Why you need a rest day
There’s always a vibrant hum in the gym in January. Everyone has set goals and resolutions to get fitter, faster and stronger. It’s usually a case of more training, or an increase in intensity in the hope of quicker results. However, there’s one important factor that might get you to your goal even faster: rest.
Yes. You heard that correctly.
Rest days are crucial to sport and exercise performance for a variety of reasons; some physiological and some psychological. Here are a few of the most important…
Rest days make you stronger
Here’s a fun fact: you actually don’t build muscle in the gym, you break it down. Lifting weights causes tiny microtears in the muscle fibre when it’s exposed to a load it’s not used too. It’s the rest and repair process of protein synthesis that actually builds the muscle back up (known as muscle hypertrophy), letting you lift more next time you hit the gym. This process can take up to 48 hours, which is why it’s important to give that body part a break before putting it under a heavy load again.
As well as helping with muscle repair, rest days also give your nervous system a break.
When you’re training at high intensity, you are exposing your body to physical stress. This activates a part of your autonomic nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system, which is involved in the “fight or flight” response.
But why is this a problem? Unfortunately, your body can’t differentiate between you being chased by a tiger and you smashing out sets on the assault bike. Being in this sympathetic state for too long without sufficient rest can overstress your nervous system leading to burnout, fatigue, injury or illness. Also remember that most of us have other stresses such as work, finances, social commitments, and family to juggle, so it’s important to recognise when a high intensity workout might be adding fuel to the sympathetic fire and maybe chilling with a rest day is more ideal.
But what exactly does a rest day mean?
Should you be sitting on the couch bingeing on Netflix and popcorn? Definitely not! A rest day can and should still include physical activity, it just doesn’t need to be as intense. Going for a walk, a swim, a gentle bike ride, or doing a yoga or Pilates class can be a great way to break up your more intense training days. However, if your body is really craving a rest day or two, where you do absolutely nothing – take it! By taking some time to rest, varying the intensity of your workouts to match your lifestyle, and being mindful with your sleep and nutrition you give your body and mind the best chance of recovery so you’re fitter and stronger next time you hit the gym.
Andrew Ilieff is a physiotherapy based in Double Bay, Sydney. Andrew has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. To book a consultation, click the link below.