s about being in tune with your body’s signals and meeting its needs.
“I also prioritise sleep, nutrition and hydration on rest days as these play a key role in overall recovery. Rest days often mean I have more time on my hands, so I’ll take the time to cook a vegan and protein-rich spaghetti bolognese or Thai curry. The goal is to optimise protein synthesis by eating nutritious protein-rich foods. I’ll then watch or read something relaxing and positive before bed and set intentions for the day or week ahead.
“I recommend that women find low-intensity, low-impact ways to move on their rest days, such as light dancing, breathwork techniques or taking a local trail walk. Whatever you do, slow down and practice some self-care.
“If you struggle with your active rest days, coordinate them with a friend who you can FaceTime while stretching or meditating – having a planned rest activity in the diary mean you’ll be less likely to ditch them for another HIIT workout. Remember, rest days are key to a long-term and sustainable training routine.”
Step away from your screen
Samantha Charles, a personal trainer at Heartcore, says the number of rest days she takes depends on how she feels and how active she’s been during the week.
“Rest days are my chance to check in and nourish myself, not just physically but mentally. I take a long bath, meditate, read and maybe have a glass of wine. I make sure I get less screen time and step away from Netflix because our bodies and minds both need rest.
“A common misconception is that rest days are just an opportunity to drink, indulge in foods you’ve been avoiding and stay up late. We need balance, sure, but not every rest day should be like this. These things also cause stress in the body and can hinder our recovery, so you may end up needing a rest day from your rest day! Whatever your training looks like, try to find balance.
Try phoning a friend who you haven’t spoken to for ages, do breathing exercises, or meditate – just anything that involves not staring at a screen. I also suggest sticking to a good bedtime routine.
Do mobility exercises while watching TV
Emily Outterside, a yoga teacher and trainer at F45 Noak Hill, takes at least two rest days a week. On days when she doesn’t feel like working out, she does mobility work instead.
I spend my rest days being active, but I slow down the pace. I meditate in the morning and stick to the same nutrient-rich foods that I eat on training days. I’m a creature of habit so I love my go-to: a banana and peanut butter smoothie with protein powder for breakfast. Bananas are also the perfect recovery food.
I do a slow yoga flow and then go for a walk no matter what the weather. I aim to have the most stress-free day as possible so that my mind and body can work in unison. If I’m feeling mentally relaxed, my body will also benefit.
Spend your rest days trying to find enjoyment in keeping active. That could be a walk outdoors, yoga, a light bike ride – whatever you love, do that. While watching your favourite television show in the evening, why not stretch on the floor to get your mobility in at the same time? For instance, I enjoy testing myself to see how long I can sit in a yogi squat while watching my show.
Try slow restorative yoga
Keris V Ellington-Brown, a personal trainer and senior ride instructor at Psycle London, takes two rest days per week.
“I do yoga on my rest days as I’ve found it aids my recovery. I won’t opt for a power yoga class or focus on drills, but instead, something much slower. On Sundays, I sleep in longer and take the day at a slower pace. Sometimes doing nothing is what my body and mind craves.
“For me, exercise is about enabling you to move better for longer. There isn’t one way to exercise or one way to rest. I advise incorporating a gentle yoga flow or walk on one of your rest days as the mental impact of such activities are as important as the physical benefits.
“That being said, if your body is telling you to have a shower and get an early night’s sleep, that’s also a good way to rest.”
Get to know what your body is telling you and you’ll get to know yourself. Exercise should never feel like a chore or leave you in pain, so pay as much attention to your recovery as you do your training.
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