If your trainer says that rest is for the weak, you need to fire them. Resting is just as important as exercising, if not more. When you exercise — whether that’s weight lifting or cardio — your muscles undergo a small level of damage which appears as microtears in the muscle fibers. This manifests itself as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). We’ve all experienced this feeling after a tough workout. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to walk from the couch to the kitchen. But give your body some rest and you’ll recover. Then through that recovery muscle is built on those microtears. When you don’t allow your body to rest, your muscles can’t build in time before the next workout.
Rest and recovery (R and R) allows you to work less for more reward. The ideal resting period for a group of muscles is 24 hours, preferably 48. So if Monday is leg day, you don’t need to train them again until Wednesday or Thursday. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still work out! Tuesday could be chest day, Wednesday could be back day, followed by two days off and legs again on Friday. To learn more about rest, check out our article on the importance of recovery.
A rest day can mean different things: you could sit on the couch doing nothing all day (which we are 100% on board with), or you could undertake an active recovery day. These days are a lot lighter on the body and are all about getting nutrients to the sore, micro-torn muscles to help build them.
Moving your muscles increases blood flow to that area, so think about including active movements, like a walk or light jog, or passive movements, like stretching and foam rolling, into your rest days. This level of intensity varies per person; for long-time gym goers a light jog is an easy way to stay moving at a level that the body can handle well, yet for a newbie to the scene, a few simple stretches are perfect.
Below are a few techniques you can incorporate into your rest day program. Note that all of these modalities will not only help with soreness, but will also help your muscles recover faster — meaning more lifting and more building.
Foam roller and lacrosse ball
These two pieces of equipment are an industry favourite when it comes to tools for self-myofascial release. While this does sound a little intense, just think of it like a massage. When you massage your muscles, the blood flow increases — just like during exercise.
So, using a foam roller or lacrosse ball to massage the muscles increases the blood flow and sends nutrients to the sore muscles for a speedy recovery.
Stretching is one of the best things you can do for muscle recovery. It can be hard to get yourself motivated, but think of how long you spend scrolling on your phone each day. You could spend five of those minutes stretching and still have hours to catch up on your notifications! Stretching stimulates a mechanism in your muscle called the muscle spindle, which essentially relaxes the muscles even more. This is great for developing flexibility but also prompts a further increase in blood flow, helping with recovery even more. To build the habit, start simple. Which areas feel sore? It could be your neck, back, legs, or something else. Pick three and find one stretch for each area, holding it for 30 seconds. Stretch like this once a day and you’ll feel a huge difference. But stretching three times a day is a different story…
The level of intensity that light activity refers to is relative to each person. While there’s no pressure to do anything on a rest day, adding in some yoga or a light jog can really get the blood flowing and help with muscle recovery. Alternatively, a 20 minute walk or a hike can be your active recovery day. It’s up to you.
Wake up, see how your body feels, and go from there. If you’re feeling sore and stiff, it’s fine to have a full couch potato day, but a little walk will probably help with the soreness and encourage your muscles to recover faster.
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
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