To Rest or Not to Rest seems to be a popular Facebook thread amongst athletes, gym rats, and exercise enthusiasts. It appears many feel guilty when “taking it easy” or, heaven forbid, taking a full day off! Seriously? The reality…. rest days are critical after high intensity workouts! Continuous training or overtraining can actually weaken muscles or lead to injury. Rest is physically important to allow the muscles to not only repair, but also strengthen and rebuild. Recreational athletes also need to build recovery time into their weekly workout schedules. It not only enhances training efforts, but encourages balance between types of exercises (strength, cardio, flexibility, etc.) and life in general.
During the recovery phase the body replenishes energy stores and repairs damaged tissues. Exercise causes the breakdown of muscle tissues, depletion of glycogen (energy stores), and fluid loss. Rest allows the body to refuel, replenish, and repair, preparing the body for another intensive workout. Without proper recovery, the body continues to break down, and the likelihood of negative outcomes rises (pain, decreased performance, decreased overall energy, and risk of injury).
There are two types of recovery phases: short-term and long-term. Short-term or active recovery is low-intensity exercise that usually occurs immediately after (as part of the cool down) or during an intense workout (as part of interval training). Long-term recovery should accompany a year-round training schedule. Well-designed workout schedules include rest or recovery days as well as modified workout schedules and training modalities.
With proper care and planning, muscle recovery time can be reduced. By drinking plenty of water, getting sufficient electrolytes, and balancing protein and simple carbohydrates you will fuel your muscles and support the repair process. Stretching and massage also stimulate blood flow to muscles and encourage the release of toxins, thereby reducing pain and fatigue. Getting plenty of sleep at night will allow your body and mind to recover. Recovery days shouldn’t be difficult or frustrating, they should be fun! Take the day off and learn something new. Read a great book…. how about the Athletic Development Book by well-known fitness expert Vern Gambetta? This book examines how theories and practices have evolved into today’s state of the art methods for maximizing performance (including rest and regeneration techniques). By scheduling a solid exercise program that includes intense workouts as well as rest days, you’ll not only be on the road to “recovery,” but a healthier and stronger you!