Do You Really Need a Rest Day? Five Reasons to Sometimes Skip the Gym

If you’re a regular gym-goer like me, chances are that you’re passionate about your favorite workout . I like to run. Your workout passion might be lifting weights, zumba, swimming laps, or climbing the rock wall behind Eppley. Doing something that you love is a great motivator to work out regularly. But no matter how much you love your daily workout, don’t fall for the common misunderstanding in the fitness world that you should be going hard every time you hit the gym. Your body and your mind need a break!

Why are breaks important?

To be healthy, lose weight, or gain muscle, working out is an important part of your day. As you bring your heart rate up, break down muscle fibers, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone, your body physically changes after every workout. This is when your body works to repair tissue damage, strengthens your heart and your muscles, moves oxygen more efficiently, and restores lost fuel. Recovery and rest are vital!

How do you know when to take a rest day? 

Here are five telltale signs to give your body a break:

  1. You feel sluggish or irritated during your workout. Beyond the physical stress that your body feels from working out, you might notice that after a while, your brain isn’t really in the game anymore. Maybe you are having a hard time getting yourself to the gym or maybe you are just distracted once you are there, but in any case, this is a sign that you mentally need to take a rest day. Just like anything else, you need to be focused to succeed and make the most out of what you are doing!
  1. You’re sore. This is important! Muscles need time to rebuild. Hitting the gym again too soon can lead straight to injury. Stretch it out and take a rest day or two before going back into an intense workout. There are foam rollers available in the Functional Training Studio on the bottom floor of Eppley, they’re great for rolling out sore muscles.
  1. You’re sick. Your body needs to focus its energy on getting better. If you push through a workout it might take longer to recover from being sick, and you won’t feel well enough to perform at your best anyway. And if you’re really feeling bad, visit the Health Center!
  1. You aren’t getting enough sleep. Without a good seven to eight hours every night, your body won’t perform to the best of its ability. If you just pulled an all-nighter to cram for an exam (or to celebrate a Terps football win) take a nap and save the gym for after you’re well rested.
  1. You just ran in a race. You should also consider a period of rest following a big event like a race or a competition. Even if you aren’t competitive, if you have followed any kind of training plan for a few months, it is a good idea to give your body a break. Overusing your muscles can result in injuries.

So what does rest even mean?

Unfortunately, it’s not a free pass to sit on your couch and watch Netflix all day. Just as mental exercises such as reading and doing puzzles stimulate your brain, light physical activity is needed to stimulate your body even while recovering and resting. This includes activities like walking, stretching, or even leisurely swimming or biking! It’s always a good idea to get your heart rate up and keep your body moving…especially if you have a desk job or sit for long periods of time during the day.

The big picture

Rest days aren’t rocket science. Listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to take a day, two days, or even a week off from the gym when you need it. That awesome yoga class, the bench press, the pool… whatever your workout passion is, it’ll be there when you come back. You’ll be back in the gym feeling refreshed and ready to accomplish your fitness goals… and your body will thank you!

When to Take a Rest Day from Exercise and Training (Philly Magazine)
Why Taking Time Off from Exercise is Good for your Health (Huffington Post)

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