Why Rest Days Are Important

Featured Article, Fitness, News and Advice
on August 15, 2014
rest days

If you’re addicted to that post-run endorphin rush (and who isn’t’?), it’s easy to always want another fix. But when it comes to exercise, it is possible to do too much of a good thing. If you overdo it at the gym, you put yourself at risk of halting—even reversing—your progress. Believe it or not, the day you don’t spend in the gym might be the most important part of your training program.

Overtraining occurs when the frequency and intensity of your exercise exceeds your recovery capacity—in other words, when you don’t allow your body sufficient time to rest. Although it’s logical to assume that working out longer and harder will make you stronger, paradoxically, the opposite is true: overtraining can lead to a deterioration of strength and fitness. If you’re starting to feel sluggish and weak during workouts, that might be a warning sign that it’s time to ease off a little. Other key markers of overtraining include nagging muscle soreness and/or pain, changes in resting heart rate, insomnia, mood disturbances and chronic fatigue.

This week, pencil in a day (or even two!) to drop the dumbbells and tap into your inner lazy self. Still not convinced? Read on for some of the negative effects of overtraining:

You might get burned out. Taking an off day is not only beneficial for your physical health—it’s also good for mental health. If you’re constantly forcing yourself to workout when you’re not feeling 100%, your motivation might start fizzle out. Take a rest day and pursue other activities you enjoy…go on a brisk walk, go on a shopping spree, do some light yoga. The last thing you want is to get burned out, after all!

Your muscles won’t grow. Are you working out more, but seeing less progress? If so, that might be a sign that you need to take a brief break. When we lift weights, little microscopic tears occur in the muscle fibers. If you’re placing unreasonable demands on your body, you won’t see progress because your muscles haven’t had ample time to rebuild. Rest days are when the magic happens: The muscle tissue begins to repair itself, and your glycogen stores are replenished. In this way, taking a rest day will make you stronger and fitter.

You’ll be fatigued and exhausted all the time. Some degree of muscle soreness is typical a day or two following an intense workout—this is what we call delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). But if you’re sore past the 72-hour mark, this might be a sign that you need a rest day. Extended soreness often indicates that your muscles aren’t recovering fully, and trying to push through the pain might compromise your muscle-building efforts.

You might not sleep as well. Regular exercise is a known antidote for insomnia, but excessive exercise can interfere with sleep cycles. According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers discovered evidence of sleep disturbances and decreased immunity in endurance athletes. This might be because overtraining creates hormonal imbalances that lead to diminished sleep quality.

You might wind up with an injury. Repetitive motions (like running and strength training) are taxing on the muscles and joints. If you don’t give your body time to mend, you could wind up with pesky overuse injuries—including knee tendonitis, shin splints, and other ailments.

Bottom line: Listen to your body. If you’re feeling under the weather or are plagued by a serious case of DOMS, it won’t kill you to play hooky from the gym. Don’t resent the rest day; embrace it! Think of it as an excuse to lounge on the couch and binge watch Orange Is the New Black, or catch up on some much-needed shut-eye. Trust us, you’ll be raring to hop on that treadmill the next day—and with more gusto than ever.