Why Rest Days are Just as Important as Working Out

Experts explain why working out intensely every day isn't a great idea


Sometimes mustering up the motivation to work out is a challenge. But other times, like when we’re really determined to reach a goal or we feel like we need to make up for lost time, the opposite is true.

Sometimes we take on that frantic “must work out every day” mindset and completely forget that one of the most important parts of exercising effectively is giving our bodies time to recover.

“We have become an all or nothing society,” says Russell Wynter a NASM certified master trainer and co-owner of MadSweat. “People don’t know how to exercise properly. If you follow what everyone else is doing or the latest fad program, more often than not it will do more harm than good.”  

He said that many programs incorporate prolonged bouts of stress or intolerable amounts of stress that can lead to exhaustion.

“When the stress is too much physiologically for the system to handle, it can and will lead to overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, muscle strains, and joint pain,” he said.

So often we hear about the important health benefits of exercise and the negative side effects of inactivity, but it’s not as common to hear about why we also need to allow our bodies some time to rest.

Yes, it’s important to incorporate small bouts of movement throughout every day, but intense workouts definitely shouldn’t be a daily occurrence.

“Inadequate rest may lead to over-training syndrome which commonly occurs in fitness enthusiasts that train beyond their body's ability to recover, says Crystal Reeves, also a NASM certified master trainer and a co-owner of MadSweat. “When you perform excessive amounts of exercise without proper rest and recovery you may experience some harmful side effects including decreased performance, fatigue, altered hormonal states, poor sleeping patterns, reproductive disorders, decreased immunity, loss of appetite, and mood swings.”

So what amount of exercise is the ideal amount?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week. This can be achieved through spending 30 to 60 minutes working out moderately five days per week or spending 20 to 60 minutes working out vigorously three days per week. For strength training, ACSM recommendations suggest training each major muscle group two or three days per week and leaving at least 48 hours for recovery between each training session.

“You should have at least one day of rest before attempting to work similar muscle groups again,” says Wynter. “The general rule is it requires a minimum of 48 hours to recover with full recovery seen within 72 to 96 hours post workout.”

He explained that different factors, like the intensity level of your workout, the total volume of your weekly training, your training experience, and your age, will all influence the exact amount of recovery you’ll need.

“You always want to allow enough time to recover fully,” Reeves said. “But not so much time that you lose the gains you've made.”

Resting is just as important as working out because it’s an equal part of the total process required to build strength, endurance, and muscle.

“Working out, especially resistance training, breaks your body tissues down. In fact, resistance training breaks down muscles causing microscopic tears,” Wynter said. Rest days allow your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild.”

He explained that this regeneration process—which also requires water, food, and sometimes supplements—rebuilds your body tissues allowing them to grow back stronger.

Sleep is also an important part of the process.

“During REM sleep, your body’s production of growth hormone increases, which aids in the repairing and rebuilding of muscles post-workout,” Reeves said.

She said that if your goal is build muscle, but you’re not getting quality sleep on a regular basis, your production of growth hormone will be negatively affected and your efforts will be thwarted.

Not to mention, sleep is important for maintaining good health on many other levels as well.

Both Wynter and Reeves stressed the importance of incorporating designated rest days in your regular workout routine and offered these final tips for making sure that your program is balanced.

“Be sure to properly hydrate. Dehydration can lead to overheating, headaches, and muscle fatigue,” they said. “Get at six to eight hours of sleep every night, and be sure to schedule a couple days a week to let your body heal.”


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