Who would have guessed resting requires effort?
For the last few months, I have developed a regular exercise routine. I mix up cardio and strength, making sure to give my muscles time to recover from one activity while moving onto a different one.
Unfortunately, an upper respiratory infection threw me off track last week. My daughter brought home the dreaded back to school bug, hitting me with a runny nose, cough and pressure in my chest.
For several days, I have been unable to work out with the same intensity. Even walking up a flight of stairs makes me feel out of breath. I have been very resistant to taking a rest day, but illness forced me to reexamine my routine.
I took two days off entirely, then spent one day walking at a very slow speed on the treadmill. Finally, I tried my weights routine, but found that I had to move much slower and rest longer between sets. I also had to really take my time during the cardio bursts.
Finally, I tried a yoga class for the first time in years.
Yoga helped me to center myself. I was able to focus on my breathing and stretch every muscle in my body, which had been aching from use. I had no idea that my IT band was so tight or that my hamstrings were desperate for a stretch.
After months of breaking a sweat and challenging my body daily, it is frustrating to have to pull back and do more basic exercises, especially after seeing such great results. However, it is vital to allow your body to rest and recover even when you feel perfectly healthy.
Personal trainer Jay Cardiello suggests resting every third day as a novice exerciser. Regular exercisers can get away with one rest day per week. He also suggests that after eight weeks of hard workouts, take a “de-training” week where you lighten your workout load.
Noam Tamir, founder of TS Fitness, says to aim for two rest days a week if you have reached your ideal weight and are just looking to maintain those goals.
Active vs. Passive Recovery
I am not crazy about the idea of taking a full day off of working out, unless I have a specific activity planned that prevents me from hitting the gym. Often something comes up on a weekend that keeps me from getting a workout in. That is considered passive recovery: a total rest for your body.
But there’s another option: active recovery, or an easier than normal workout. For instance, a marathon runner might take a day to jog slowly to allow their muscles and joints to relax and recover. A long, slow walk is another good option. My yoga class did not make me break a sweat, but it did allow my body to fully relax.
Other good options are hiking, lifting lighter weights, using a foam roller to work out tight muscles, swimming or cycling (as long as it is not a high intensive spin class).
The Rest Day Trap
There is a difference between a rest day and a cheat day.
I definitely have cheat days where I eat more than I should and forget about keeping up my food diary, usually on a weekend. It is important to remember that in the long run, eating habits play more of a role in losing weight than exercising non-stop. Just because I only did yoga today to rest, does not mean that I can overindulge in food as well.
Variety is important with exercise as well. Some studies show that exercising every day is fine, as long as you mix up the types of workouts you are doing. Injuries can occur if you do the same workout every day. Before I joined the gym, I did an hour on the elliptical every day, which could have led to an overuse injury. Now, I mix up my workout every day.
My Sample Workout
Wednesday: Sculpt and Shred (strength training with bursts of cardio)
Thursday: Elliptical, treadmill or cycling
Friday: Zumba and/or Body Pump
Saturday: Body Step
Sunday: Body Pump or Weights Routine
I have some days dedicated just to cardio, some to strength (making sure I have 2-3 strength days a week) and two to active rest and recovery.
The Dangers of Not Resting
Muscles and joints that are overused can become stressed and injured. An even more serious syndrome is Rhabdomyolysis, which is when muscle fibers die and release their contents into the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney failure and sometimes even death. Extreme muscle strain is one of the leading causes of Rhabdomyolysis.
Rest and Recover
I have a hard time taking a day where I do not break a sweat, but this illness proved that my body was desperate for a break. I felt great after yoga and am now determined to incorporate it into my workouts once a week.
Becoming healthier means stepping back and allowing your mind and body to rest. You have to learn what your limits are and that it is okay to give yourself time to recover.
After all, a marathon runner is not going to run another marathon the day after accomplishing one.
I have become familiar with the regulars at my gym. There is one woman in particular that I admire. She is very fit and toned, but also looks like a normal person – not a weight builder – which is my goal. She often is in my harder classes so I figured she was a fitness junkie. Much to my surprise, she walked into my yoga class.
This reinforced my determination to incorporate active rest days into my routine. After all, to be truly healthy, it is vital that I give my body a break every week.