The benefits of active rest | what it is and why you need more of it

With exercise, as with many things in life, more is not always better

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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
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Golfing
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Massage

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.

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Comments

  1. Always great info Tamara! I guess running around on the weekend doing errands is walking outdoors.. 😉 I do take 2 complete days off from exercise each week. 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Taking a Few Days Away; Happy EasterMy Profile

    • Thanks Jody! Yes, of course, all the running around you do on the weekends definitely counts as active rest!

  2. This is another great article! This week I have been doing an entire week of active rest. I focused on yoga and walking. I feel so much better and am ready to get back at it next week. Normally I just take two days off a week…Saturday and Sunday if my plan goes well. I do this because active rest is easy to fit in with two young kids. You forgot to mention chasing your kids around and cleaning the house as active rest options 😉

    • Thanks so much Stephanie. You’re right; scrambling around after kids definitely counts. I supposed house cleaning does as well (it’s very telling that I didn’t think to include this on my list 😉 )

  3. So glad to see your lovely list of active rest examples as you make it clear that you mean “active” rest, not coach potato time. A nice walk along the beach is perfect between tough workout days! Especially if Canadians visit for that walk
    Kymberly (@KymberlyFunFit) recently posted…Blue Diamond is my Golden Egg, or How I Made an Easter Coffeecake Using Coffee AlmondsMy Profile

    • We would sooooo love to come back for a visit! Trying to figure out when/how to make that happen!

  4. This is a great idea. I had an injury that has kept me out of the gym for 5 weeks, just back yesterday. I was SO PISSED as I’d worked so hard for months and didn’t want to go backwards. . I was encouraged that I hadn’t lost all the progress I’d gained and my trainer is very supportive. I liked your examples. While I was recovering I was freaked out because at first i couldn’t even walk the dog a block without neck pain. My doctor said NO GYM till one week after I was 100%, and no other workouts either. Not that I could’ve done them. Anyway, just walking Ri twice a day, further each time, allowed me to gauge my recovery. I have to admit I am not always 100% , some days 98, but I did go back yesterday. I was a bit concerned, but he took me slowly through a workout, rolled out my neck and frankly, today I feel 100%. “YOu needed a little break” my trainer said with encouragement, and I’m thrilled to be back at it. But now I am going to do some of yuor examples on my off days. Thanks!
    Carol Cassara recently posted…Will libraries as we know them one day disappear?My Profile

    • Carol, sorry to hear that you’ve been injured. I find the worst part of being injured is not being able to de-stress myself in the gym. There’s a huge psychological component to it, isn’t there?
      Glad you’re almost back to 100%; you’ll get there before you know it, as you’re doing all the right things to recover!

  5. This is where I get a big fat F. My easiest days are the three days a week I do a 30 min strength routine. I run on 3 other days. Sometimes I take Sundays as a rest day, but not if the weather and schedules align for a bike ride with my husband.
    Coco recently posted…High Five Friday Running SurveyMy Profile

    • How energetic is your bike ride? (For me, a bike ride would definitely count as ‘active rest’)

  6. Such important information. I know I have been guilty of skipping the rest day . I like that you have added what a rest day looks like and not a couch potato day. Great post.

    • I’ve been asked several times, on Facebook, for ideas. Thought I’d share with my readers too! Enjoy the rest of your weekend Kathy!

  7. Gerat post! I usually do complete rest days.. no activeness involved haha

  8. I know I already commented, but today I had you in mind –went for not one but TWO dog walks with Riley and it’s not even noon. Two more to come! He loves them and they are my active rest.
    Carol Cassara recently posted…Birth after deathMy Profile

    • My ears were ringing 😉
      When my children are gone, I may need to get a dog to keep me moving daily!

  9. This is a great article! Rest and recovery is so often overlooked by athletes, weekend warriors, and even just the general fitness crowd. I like to incorporate one day of active rest into my week where I’ll do something fun and social like going for a bike ride around the Seawall, do some indoor climbing, or when the weather’s warmer SUP-ing! I also like to take a recovery week after periods of intense training to do the things you mentioned like yoga or light cardio.
    Ariana recently posted…Sun Run RecapMy Profile

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