A personal trainer breaks down why you actually need rest days to improve. We’re so here for this advice.
In order to explain why rest days are as important as training days, I will try to describe the training process and how we adapt (improve) after a bout of exercise.
When we exercise, we get fatigued, we may experience this as muscle soreness, feeling low in energy, feeling tired and usually accompanied with an increase in appetite as we will need to refuel after training.
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If we have adequate rest after exercise, we will improve our fitness, including improvements in strength. We will experience less soreness if we were to repeat the session again (repeat bout effect) and we may become more efficient in how we use energy in future bouts of exercise.
Without adequate rest and recovery, we simply cannot adapt to the gradual increased overload of exercise.
For me, it is therefore more important to programme recovery and to sequence sessions during a week, month and year (periodisation) to optimise recovery in order to keep improving and adapting to training.
Simply put: All of our “gains” or improvements from exercise occur during rest and recovery.
*Side note, if we are training, recovering, improving and repeating this process; exercise never really gets easier, we simply get better at it*
Overreaching Vs Overtraining
Here is where it can get a bit complicated: Most of you reading this will have probably heard of the term ‘overtraining’.
Overtraining is when we have chronic fatigue and our bodies systems are no longer able to cope with exercise and can take years to recover from. It can be a serious condition brought about by long term inadequate rest and recovery from heavy bouts of training and training too frequently.
Most people will use this term incorrectly, and overtraining has a different meaning to the word ‘overreaching’.
We have two types of overreaching; functional overreaching and non-functional overreaching.
Functional overreaching is a planned phase of training and is very important for intermediate and elite programmes whereby we actually accumulate fatigue over a period of days or a few weeks followed by a planned de-load/recovery which leads to a supercompensation or improvement in performance. (A de-load simply refers to a drop on training volume (total reps and sets) we try to maintain intensity (load).
We then have non-functional overreaching where there may be lots of other stressors in someone’s life as well as the training stress and over a prolonged time without adequate recovery, leading to symptoms of overtraining.
With non-functional overreaching there is no supercompensation phase and therefore, no improvement in performance. The difference between non-functional overreaching and overtraining is that overreaching can be reversed after a few weeks to months of rest whereas overtraining is the result of chronic overreaching and can take months to years to recover from and some never truly recover at all.
Side note: Stress can come from many sources and impacts the body exactly the same, it doesn’t matter if it is exercise, work, exams etc. When the stress you are experiencing in life is high, consider reducing your training volume and or how often you train in order to manage the physical symptoms better. Do not look to improve during times of high stress, look to simply maintain or not lose your fitness.
What does a rest day look like?
A rest day does not mean complete bed rest, in fact the most appropriate way to rest / recover is via active rest. Active rest can take the form of very low intensity movement where the heart rate does not raise by much (60% Max HR) this can be activities such as some forms of yoga, Pilates, gentle walking, a light spin on a bike and being in a swimming pool (did someone say pool party?).
Other ways to increase the rate of recovery may be through the use of manual therapy such as massage, osteopathy as well as foam rolling. Epsom salt baths may also be a good option to aid recovery.
The most important thing above all else that you can do to recover optimally and get the most out of your training and rest days, is to SLEEP.
Sleep is paramount and is top of my list of MUST DO’s. A general rule to live by is a minimum of 8 hours or conversely 7 hours + number of hours you have trained for that day. No other form of rest or recovery matches the impact a full night of sleep can give you.
How do you know if you are overreaching?
There are typical signs and symptoms that you may experience and it affects people in different ways:
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of motivation
- Feeling tired
- Heart palpitations
- Reduction in performance
- Loss of libido
- Frequent or minor infections/illness
- Feeling heavy or sore for longer periods of time than usual or when it is not expected
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased irritability
- There are many more…
Based on these signs and symptoms it is clear that further training it will not only impact your performance but can also begin to impact your work, psychology, health and social life if it gets out of hand.
Why is this so important?
For those that are training regularly and have been for a few months; the next time you are beating yourself up for not completing a workout, missing a few reps when you found it easy last week and taking a day off /skipping a training day altogether because you simply felt too tired / exhausted / sore to train today; don’t.
These may simply be signs that you are overdoing it in some aspect of your life and that your body needs to rest and recover before you can go at it again.
Rest is vital for improvement to take place; take a few days of active rest/recovery and see if it makes all the difference.
Simon Chapple is a personal trainer at Goodlife Health Clubs in Wantirna after making the move from the UK where he worked as a Senior Personal Trainer for 10 years and Fitness Manager for 2 of those years.
In the UK Simon gained his Degree in Strength and Conditioning Science, and loves using his skill to empower his clients to take charge of their own training as well as helping them realise what they are physically capable of achieving when being taken through a step by step training process.