I have been a regular gym goes ever since 2014. I have made friends for life at the gym. It is the one place that I never get bored of. Yet, I take breaks from exercising. Over the years I have come to realize the importance of taking breaks. Over the years I have become wise.
I often come across people who beat themselves to death for missing a day at the gym. They work out insanely seven days a week, month after month, exhausting themselves and damaging their muscles. In my opinion, there could be no bigger sin you can do to yourself! It’s like believing nine women can give birth to a baby in one month, just by being at it. No!
Rest can be just as important to fitness as working out. Why?
Let us get one fact straight. The body doesn’t get stronger during exercise, rather it gets stronger when it is rebuilding, recovering and repairing itself from that exercise. Muscles need time to repair and by training harder or longer, without adequate rest, we deprive our muscles the time they need to rebuild themselves, leading to lower than optimal results and possible injury.
Rest can work wonders if we are able to make it a part of our workout routine, instead of seeing it as an alternative or cheat day.
According to Cris Dobrosielski, spokesperson for American Council on Exercise and founder of Monumental Results, “For most people that are exercising regularly and have a moderate to solid conditioning level [you work at least four days a week], a week off is an opportunity to take a break and refresh the mind and body.”
How many of you have found yourself tired, weak, irritable, getting sick easily, and even losing your motivation to work out over a period of time? That’s because, after 8-10 weeks of regular training, and endless hours of cardio, the nervous system weakens. Tiredness, irritability, and boredom are signs your body gives out asking for a break to avoid burnout and muscle fatigue. A week off from the gym and being in active rest will not only help in muscle recovery and strengthen the nervous system, it will also help you get back into the gym with more enthusiasm and gusto than ever before. You can feel almost instantly that your workouts are more focused leading to better outcomes.
If you don’t take a break, your body will find ways to take it, maybe through an injury or loss of motivation.
Here are some ways to make the most of a break:
- Rest day actually means active rest: Rest doesn’t mean lying on a couch all day with a bag of chips! It is best to include at least one or two no-exercise or rest days into your weekly schedule each week. Being inactive (no workout whatsoever in any form) for more than two weeks can lead to loss of muscle mass and a decline in overall level fitness. On a rest day try to incorporate 30-45 minutes of any form of low-intensity cardio like walking, gardening, swimming or something else that gets your heart rate up mildly, without exhausting you.
- Plan rest days for muscle groups: It is essential to allow at least 48 hours of recovery before re-working a specific muscle group. For example, my workout comprises two-days of upper body and two-days of lower body workouts with enough recovery time in between for each muscle group.
- Switch between hard and easy days: You don’t need to be in the killer beast mode every single day. You are impressing none. It is great if you can design your schedule in such a way that you alternate a hard day with an easy day. For example, after an intense leg day, do a day of stretching and on the floor ab workouts that are relatively less strenuous but beneficial nonetheless.
- Take up a new activity: Monotony can be a spoiler. After going to the gym consistently for a couple of weeks, it may begin to get boring. It is a good idea to take up a new activity one or two days in a week. I have recently started taking spinning classes and make it a point to do two days of spinning combined with abs. In the beginning, when I got bored of treadmills and elliptical I took up cycling and I haven’t regretted it for a day. It soon became my first love.
- Listen to the body: Our bodies find ways of sending us signals. Listen and act. Like any machine, our body parts also ask for repair. Exercising regularly also means being more susceptible to injury. If your elbow or knee hurts don’t neglect it. Allow the muscle to heal before resuming training. For example, I have a knee injury since February this year and have gone real slow on exercises that hurt the knee. I intend to allow it whatever time it needs to heal it completely, meanwhile focusing on other muscle groups.
- Change the attitude: According to research at The American College of Sports Medicine, people who exercise to ‘feel good’ stick with workouts longer than those who do it to ‘look good’. Get rid of any negative body image that you may have and embrace yourself with all your imperfections. Rewire your thoughts on making working out pleasurable and not just goal based. Consider it as something ‘you want to do’, not something you are ‘obligated to do’.
Go ahead and incorporate Rest into your workout routine without being apologetic about it.
Don’t whip yourself to death for being out of action due to an injury or for simply losing motivation. It’s your body communicating with you. Listen to it. Respect it. Make the most of your rest of off day/s.
Happy resting! “Train Hard. Train Smart!”