“I’m sitting here at work on my rest day and all I wanna do is hit the gym.”
If this sounds like you, that’s because you’re not alone.
A lot of bodybuilders, both newbies and veterans, struggle with the thought of taking a day off from the gym.
However, whether you’re training for a competition or feeling extra motivated, more isn’t always better.
How important are recovery days for your body and what should you be doing on rest days so you don’t feel… guilty?
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the 5 important benefits of a rest day, the proper way to do rest days, and how to tell when it’s time to give your body a break from bodybuilding.
Let’s start with the benefits:
5 Benefits of Gym Rest Days on Muscle Recovery.
1. Allows Time for Deep Muscle Recovery.
Exercise creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissues and taking a day of rest from the gym gives your body the time off it needs to rebuild those damaged tissues and make them stronger.
When you take a rest from bodybuilding, cells known as fibroblasts go around the body, repairing and fortifying damaged muscles and any other tissues.
But there’s more.
A rest day does not only support the repair of damaged muscle but also gives the body ample time to restore all the energy that the muscle lost during a workout.
Muscles store energy (carbohydrates) in the form of glycogen, which is used to fuel your workout sessions. Taking a rest from bodybuilding will help your body replace the glycogen before your next workout.
2. It Helps Prevent Muscle Fatigue or Burnout.
If you’ve been feeling some soreness in your muscles, a day of rest from bodybuilding can help prevent burnout.
How does this work?
Exercise depletes the glycogen stored in your muscles and, in the process, creates metabolic by-products. If there’s not enough time to remove the waste products and refill these stores, you’ll experience exercise-induced fatigue and soreness.
3. Minimises the Risk of Injury.
Can you recall the last time you were sleep-deprived and how difficult it was to stay focused?
That’s what happens when your muscles are overworked – you’re more likely to take a wrong step, fall out of form, or drop a weight.
Overtraining is a thing.
Without rest days, you end up straining and stressing your muscles way more than you should. This is counterproductive because, not only does it increase the risk of overuse injuries, but, at some point, you’ll be forced to take more rest days than you initially would.
So, why not rest and let your body rejuvenate?
4. Rest Days Improves Performance in the Gym.
Pushing through a difficult workout requires mental toughness and stamina. You’ll need a lot of these two to perform your normal routine, let alone challenge yourself when you do not get enough rest.
The reason is that physical exertion is not only hard on your body, but it can also fatigue your brain as well. When your muscles are tired, you’re less likely to run another mile or do an extra rep.
Do you know what the worst part is?
Even if you push yourself to keep going, your performance will drop. Your agility, reaction time, and endurance will reduce.
Rest on the other hand gives you a psychological break from exercise and helps your mind relax. This allows it to recover along with your muscles so you can come back feeling hyped and ready for some serious workout.
5. Promotes a Healthy Sleep Pattern.
Regular exercise can improve your sleep quality. However, taking a rest from the gym also has its benefits.
Physical activity is great for increasing energy-boosting hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which helps sharpen your focus.
But, too much exercise will overproduce these hormones.
You might have a difficult time falling and staying asleep, which only makes exhaustion and fatigue worse.
Taking a rest from bodybuilding can help restore your sleep pattern and quality to its normal state.
How to Set Up Your Rest Days for Best Result.
When it comes to rest days, there’s no “one size fits all.” Each person’s rest day will vary depending on the frequency and intensity of their workout sessions, as well as their lifestyle.
Having said that, here are some general guidelines for incorporating rest days in various workouts.
Light cardio exercises, such as leisurely walking or slow dancing, are safe enough to do every day – except your doctor says otherwise – and as such do not require rest days.
However, rest days are essential for moderate or vigorous aerobic activity.
The rule of thumb is to take a rest every three to five days. But, you’ll want to take more than that if you do vigorous cardio.
If you’re not feeling too exhausted, you can have an active rest day by performing some light workout, like gentle stretching.
When trying to determine when you should give your body a rest from the gym, consider the weekly recommendation for aerobic activity.
Adults should get about 120 to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 90 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week. You can alternate between moderate and vigorous activity or combine them.
These guidelines can help you plan rest days that support deep muscle recovery and boosts your energy level. For instance, you could do three days of 40 minutes moderate cardio sessions or four days of 35 minutes vigorous cardio sessions and plan your rest days and other activities around them.
Even though running is a form of cardio, choosing your rest days requires a different approach.
If you’re a beginner, you want to avoid running too much too soon as this can cause fatigue and overuse injuries.
Start running a maximum of three days per week, then perform other activities or rest on the other days.
If you still want to work out, then it should involve muscles you don’t use while running. You could use the opportunity to work on your abs and chest muscles.
If you’re training for a marathon, then you’ll need to rest more often. Especially in the last three weeks before the event. A running coach or personal trainer can explain how to rest based on your goals.
You incorporate rest days in your bodybuilding or weight training routine by rotating the muscles you work on.
After working on a specific muscle group, give a day or two to repair and heal. On the “rest day” you can exercise a different muscle group that you haven’t already trained, but be sure to train opposing muscles.
The best way to do a rest day is to assign different days for each body part. For example, Monday can be chest day, Tuesdays can be abs day, Wednesdays can be leg day – we see a lot of bodybuilders skip leg day, never skip leg day.
This method of incorporating rest days is great for serious bodybuilders because you’re always at the gym, instead of spending your days in torture, just imagining all the gains you could make if you were at the gym.
There is a caveat though, if you do full-body workouts, then you absolutely must take a day off for your muscles to recover.
For weight loss.
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you still need to incorporate rest days into your routine.
Taking a rest from the gym allows your body to repair and grow those torn muscles. Plus, by adding more muscles, you’ll naturally burn more calories at rest.
The explanation for this is simple: muscle cells use up more energy than fat cells.
Besides, you’re more likely to stick to your exercise routine when you’re feeling rejuvenated.
What to Do On Your Rest Day.
To get the best result from your gym rest days, consider the following:
Diet and protein.
Since you are not as active on rest days, your body will need fewer calories compared to days when you work out. However, instead of trying to count your calorie intake, just listen to your body. You will naturally feel less hungry compared to workout days.
Be sure to eat enough food with high-protein content, even on gym rest days, to support the muscle repair that happens during this period.
People that are active require evenly spaced meals that deliver about 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.
Here’s what you should focus on during bodybuilding rest days:
Eat complex carbohydrates to help refuel your recovering muscles with enough glycogen for your next workout session. A good rule of thumb is to eat 3-10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight depending on your level of activity.
Drinking enough water, even when you are not exercising, is essential for quicker muscle recovery. That’s because our body is mostly made up of water. By keeping yourself hydrated, the nutrients from your diet can easily be absorbed by muscle cells that need them. Plus, it helps prevent muscle cramps.
Fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables supply the body with healthy carbs and micronutrients that support muscle recovery.
Doing yoga on your rest day is one of the best ways to speed up your recovery. Not only is it great for improving your body’s range of motion, awareness, and breathing, but it also encourages full-body relaxation and dilation of blood vessels so nutrients can be delivered faster to your muscles.
Remember where I said that bodybuilding requires mental toughness and stamina?
Well, yoga helps promote calmness in the mind, leaving you feeling refreshed and hyped for your next workout session.
And the best part is, you don’t have to spend a lot of time on it before enjoying the benefits. 10 to 15 minutes of yoga will help boost muscle recovery.
Low-impact exercise is a great way to stay active on your rest days. They help you stay active without necessarily overtaxing your body.
Here are some good examples of low-impact workouts you can try on your gym rest day:
- casual swimming
5 Signs You Need to Take a Rest from the Gym.
It might be time to take a break if you notice any of these signs:
1. Sore muscles.
Feeling sore after a workout is normal, but persistent soreness means there’s a problem – your muscles are yet to recover from previous workout sessions.
Listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel extremely exhausted, then it’s best to let your body rest.
3. Pain in the joints or muscles.
One of the tell-tale signs of overuse injury is joint or muscle pain that won’t go away.
4. Emotional changes.
When you’re physically exhausted and stressed for long periods, your hormones (specifically serotonin and cortisol) will naturally be thrown off balance. This will make you more irritable, cranky, and prone to mood swings.
5. Issues getting quality sleep.
Too much strain on your body can cause a sharp increase in your cortisol and adrenaline levels, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.
6. Reduced performance.
If your normal routine feels like you’re pushing a rock to the top of a hill or if you stop seeing progress, then it’s time to take a gym rest day.
When to Speak with a Pro.
Speak with an exercise professional, like a personal trainer, if you have not worked out in a long time, you’re new to exercise, or you want to try out a new activity like marathon training or bodybuilding.
A professional will evaluate your fitness level and help you determine the best workout routine for you. As well as help you to safely increase speed, exercise duration, and intensity.
Plus, they can explain in detail how to incorporate gym rest days that’s appropriate for your personalised workout routine.
The bottom line.
Whether you’re simply trying to maintain a healthy body weight or training for an endurance race such as a marathon, rest is a crucial part of your success.
The body needs it to repair torn muscles, prevent fatigue, and improve your performance.
To make the most of your recovery days, perform some low-intensity workouts such as walking, stretching, or yoga. These activities will help keep your body active while letting it recover and grow stronger.
A simple trick that helps is to see rest days as part of your workout schedule (consider them equivalent to workout days).
You’re not losing a training opportunity, but you’re actually allowing your workout to have some positive effects.
If you feel guilty about it, just make sure you use that guilt to get yourself back in the gym after a day or two of rest.