How often should you take a rest day?
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do — you should move at least a little every day for your best health.
The current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity plus two sessions of strength training per week. The majority of Americans aren’t meeting those minimums. But if you are meeting — or even exceeding — those recommendations, you might actually need to start thinking about taking days off from intense workouts.
Those days off are called rest days, and they can be just as important a part of your exercise routine as your most active ones.
Why your body needs rest days
Just like your body needs sleep every night to recover from the day, it also needs occasional rest days to recover from workouts. Taking some downtime between exercise sessions is essential for building strength and preventing injury.
Experts recommend taking at least one day off from your daily workout routine each week. Taking a rest day after a particularly long or intense workout can be especially helpful.
The benefits of rest days include:
- Better mental and physical health: Taking a break is as important for your mental health as it is for your body.
- Fewer injuries: Giving your body time to rest and recuperate helps you avoid injury.
- Less muscle soreness: Lactic acid builds up in your muscles during hard exercise sessions. Resting gives your body a chance to flush out that excess lactic acid so muscles feel less tired and sore.
- Stronger muscles: Intense exercise creates small tears in your muscles. When you rest, those tears not only heal, but allow your muscles to strengthen.
Signs you may be overtraining
When it comes to exercise, more is not always better. Exercising too much — too often or too intensely — can lead to problems. It can even stop you from achieving your fitness goals. This is especially true if you’re training for a big race or competition.
Exercising too much (also called overtraining) can cause a variety of issues, including:
- Emotional changes: Not giving your body a break can also take a toll on your mind. You might notice you feel moody, unmotivated or even depressed.
- Extreme muscle soreness: It’s normal to be sore after a tough workout. But if it feels like that soreness is more intense or doesn’t fade after a couple of days, you may be pushing too hard.
- Fatigue: Feeling excessively tired before you even begin your workout? That’s a sign that your body probably needs a break.
- Hitting a plateau: Training typically leads to consistent improvements in your fitness. Overtraining, on the other hand, can stall progress.
- Illness: Overtraining can weaken your immune system and make you more likely to pick up whatever bugs are going around.
- Injuries: Overuse injuries — such as tendonitis or shin splints — often occur when you don’t give your body enough recovery time.
- Sleep problems: You may have a harder time getting the restorative sleep you need if you are training too intensely.
What is active recovery?
Your body — and your fitness — can benefit from both rest days and active recovery. But there is a difference. A rest day is when you take a day off from doing any exercise. It’s a time to let your body completely relax and restore. An active recovery day means taking a break from your typical workouts, but still doing some light activity.
Whatever you do for your active recovery, it shouldn’t be intense. The idea is to feel like you are taking a day off, but with a little movement mixed in. You want to do just enough to get blood flowing to your muscles, but not so much that you further tax them.
Examples of active recovery workouts could include:
- Gentle stretching
- Taking a walk
You could also include a massage or other body work as part of your recovery day plan. The goal is to finish your rest or recovery day feeling refreshed and ready to go.