How to Get the Most out of Rest Days: Mentally and Physically

You can ruin your progress by doing doing too much on your rest days, and even worse if you aren’t even taking them. Rest days are a crucial part of any training plan, and doing too much will set you back physically.⁠ But, that’s just one part of the equation. ⁠

Read This: Rules of Recovery

Honestly, and be really honest here, do rest days make you feel lazy? Are you afraid you’ll gain weight if you don’t hit your 10K steps?⁠

It’s OK, I used to feel like that, too!⁠

We need a break from the mental stress of worrying about pushing ourselves enough. Feeling guilty for taking a rest day, even a planned rest day, is not healthy. It’s actually a big red flag your fitness habit has turned into more of an obsession.

Read This: Four Red Flags Your Exercise is Unhealthy

When I finally gave in and actually rested, life got much easier. I’ll go on a hike if that’s our plan, but I’m also comfortable reading on the couch. I like to move so I’ll stretch, but burning calories is not my goal.

Rest days are a crucial part of any training plan. Here are some tips on how you can get the rest you need, without the guilt!

Here are some tips on how you can get the rest you need, without the guilt!

Physical Rest

Why we need to rest, and how much we need

When you work out, you create microscopic tears in your muscles, and when you rest, the tears repair, making you stronger and your muscles larger. As in, the entire point you’re exercising. Without that time to rest, you’re breaking down muscles without repairing them.

We need 24-48 hours rest between workouts, especially the more strenuous. You don’t need to lay on the couch all day to repair, but you do need enough sleep and it’s best to avoid hitting the same muscle group days in a row.

Listen to your body

Some weeks you can do a full body strength training on Monday, and feel great by Wednesday to do another one. But, there are weeks that your body is still sore, you didn’t sleep well – if at all – and when you pick up the weights it is the last thing you feel like doing.

Guess what? You have my permission to take the day off! Strength train the next day and do yoga. You won’t lose fitness and you won’t gain weight. What you’re doing is allowing your body to repair so it can actually complete the workout you had planned.

Take the vacation!

I remember booking a 2 week European tour that would start the day after Brett, my husband, and I graduated college in 2007.⁠ My biggest hangup wasn’t the cost, or that we had’t been on a trip that long and far just the two of us. I was caught up in figuring out how I could be away from my gym, my running routine, all while eating out for that long.⁠

Let’s get real, your body will not change for the worse when you take a vacation, in fact, it will thank you for the time to rest and repair.⁠ One week of working out won’t make you fit, and one week (or more!) of fully enjoying your time off, guilt free, won’t undo anything.⁠

Avoid eating less because it’s a rest day

You can waste a ton of time and energy, every single day, calculating how many calories you’re eating, figuring out what your body needs, and guessing how many you are potentially burning,⁠ OR⁠ you can take a fraction of that time to learn how to listen to your body. ⁠

When you eat less or more solely because of the workout you did that day, you are the furthest you can be from intuitive eating. If you start to really listen, you may notice you’re actually hungrier on rest days. Why? Because your body is busy repairing all the work you’ve done! Rest days is not a time to skimp, eat as you normally would, and don’t be afraid to eat a little more if you’re hungry.

Mental Rest

Choose your rest day activities based on desire, not calorie burn

There is nothing that will tank your enjoyment of a rest day than constantly thinking about how many calories you’re burning. Do what sounds fun, that may be a hike or a bike ride, OR it could be baking or reading.

Enjoy whatever it is you’re doing and know that it won’t make any difference in your weight or fitness.

Take a mental break from optimizing everything

Thanks to the Internet, we have a gazillion messages from blogs (hi!), podcasts, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. telling us how to make the healthiest choice at all times. From how to make our water healthier to how to get the most out of a plank exercise.

It’s exhausting to know there is always a way to do something better. And, what happens is that we get down on ourselves anytime we aren’t “making the most” of our time and efforts. This is a huge mental stress that doesn’t go away when we’re resting if we aren’t careful.

Take regular breaks from social media and “research”. Don’t listen to ONLY health and fitness podcasts. Read more than wellness blogs. Look outside of your fitness and pick up other interests to occupy your mind. Instead of walking the dog thinking of how you should pick up the pace and worrying if it’s a moderate or low intensity walk, notice the birds you see. Small things like that will bring you back to the reality that you get one life and there is more to it than your fitness.

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