You know the importance of hitting the gym. You know the importance of which exercises to pick, how heavy to lift, and what sets and reps to use. You know that you should split your time between lifting and cardio. You even know the importance of proper nutrition and supplementation. But what about rest days? Are you treating them with the same sort of importance? Below are six reasons why you need to be.
If you’ve even remotely studied how the body builds strength and muscle, you know that it’s during rest days that the proverbial “magic happens”. You hit the gym, lift hard, and break down muscle tissue. You then leave the gym, eat properly, possibly supplement, and let your body rest.
It’s during this down time that your muscles not only rest, but recover from the micro-trauma that training has just caused. Then to continue the compensatory effect, after your muscles recover, they then build back bigger and / or stronger to make the next workout easier. This is why it’s often said that muscle isn’t built in the gym – it’s built outside the gym.
If you don’t give your body sufficient rest days, your muscles aren’t just going to never recover, nor rebuild bigger and / or stronger – you’re going to end up suffering from overtraining. This can be a precarious situation as not recovering from one workout isn’t ideal, but can be overcome. If you enter a state of overtraining, not only can all your progress stall, but the only remedy could end up being having to take an extended break from training completely.
At the same time, it’s not just your body that’s at risk of burning out. Depending on what your workouts look like, you could very well overly fatigue your CNS (central nervous system). This can derail all your progress, as it’s your CNS that your brain uses to send signals to your muscles to work in the first place.
When your nervous system is zapped, so is everything else. Worse yet, unlike your muscles, you don’t always feel or know when you have CNS fatigue. You might physically feel fine, but your performance can just start to drop for seemingly no reason. The only way to bring it back might end up being a short vacation from the gym.
Not only that, but you can burn out mentally, too. This is an even greater risk if you’re training really hard or doing very long workouts. Simply put, you just get tired of the grind, and find yourself looking for any reason to avoid training. Ensuring you get proper rest days all along is the best way to keep any of this from happening.
The only thing worse than overtraining or burning out is getting hurt. It should be common sense, but if you train for too hard or too long, an injury is all but inevitable. This is because you’re almost never working out at a proverbial “100%”. Instead, you’re always running at less than optimal because you never let yourself fully recover. Give yourself sufficient time off to make sure you’re always ready for that next workout. This doesn’t just relate to your muscles, but your bones, joints, tendons and ligaments can all suffer too. Read this article on the 11 most common causes of tendonitis.
If you don’t give yourself enough rest days, you can actually torpedo your sleeping as a whole. This might sound counter-intuitive, as it might seem like the more you’re training, the more (and more easily) you’d be able to sleep.
However, not letting your body rest can lead to overtraining (as was discussed above). One of the side-effects of overtraining is poor sleep. And when your sleeping goes bad, then it can quickly spiral many other things downward, too.
For example, if you’re not sleeping enough, then you’ll continue to be under-rested. This means you’ll need rest days even more, which you already aren’t giving yourself. This quickly leads to one of those “self-perpetuating cycles” where a lack of rest leads to less sleep, and less sleep then leads to an even greater lack of rest.
However, it doesn’t end there, as the lack of proper sleep then carries over to almost every other aspect of your life. You can’t be as creative, diligent, your work ethic can suffer, your mood can deteriorate, and more. The last thing you want is for all areas of your life to be adversely affected just because you didn’t get enough rest days from the gym.
Read up about the importance of sleep on training goals here.
Many are afraid to ease off in the gym because they don’t want to suffer any losses in performance. Now it’s going to vary depending on your training history, what sort of workouts you’re doing, and more, but you usually have to be completely inactive for at least 2-3 weeks before your performance starts to dip.
And it also doesn’t matter if you’re talking strength, speed, explosive power, cardio, endurance, or almost anything else. You’re not going to all of a sudden lose any of it just because you take a day or two off each week. There really is no reason not to take adequate down time.
If you’re giving yourself enough rest days from the gym, then you’ll have time to engage in other physical activity, too. Ever come across the “gym bro” who is too sore to play a pickup game of ball? Or the guy doesn’t want to ‘insert fun activity here’ because he’s afraid of being too worn out for his next workout?
Nobody wants to be “that guy” (or girl). The gym is important, but unless you’re a competitive athlete, bodybuilder or fitness competitor your workouts are there to augment the rest of your life – your life shouldn’t be there to augment your workouts.
In other words, you work out to get yourself in better shape and build a better body. Then you can use and enjoy that better body out in the everyday world. However, the moment you start keeping yourself from experiencing new things or fun times in the everyday world for the sake of your workouts, you start missing one of the main points of working out in the first place.
Besides, going out and being active in the everyday world can help hasten recovery, anyway. So by staying out of the gym for an extra day to go do something else active, you could very well be getting way more out of the days you do spend in the gym.
In the end, it’s really all pretty common sense. Rest days ensure that your muscles, mind, and CNS all get the down time they need. Your performance will stay up, and long term goal achievement is much more likely. You greatly reduce the chance of injury or burnout, and you have more of a chance to enjoy the improved body you’ve put all this work into.