What’s A Rest Day? Workout Recovery For Active Athletes
Most people don’t have a problem with “off” days.
Oh, I don’t have to workout? Cool. Netflix!
But some of us are wired to GO all the time, gladly training six to seven days per week. Some call this crazy, while those who participate in constant activity couldn’t imagine taking a day off.
Admittedly, I fall somewhere in the second group. I can go stir crazy during a “rest” day of zero activity. But most people, from hard-charging athletes to weekend warriors, can benefit from recovery activities.
Realize that you don’t get stronger and fitter during your workouts.
Only in recovery (aka, time outside the gym) does your body become fitter. Things like eating healthy foods full of vitamins and minerals, drinking enough water, getting quality sleep, and managing your stress are all forms of “recovery” that play a role in your body’s ability to get back into the gym and train hard.
Overtraining is the name given to what happens when you never take a rest day.
Exercise is a potent stressor that breaks down your body. Too much exercise, added to all the other stress we deal with daily, can result in excessive soreness, fatigue, decreased performance, aches and pains, and immune suppression, among other not-fun symptoms of overtraining.
If you’re always in action mode, your body never gets the chance to repair itself, and this usually leads to a plateau in strength, endurance, and weight loss – or burning out and giving up entirely. To avoid plateaus and burnout, make sure you “dial in” your nutrition, hydration, sleep, and stress management.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with exercising 6-7 days per week, as long as the above factors are taken care of. If you aren’t eating right, staying hydrated, or sleep well, you may want to dial back your activity levels. Likewise, if you are constantly sore and aren’t improving in your workouts day-to-day, it might be a warning sign you’re overdoing it.
But, if your diet, sleep, and stress are under control, get after it!
A good rule of thumb is to incorporate 1-2 lower intensity days in your routine, aka “active recovery.” This is different from taking a rest day or a full day off from training. It means moving your body through full ranges of motion, but at lower intensities than your regular training. This allows you to stay active, while recovering – hence, “active recovery.”
Here are some of the best recovery activities for active people:
- Go for a hike or walk. The duration doesn’t matter, but keep it low intensity.
- Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing as a winter hiking alternative.
- Yoga. I’m not a huge fan myself, but the mental/physical benefits are undeniable.
- Swimming – you know, leisurely laps, not a relay race.
- SUP boarding. The balance requirement means you can’t go “too fast.”
- Biking, in the gym or in the great outdoors.
- Core work – low impact, generally low intensity, with carry over to the rest of your training.
- Bodyweight workouts to de-load from weightlifting.
The main thing isn’t the activity itself, but the intensity you put into it.
Don’t push yourself to your limit every day because you can over-tax your system and wind up on the sidelines. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather take a few intentionally easy days, than be forced into resting because of an injury.
In addition to the above suggestions, one of the best recovery activities might be trying something new.
Because you’re already a master of running up mountains and throwing around heavy weights, choosing an activity that you aren’t skilled at is a perfect way to slow things down. And as a bonus, you get to add a skill to your repertoire. You may find your next big challenge.
For me, that activity was climbing. I started rope climbing because I felt I was “bad” at bouldering, but eventually deciding to practice bouldering helped me to build more strength for climbing. And because I wasn’t very “good” at it when I started, bouldering made the perfect recovery activity in between longer, more strenuous climbing trips.
Bodyweight workouts are another really good recovery option. Learning to control your body in space is essential for success as an athlete, lifter, and everyday human being. Combine full-body movements like squats, lunges, jumps, push ups, pull ups, medicine ball slams, dips, and handstands into a circuit. Just focus on body control and movement quality.
Is there anything else you can do to promote recovery, besides rest days?
As mentioned earlier, prioritizing sleep, hydration, and eating a healthy diet of protein and vegetables is essential to recovery from an active lifestyle. Rest days are an important part of the equation, but you can also jumpstart recovery after an intense training day by ending your sessions with “self myofascial release” (SMR), or foam rolling. Using the foam roller after your training sessions helps turn down the tension in your muscles, thus beginning the recovery process so that you can hit the gym stronger the next day.
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