For many of us, rest days are like the forbidden fruit of fitness: something deviously tempting that we have been conditioned to avoid in order to protect our perfect routine, hit our goals, or stay on track. But just because “rest” is a four letter word doesn’t mean it’s something to be ashamed of. In fact, as a fitness trainer and an athlete, I’ve found that weekly (or twice-weekly) rest days are one of the most effective ways that we improve our performance, fitness level, and relationship with exercise. So before you head out for that run, yoga class class, or gym session, check out why staying home today might be the better option.
1. Rest days improve your performance
When you work out, you’re essentially putting your body through stress and creating tiny, microscopic tears in your muscles so that they can repair themselves and be more difficult to tear next time (also known as becoming stronger.) However, if you don’t give those muscles the time they need to repair, you’ll just be creating more and more tears, which can lead to injury and poor performance. While not everyone is trying to be a competitive athlete, if you’re experiencing poor performance, you’ll also be experiencing diminishing returns on your efforts, meaning you will be getting less and less out of each workout. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, take a rest day and make sure that your body is ready to work to its fullest potential when you get back to it.
2. Rest days give you an opportunity to care for and nourish your body
Foam rolling, stretching, yoga, meditation, walking through nature, meal prepping–these are all things that contribute to your health and fitness that often fall by the wayside when you don’t have the time to prioritize them. By scheduling one or two rest days each week, you give yourself the time to soothe and stretch tired muscles, focus on your mental health, prepare healthy food, and work on all of the other components of health and fitness. Many other factors besides exercise play an important role in keeping you fit, so give them the time that they deserve.
3. Rest days keep you excited about your workouts
When they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about absence from your favorite instructor. Fitness is a lifestyle component, which means that there’s no finish line or end point: it’s something to keep as part of your regular routine for your entire life. But just like any healthy relationship, space is good and very necessary. By taking a rest day, you’re allowing yourself a little time to appreciate that class, that trainer, or that part of your day. Taking a break every now and then will help you avoid burnout and pre-workout dread.
4. Rest days improve sleep quality
Of all the things you need in your life–good friends, SPF moisturizer, how-to videos on TikTok–there’s simply nothing you need more than a good night’s sleep (especially when it comes to athletic performance, getting the most out of your workouts, and recovering well). When you exercise, your body produces hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. In reasonable amounts, these hormones are great, but when you overdo it (AKA no rest days), your body overproduces them, and too much adrenaline and cortisol can lead to lack of (or poor) sleep. If you’ve been reaching for that 2 p.m. coffee or donut just to make it through the rest of the day, it might be time to give your adrenal glands a break and enjoy a rest day from your favorite workout. Try meditating, going for a walk, stretching, or spending the extra time pampering yourself.
5. Rest days give you time to be a well-rounded person
Working out is an excellent hobby, stress-reliever, and lifestyle component, but if your routine has started to get in the way of other parts of your life, it might be time to take a well-planned rest day in order to catch up on what else life has to offer. While your body and sore muscles might dictate when you take a day off, there are plenty of opportunities to schedule your rest days around vacations, parties, events, and other things you don’t want to miss as well. Taking a guilt-free rest day to explore hobbies, passions, and relationships is an important part of life, and it will only make you a happier, more multifaceted person.
If you’re worried that stepping away from your workout routine is going to sabotage your efforts, fear not: rest days are an incredibly important part of your physical, mental and emotional health. By taking at least one day off per week, you’ll allow your body time to reap the benefits of your workouts, avoid gym burnout, and improve other areas of your life. Let’s normalize taking the day off when we’re tired, sore, or simply need a margarita: it will only make us better in the long run.