Confused when to take a rest day from working out?
Rest days are a critical part of any workout plan or routine, but sometimes it can be hard to know when you should actually rest or maybe you feel guilty for doing so. (Please don’t!)
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had these questions about taking a rest day:
- Why are rest days so important?
- How often should I take a rest day?
- What factors should determine when I take a rest day?
- What should I do (or not do) on my rest days?
When to take a rest day or how much to rest will differ for each person. There isn’t a one-size answer for all. My goal with this blog is to equip you with the facts and knowledge so you can know what’s best for YOU.
Keep reading to learn when to take a rest day from working out!
Why are rest days important?
Rest days are important for your body to recover from the stress of exercise. If you lift weights, your muscles need a break to repair and rebuild. If you’re a runner, time off will help your body recover and feel fresh on your next run.
If rest days are ignored, injury, burnout, poor performance, and boredom could soon follow. Your body NEEDS rest and recovery. Even if you have boundless energy or are an Olympic athlete, you still need rest.
Although exercise is amazing for promoting good health, it does cause stress on the body. Overexercising and skipping rest days may also keep cortisol levels high. Cortisol is the stress hormone and although important, too much can result in weight gain, high blood pressure, and fatigue.
Quick note: You could further break down rest days into “Active Rest Days” or “Rest Days”. Active rest days may include light activity like yoga, walking, mobility, or stretching. Rest days are strictly rest days. There’s very little activity and your main focus is to just chill, eat well, and sleep.
When should I take a rest day from working out?
When to take a rest day will depend on the types of exercise you do, your current fitness level, and other factors, but rest days should always be included!
If you strength train regularly, taking a rest day the day after heavy lifts can be beneficial. At the minimum, you want to give the specific muscles you worked out the previous day a full 24 hours of recovery before hitting them again.
For example, if you lift legs on Monday, wait at least until Wednesday to lift or do any further strenuous leg exercises. If you lifted upper body on Tuesday, wait until Thursday to hit them again.
Here is an example of a lifting schedule and when you could fit in the rest days:
- Monday: Back and Biceps
- Tuesday: Legs
- Wednesday: Chest and Triceps
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Shoulders and Core
- Saturday: Active Rest Day
- Sunday: Rest
Here’s another example if you prefer to include lifting and cardio into your week:
- Monday: Total Body Strength
- Wednesday: Total Body Strength
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Cardio
- Saturday: Active Rest Day
If you enjoy running or other endurance sports, you may have more flexibility with your rest days. You could take a day off in the middle of your week and again at the end. Or, you could run 5 days per week and take the weekends off.
Here is an example:
- Monday: 3 Mile Run
- Tuesday: 5 Mile Run
- Wednesday: Rest Day
- Thursday: 4 Mile Run
- Friday: Active Rest Day
- Saturday: 7 Mile Run
- Sunday: Rest
These are just examples of how I’ve structured my rest days, but every one of us is different. There are other factors that come into play that will help you determine when to take a rest day.
What factors should determine when to take a rest day from working out?
Sometimes, things might be happening in your life or your training that may play a factor in choosing when to rest. Here are a few examples and why they are important to consider. If you take anything away from this section it’s that listening to your body’s cues is important and shouldn’t be ignored.
You have a terrible night(s) of sleep.
When you don’t sleep well, you might find your workouts and performance suffer. This is because your body didn’t’ get the rest it needed to rebuild and recover. This doesn’t mean you have to skip your workouts every time you have a rough night of sleep, but maybe consider going a little lighter in your intensity or just taking an active rest day.
You’re on your period.
When it’s “shark week”, (what I call it lol) “that time of month”, or when “mother nature” pays you a visit, hormones fluctuate and could make you feel more tired, irritable, susceptible to pain, and just bleh. Many period experts suggest light exercise or rest during the first couple of days of your period. Here’s a great chart that helps explain the female cycle, what’s happening in your body, and what types of activity may feel best during the phases of the female cycle.
You’re sick or injured.
Depending on how sick you are or your injury, you might need total rest until you feel better or the injury is healed. However, if you’re at the end stages of a cold or your injury is on its way to healing, light exercise may be beneficial to boost the immune system and improve blood flow (and healing) to the injured area. Of course, talk to your doctor before hopping on the treadmill or hitting the weights when you’re sick or injured and always listen to your body.
You’re under a crazy amount of stress.
If you’re going through a major life change or traumatic experience, rest is more than okay and might be the best thing you can do. Again, light exercise like yoga or walking may be helpful, but every situation and person is different.
You’re feeling super sore.
Moderate soreness is normal when you workout regularly. But if you’re experiencing excessive soreness to the point of walking and day to day movement is difficult, you probably need to rest until that soreness subsides. Again, if light walking or stretching feel okay, it may be beneficial. But trust your body to get stronger when you rest!
Your age and fitness level.
As you age your body becomes less efficient at recovery meaning you may need more rest days than your younger counterparts. If you’re brand new to fitness, you may experience more soreness and fatigue in the beginning which is pretty normal. Again, newbies might need more rest days and that’s totally okay. Your body will adapt over time and you could take fewer rest days as time and your fitness level progresses.
The intensity of your workouts.
If you mostly participate in light to moderate activity during the week, you might need less rest than someone who primarily does vigorous activity throughout the week. Again, listen to your body and don’t be afraid or feel guilty for taking rest days when you need it.
What should I do (or not do) on my rest days?
Like I mentioned above, I like to break down rest days into active or not active. If you feel that an active rest day would be beneficial, then light activities like yoga, mobility work, stretching, or walking are great to include.
If you’re feeling tired or in more need of rest, reduce your movement on your rest days. That doesn’t mean you have to sit on your butt all day, but extra down time and sleep may be helpful.
It’s also important to prioritize healthy eating on your rest days. Refuel your body with quality sources of protein, veggies, and water. Some foods have awesome recovery benefits and fight inflammation like tart cherries, turmeric, leafy greens, eggs, and berries. Pretty much any whole food full of vitamins,minerals, and protein are a great option.
Wrapping it Up
Hopefully you now feel more confident in knowing when to take a rest day from working out.
Rest days are SO important and shouldn’t be ignored or skipped. And please don’t feel guilty for taking rest days! Rest is not for the weak and your worth or value is NOT tied to how much you workout.
Rest helps your body rebuild and come back stronger. You’ll see your performance improve, lifting heavier or improving mobility. You’ll get faster on your runs, beating PRs. You’ll reduce your chances of burn out or getting bored with your routine. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to skip rest days!