I get questions fairly regularly around rest days, and how often they should be taken.
Why do we need (or think we need) rest days?
Often, we think of rest days as what you take between your gym sessions to allow you to recover, usually a day where you don’t do anything physical at all.
This rest day thinking is a bit flawed.
You’re not going to over-train.
The human body is designed to move, and avoiding movement/physical activity completely is unlikely to leave you feeling refreshed, limber and ready to go for your next training session.
Plus, your body is capable of doing a lot of work, even if it doesn’t feel like it currently, and we have evolved to move regularly throughout the day.
Just look back to our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors who were up and about all day long, and compare it to us now, training for an hour a few times per week and taking a nice rest on the days in between.
It’s unlikely you’re pushing your body anywhere near it’s limits at that rate.
All this isn’t to say that you should start heading to the gym with the aim of crushing yourself every day, so we should probably look at reframing what we mean by ‘rest’.
When we say ‘rest’ what we really mean is recovery.
So how should we approach our recovery, and when should we make it our focus?
Your recovery should be a part of every day, and it includes the amount and quality of your sleep, the nutrients you’re putting into your body, and the management of your stress levels both physical and psychological.
As well as those things, it’s putting in the work to make sure that you’re staying mobile throughout your body.
If you don’t get these things sorted out then you may well feel like you’re over-training, but in reality you’re under-recovering.
Towards the end of last week, the muscles around my low back started to feel a bit average, and I was waking up a bit stiff and sore.
I’ve been doing my regular strength training sessions, plus some work capacity sessions (sled pushes and trap bar carries) on the days in between, and a couple of trail runs per week.
It felt like I put too much load through my body, but in actuality I probably (definitely) didn’t do enough mobility and myo-fascial release work during that period, which is what caught up to me in the end, as my sleep and diet were quite good.
So this week rather than stopping completely, I’m helping my body recover instead.
The focus of this weeks sessions has been on structural balance and general mobility, plus I’m limiting the amount of loading through my spine for the week.
I already feel great too, and I can almost guarantee that if I’d stopped moving completely to rest, then I’d be feeling even worse by now.
How do you include enough recovery?
When looking at your training week there should be undulations in movement intensity throughout, but no days where there is absolutely zero movement.
So if Monday involves a really tough weight training session and an interval sprint session at a high intensity to finish, then Tuesday may focus on mobility work and an hour hike at a moderate intensity.
Every fourth week you may take a week where you keep up a similar schedule and just drop the overall training intensity and/or volume to allow your body to recover before diving back into the high intensity stuff.
Another option is auto-regulation, where you adjust intensity to suit how your body feels on a given day/week.
These are just examples of course, and how your week looks is dependent on goals, injuries, training age, etc.
I hope this post gets you thinking a bit about rest and recovery, and allows you to make some improvements to how you’re moving throughout the week.
As always, thank you very much for reading and I’ll catch you next time.