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The Fitness Zone

How Do I Know When I Need a Rest Day?
December 7, 2014 | by

When working out on a regular basis, it’s important to understand when to take a rest day.

Rest days should be an important part of your training regime says Annette Chatterton, Director of the Australian Institute of Fitness South Australia. But how do you know when you need one? And when are you telling yourself you need one, just because you’re unmotivated?

It certainly takes drive and clear goal orientation to get up early and train. Balancing training, work and your social life can be difficult, and we have all go hard in the gym after a guilty night of drinking or junk food. But what happens when you’re determination diminishes for no particular reason? Should you take a rest day, or are you just being lazy?

Lack of motivation

One of the first signs you need a day off is a lack of motivation. Motivation is what drives us to train, so that lack of drive or thought to skip training can be the first sign you actually do need the rest. Of course there are other physiological signs too - some are obvious and some more subtle. Signs of depression, a change in mood and/or the diminished ability to focus, may mean that now is a good time to take a break and rest for the day.

Lack of recovery

Athletes monitor their resting, training and recovery heart rates. Lack of recovery time can result in an elevation of the resting heart rate, which can lead to a higher working heart rate with a longer recovery time. If lactic acid levels were measured you would notice a build up during lower intensity exercise, as well as earlier in the training. This lactic acid also won’t be removed as efficiently. Slow muscle recovery and growth can be a sign that you aren’t getting adequate rest. Physical exercise can damage muscle fibres and creates sore and a painful feelings the next day. If you give your body enough rest time, this will allow the muscle to reconstruct in a stronger formation and increase it’s size.

Loss of appetite

A loss of appetite, constant cravings for a quick sugar hit, or reliance on caffeine pre-workout, are signs that the body is not coping with the training load. It shows that the nervous system is not recovering as it should. The sympathetic system is working more than the parasympathetic. Digestive upsets and abdominal bloating can indicate a lack of parasympathetic “rest and digest” time. By allowing your body to rest, you’ll be sure to gain your regular appetite again so you can perform better in the gym and during your workout.

Not feeling 100%

Disturbed sleeping patterns, insomnia and fatigue are common signs that your client is stressed, as well as over trained. They may justify it by saying it’s due to work pressures, and use exercise to resolve the issue. However while endorphins will make you feel refreshed temporarily, exercise might actually compound the problem and mask the actual cause.

Having a few ‘ups and downs’ can be quite common. We often push through it and perhaps consider a big sleep in or an afternoon nap as a way of catching up and getting over it. But irregular sleep patterns mean your clients are exhausted and need a day off training. Remember 7.5 hours sleep is optimal, and it’s often said that it’s the hours before midnight that help recovery the most.

Torn muscles, inflamed tendons or injuries are common signs of overtraining and fatigue.

How much time do you need to recover?

Program in recovery sessions at least once per week, and vary the intensity and duration of training. When clients are being questioned about needing a rest day they can often feel guilty, and get snappy and grumpy. This is denial! Moody behaviour is actually a sign that things need to be rectified.

Instead of having a day or two off from training completely, you may consider an “active rest day”. Active recovery means that you undertake light physical activity that won’t cause sore muscles. These kinds of activities include doing yoga, walking, swimming, stretching or going for a light hike. They’re ways to stay active on your rest day, and can help to boost your mood, your health and your recovery progress. You can of course just take a day or two off completely, but if this makes you feel “too guilty”, an active rest day may be your best option.

Sometimes a ‘less is more’ approach works. It gives the mind and body recovery and adaptation time. But how many rest days is optimal for each week? While there’s no magic number, it’s important to take into account your personal fitness level, the intensity of your normal workout routine and how your body reacts to certain workouts.

Generally, if you do a workout and you’re rather sore the next day or two, it’s best to avoid training that muscle group again until it is fully recovered to avoid injury. If you train your lower body and are sore the next day, you don’t have to rest. Instead work on your upper body strength while your lower half recovers.

It’s best to listen to your body to understand what you are capable of. If your body is crying for a rest, don’t be afraid to take a day off.

About

Annette is the Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Fitness SA/NT. She has been an active Coach and Fitness Presenter for over 30 years. Her interests lie in aqua, personal training, triathlons snow skiing, and sports coaching.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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