With exercise, as with many things in life, more is not always better…
No matter how much you love to exercise, your body needs regular time away from formal workouts to rest, recover and rebuild. Depending on how intensely you train, you may need anywhere from 1 to 3 days off, each and every week, with an additional, extended rest, or de-loading week every second or third month.
What is active rest?
Put simply, active rest involves replacing your formally scheduled workout with another, less intense form of movement. Not to be confused with complete rest, an active rest day doesn’t involve sitting on the couch, catching up on House of Cards (although that’s sounding good to me, right about now) and tossing back Cracker Jack.
Schedule your active rest days when you schedule your workouts, making it a regular part of your periodized plan.
4 benefits of active rest
- aids recovery and decreases delayed onset muscle soreness. If you’re working hard in the gym, lifting heavy, moving with purpose and intensity, your body needs times to recover. Recovery involves moving waste products out of the muscle, repairing minor tears in the muscles and supportive tissues and replenishing depleted glycogen stores.
- reduces over-use and repetitive strain injuries. Over-use injuries are caused by doing too much of the same thing too often. Simply swapping the offending exercise (or workout) for an alternative can ease the burden you’re placing on the affected muscle or joint as well as strengthening the muscles that oppose and assist the injured one.
- increases exercise enjoyment. Do too much of anything and you’re likely to become bored of it (this is even true of knitting…). Spending time away from the environment you usually do your workouts in is a great way to maintain your enthusiasm for exercise and keep you coming back for more.
- bolsters the immune system. Intense exercise can tax the body’s immune system by triggering an over-production of stress hormones. When stress hormone production remains elevated for too long, our susceptibility to colds and flus increases. Time away from exercise can improve immune function by returning stress hormone levels to normal.
Examples of active rest
When it comes to active rest, the only limitation is your imagination. Choose from the following list of ideas, depending on your interest and the intensity of your regular workouts; the more intensely you train, the more ‘restful’ your active rest should be and the more frequently your body will benefit from taking an active rest day.
- Low intensity cardio
- Walking out of doors
- Ice or inline skating
Whether you’re aiming to increase muscular size, strength or endurance, taking a day off between workouts is a great strategy for avoiding plateaus, maintaining momentum and ultimately, reaching your health and fitness goals sooner.