How To Maximise Rest Days
To reach your fitness goals, you need to train, but you also need rest. When you optimise the ratio of work to rest, you’ll reach your fitness goals faster. Find out how to use rest days as part of your training and what you should focus on to get the most out of each rest day.
What is a rest day?
A rest day is your day off from training! You can take a break from your regular workout routine to allow your body and mind to recover.
It’s important that you rest on a rest day. This means doing lighter activities and varying your training schedule to include active recovery.
A rest day allows your body to consolidate the hard work you’ve been doing. Muscles recover, adapt and become stronger and your nervous system has a chance to regenerate. Including appropriate rest in your training program can also help to prevent a workout plateau or overtraining.
What to do on a rest day
You can maintain your fitness momentum, even on a rest day. Use your rest days to relax and rejuvenate your body and your mind in whatever way works best for you. While sometimes a day of Netflix and chill is exactly what you need to re-energise, be aware that you don’t want to slip into bad habits.
Stay active on a rest day with light cardio or an active recovery workout. Yoga is another way to incorporate mindfulness and movement while promoting recovery.
Here are some suggestions from the SWEAT Trainers to help you maintain fitness momentum on a 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 rest day 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 rest day advice: “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 rest day tip: “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 that you eat on a rest day can help to speed up muscle recovery as your body adapts to your training load. Make sure that your protein intake is adequate to support muscle repair, and include complex carbohydrates as well as fruit and vegetables.
Eating mindfully can help you to give your body the nutrients it needs for muscle repair. For anyone who is carb-cycling, you may have fewer carbs on your rest day and increase your intake of healthy fats to stay satisfied.
Finally, make sure that you stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water will help to flush toxins and lactate from the muscles while ensuring that 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.
When you start a new training 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 depends on the type of workouts you are doing.
The number of rest days you’ll need each week depends on:
- Training intensity
- Whether you are doing full-body workouts or split workouts
- How long you’ve been training for
- Your training style
- Where you are in your training cycle
- Lifestyle stressors outside your training
Training style and intensity
Rest days are essential for short term recovery, adaptation and your overall wellbeing in the long term. How frequently you take a rest day will depend on the amount of stress put on your body in each training session.
The body responds to cardiovascular training and strength training differently, so keep this in mind when planning rest days.
When weight training, it’s ideal to have two full days of rest before hitting each muscle group. This means that if you train on consecutive days, you should ensure you’re hitting a different area of the body — for example, legs on Monday and chest and back 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, you can follow it the next day with a low-intensity workout.
If you run or do high-intensity cardio workouts, you may find that you need to rest for two or more days between workouts, especially when you are 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 to rest.
Can a fitness tracker help me to know when I need a rest day?
There are fitness trackers that can provide guidance on when your body needs rest to perform better. 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 that 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 that 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 unmotivated, tired, irritable, stressed or your workouts are unusually difficult, it may be a sign that you need rest — whether it’s in your program or not!
Look after your body and mind with regular rest days
When you challenge your body to learn a new skill, lift a heavier weight or run faster and then you rest, it’s during the rest that your mind and body adapts and improves.
Including rest days in your program as part of your training schedule will give your body the chance to adapt and grow stronger — getting you closer to the results that you want.
Take the time to recover, hydrate and eat well and you will feel stronger and more motivated to do your next workout!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.