Why Every Workout Needs a Rest Day

Shannon Farrell
rest day

Photo: Hero / Getty Images

With summer fading away, you may be feeling the urge to make up for all those lazy summer days spent eating whatever you want and skipping the gym. Cramming months worth of exercise into a few weeks may seem possible (and logical), but it’s not ideal for your health or goals. Rest days serve a purpose, and not just an excuse to binge watch Netflix guilt-free.

“Depending on the type of exercise program you’re doing, I recommend anything from 1-3 days off per week,” says Ashley Conrad, a celebrity trainer and CEO/Founder of Clutch Bodyshop. “I always recommend at least moving and stretching every day, but I will sometimes advise clients to take two full rest days, and then one more active rest day where they do activity like a moderate hike.”

So what makes workout rest days so important? Conrad schools us on why “off” days are just as imperative as our “on.”

1. Rest allows repair.
“Muscle tissue gets broken down during exercise and it’s during rest that the tissue is repaired and strengthened,” says Conrad. “This is why over-training or training everyday is so counter-productive.” Depending on the type of exercise you’re doing will depend on how much rest your muscles need. Someone who jogs 20 miles a week at a moderate pace won’t need the rest a 6-day-a-week kickboxing enthusiast would need.

2. Rest prevents injury.
Without muscle repair comes injury. “If you don’t rest, you aren’t allowing your body to repair which means it’ll eventually break down and will never become stronger.” And isn’t strength what we’re trying to achieve?

3. Rest prevents burnout.
…both physical and mental. “This goes for anything in life, right? If you work every single day, you’re going to burn out. If you eat the exact same things every day, you get burnt out. The same is absolutely true about exercise.” Mentally, it’s almost impossible to stay motivated doing the same routine day in and day out. (So aside from rest, switching up your workout is essential too.) When you are physically working the same muscles everyday, they’re more likely to burn out through overuse and, of course, cause injury.

4. Rest keeps weight loss goals intact.
The more you work out, the more weight loss. Turns out, that’s a huge misconception. Overtraining is actually a form of stress. “Stress causes hormonal fluctuations in the body, such as cortisol—the ‘belly-fat’ hormone. These stress hormones essentially tell the body, ‘I’m under attack.’” The body responds by conserving energy through storing fat. “This is why people can lose weight initially training every day, but at a certain point weight can actually begin to pile on because the body is trying to protect itself.”

5. Rest keeps your sleep schedule on point.
Overtraining can also throw your sleep schedule out of wack. “This is also due to cortisol fluctuations.” Stress on the body has the same negative effect on sleep as it does when the mind is stressed. The same hormones are at play.While the occassional intense workout will trigger any amazing night’s sleep, too many will keep your body restless and wake you up at night.

So the next time you plan out your workout schedule for the week, choose even just one day to pick up your feet and take it easy. Your body (and fitness goals) will thank you.

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