Getting into a regular workout routine that strengthens every part of your body can boost your health, but that schedule should include recovery days too. Read on to find out why rest is important, how often you should recover, and the best ways to restore your mind and body before heading back to the gym.
Why are recovery days important?
A lot of people believe that you should be at the gym seven days a week putting in 110 percent effort to see results—but that’s not always the case. It might seem counterintuitive, but rest can help you reach your fitness goals faster.
First and foremost, recovery days allow your muscle fibers to repair themselves. When you lift or exert a lot of energy using a muscle, the fibrous tissues tear—which is normal! Once your muscles tear, your body repairs those tears by growing additional tissue in the gaps. However, it can’t strengthen your muscles if you continue to strain them. Rest, hydration, and light use of the muscle group after a workout allows your body to complete the muscle-building process.
Aside from the physical benefit of recovery days, there are several mental benefits too. Everyone, regardless of their fitness level, needs to let their mind disconnect from their fitness goals. If you keep telling yourself to workout constantly, eventually your mind could reach a level of stress and burnout that will leave you unmotivated and keep you away from exercise for a prolonged period. Instead of letting burnout get the best of you, let your mind rest so you can continue to have a consistently active lifestyle.
How often should I rest?
The truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for recovery time, but here are a few guidelines that you can use to shape your routine. Everyone’s body is different, so it’s fine if you need more rest days than the next person. Life happens, so it’s good to be flexible and realistic.
Part of recovery is getting the proper amount of sleep every night. While you sleep, your body can dedicate more energy to muscle recovery through protein synthesis and growth hormone release. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
For fitness regulars
The American Heart Association recommends that the average adult spend one to two days per week away from their regular fitness routine, depending on the intensity of the workouts. For example, if you complete five days of intense lifting and cardio, you should take two days to rest. If you complete six days of intermediate yoga and light lifting, you might only need one rest day. However, listen to your body. A little bit of soreness can be OK to exercise through, but take a rest day if you’re feeling too worn out and sore.
For fitness newbies
If you’re starting your exercise journey, allow for around three days of rest. Your heart, lungs, and muscles might not be used to this amount of strain, so let your body adjust slowly. As you become more comfortable with your fitness routine, you can decrease the number of rest days you take. When in doubt, speak to a physical trainer who can guide you in the right direction for your situation.
What are the best ways to recover?
Now that you know how often you should be resting, here’s how you can make the most of your recovery time for maximum benefit to your health goals.
During and after a workout
Recovery shouldn’t just happen on your days off; it should also occur during and after your workout. Different exercises usually require hitting a target heart rate, and it’s important to leave time for your heart rate to go back toward its resting rate slowly in between exercises. Make sure you do a cooldown after each part of your routine. For example, decrease the speed on the treadmill in small increments before coming to a stop.
After the cooldown phase, take a few sips of water and deep breaths to replenish your body’s water and oxygen supply. By doing so, you can complete your workout safely and effectively instead of making mistakes due to exhaustion. Be sure to stretch out every part of your body before wrapping up. Stretching keeps your muscles loose and warm, which can reduce how sore you are the next day.
During a recovery day
On your day(s) off, rest your body effectively. Make sure to do the following:
- Eat ample protein and complex carbohydrates to help your muscles repair and replenish your energy.
- Complete small exercises, such as taking a walk around the neighborhood, to keep blood flowing to your whole body.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plain or fruit-infused water, and avoid sugary drinks.
- Stretch any sore muscles, and use a foam roller on particularly stiff areas that are difficult to stretch.
- Enjoy a cool shower to encourage healing and reduce inflammation in your body.
- Meditate and reflect on your goals, which should include praising yourself for what you’ve accomplished.
Rest and exercise play equal roles in reaching your health goals. Apply these tips to your workout routine, and always listen to what your body is telling you.