Take A Break! Why Rest Days Are Important
Learn how to incorporate rest days into your training schedule and find out what you should focus on to get the most out of each rest day.
What is a rest day?
A rest day is a day off from training! Take a break from your regular workout routine to allow your body and mind to recover.
It’s important you rest on your rest days. This means doing lighter activities, active recovery and things that relax you.
A rest day allows your body to consolidate the hard work you’ve been doing. Muscles recover, adapt and become stronger during your rest, not your workout time, and your nervous system has a chance to recover too.
What to do on a rest day
Think of rest days as a way to give back to your body. Use this time to relax and rejuvenate your body and mind in whatever way works best for you.
If you’ve been training super hard or you’re feeling fatigued, a day spent watching Netflix might be exactly what you need.
Here are some suggestions from the Sweat Trainers to help you get the most out of your next rest day:
Kayla’s rest day advice: “Grab a foam roller and do an active recovery session! This will help to reduce muscle soreness and improve your range of motion.”
Chontel’s tip: “Use your rest day to do meal prep for the week ahead to ensure you have healthy food that fills you up.”
Steph’s suggestion: “Rest days are when your muscles grow, so respect the need for rest. On your rest day, prioritise your nutrition, get enough sleep and remember to stretch.”
Kelsey’s recommendation: “Practise meditation or mindfulness, spend time with family and friends or take a walk in nature.”
What to eat on a rest day
The food you eat can help to speed up muscle recovery as your body adapts to your training load. Make sure your protein intake is adequate to support muscle repair, and include complex carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Eating mindfully can help you give your body the nutrients it needs for muscle repair. For anyone who is carb-cycling or tracking your macros, you may have fewer carbs on your rest day and increase your intake of healthy fats and protein to stay satisfied.
Finally, make sure you stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water will help to flush toxins and lactate from your muscles while ensuring the nutrients needed for muscle repair reach the muscle tissue.
How often to schedule a rest day
You should always allow at least one full rest day each week. If you are new to working out or have recently increased your training, you may want more rest. Listen to your body, your energy levels and how your muscles feel.
When you start a new program, you might aim to do three workouts each week and then increase or vary your workouts as your body adapts to the new training style.
Trainer tip: The optimal number of rest days is different for everyone and depends on the type of workouts you are doing and your fitness level.
The number of rest days you’ll need each week will depend on:
Training style and intensity
Rest days are essential for recovery, adaptation and your long-term wellbeing. How frequently you take a rest day will depend on the amount of stress put on your body in each session.
The body responds to cardiovascular training and strength training differently, so keep this in mind when planning your rest days.
When weight training, it’s ideal to have two days of rest after hitting each muscle group. This means if you train on consecutive days, you should ensure you’re hitting a different area of the body — for example, legs on Monday and upper body on Tuesday.
The number of rest days you need each week will also depend on the intensity (or rate of perceived exertion) of the training session. If your workout on one day is high-intensity, it’s a good idea to follow it the next day with a low-intensity workout like a walk.
If you run or do high-intensity cardio workouts, you may find you need to rest for two or more days between workouts, especially when you’re starting out. As your body adapts to the training, you’ll be able to increase the frequency or intensity of your workouts.
The Sweat programs contain scheduled rest and recovery days each week. As you progress you’ll see that there are optional workouts you can add in if you’re feeling great, or leave out when you need rest.
Can a fitness tracker help me to know when I need a rest day?
Some fitness trackers can provide guidance on when your body needs rest to perform better, by measuring things like your heart rate. This doesn’t replace listening to your body, but it can provide some guidance if you aren’t sure whether to train.
One metric a fitness tracker uses to determine how much strain the body is under is ‘heart rate variability’ (HRV). Your heartbeat isn’t like a metronome, each heartbeat occurs at slightly irregular intervals. These intervals are determined by your autonomic nervous system, the part of the brain that responds to stress or promotes relaxation.
Higher HRV indicates lower stress — meaning your body can respond more effectively to training. Low HRV indicates that you are under stress and may benefit from rest.
It’s normal for your HRV to fluctuate a lot, which means for this measurement to be useful, you need to consider long term trends rather than daily fluctuations.
Once you have established your baseline HRV, this is one tool you might use to determine when to schedule rest days.
Check-in with how you feel
Ultimately, you should listen to your body. If you feel fatigued, sore, stressed or your workouts are unusually difficult, it may be a sign that you need rest — whether it’s in your program schedule or not!
Look after your body and mind with regular rest days
When you challenge your body to learn a new exercise, lift a heavier weight or work out at a higher intensity, it’s during rest that your mind and body adapts and improves. The rest is where the gains come from!
Including rest days as part of your training schedule is essential to giving your body the chance to adapt and grow stronger, which will get you closer to achieving your fitness goals.
Take time to recover, hydrate and eat well and you will feel stronger and more motivated to do your next workout!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.