Exercise is an essential component of health and wellness in an individual's life. Daily movement, strength training, aerobic exercise and low intensity exercise are beneficial for our body on a weekly basis. The key when it comes to weekly movement is to ensure you have the right balance of exercise per week in order to avoid overtraining and injury. This leads to the question, how many rest days should you be taking a week?
Rest days are crucial for optimizing athletic performance, muscle growth, fat loss, and to avoid injury. Oftentimes, individuals think exercising weekly indicates exercising daily, this is not the case. Sometimes even the best of intentions can eventually take a toll on the body. While enjoying some sort of movement every day is generally a good rule of thumb to follow, too much high-intensity or high-impact exercise can actually be counterproductive. When consistently performing these types of exercises, it is best to make sure you take rest days during the week to allow your body to recover.
How Many Rest Days Do You Need Each Week?
Truthfully speaking, it depends on the individual and their training intensity. If you are someone who performs higher intensity, resistance training, you need at least one full rest day each week. This is because strength training workouts are generally performed by one muscle group at a time. One day would be leg focused, the next could be back focused, followed by arms, glutes, and chest. This allows for different parts of the body to recover while other parts are being trained. A good rule of thumb for training multiple muscle groups per week is to make sure you are taking rest if a muscle group is still sore. For example, if you workout your legs and they are sore the next day, this would indicate your legs need rest that day and most likely the day following. Allowing at least 2 days of rest before exercising the same muscle group can help to ensure their muscle fibers have fully recovered.
Working every muscle group is important each week. However, it is advised to save at least 1-2 full rest days where you are not training to give your body a break. This doesn’t mean you have to sit around all day though, you can still have active rest and recovery on these days.
What is Active Recovery?
Rest days do not have to consist of laying around all day! You can still partake in some forms of physical activity beyond your daily work and/or home life activities. Active recovery days are a great way to allow your body to recover, but still have enough movement to prevent lactic acid build up in your muscles. Some examples of active recovery are a casual, relaxing walk or a nice swim. The important thing is to give your body a break. So avoid over-doing it with high-intensity and/or high-impact exercises. A recovery day can go a long way. In fact, studies show that injury rates decline and exercise performance increases when rest days are incorporated into a healthy physical activity routine. Aim for 1 full rest day per week, but listen to your body. If you train hard multiple days per week, your body may need 2-3 rest days each week.
What Happens If You Overtrain Weekly?
With inadequate rest and recovery, overtraining can occur. Overtraining can increase your risk of injury and some additional health consequences. So, how do you know if you’re overtraining? There are a few signs and symptoms of overtraining. The most obvious ones are constant muscle soreness, fatigue and joint pain. However, there are additional signs of overtraining that an individual may not realize are from excessive exercise. These symptoms can lead to more serious health repercussions if not treated. These symptoms include:
- Loss of Appetite - inadvertently can lead to vitamin deficiencies
- Lack of Motivation
- Amenorrhea- Missing or irregular period
- Lack of energy
- Decrease physical performance during exercise - weaker, more fatigued, unable to progress in weight, taking longer breaks
- Increased risk of sickness
How To Optimize Rest Days
Now we know rest days each week are essential to prevent injury and diminish the risk of additional health consequences. So the next question is, how can you optimize your rest day to its fullest potential? Through adequate diet and recovery tactics, you can use rest days as a way to overall boost your health and muscle recovery.
When it comes to diet during post workout recovery days, it's important to make sure we consume enough protein, complex carbohydrates, water, fiber, and healthy fats. According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine, 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, is recommended for athletes. Protein is an essential component of our muscle recovery process during rest days. Protein helps repair and rebuild tissues, is necessary for metabolic reactions, coordinates bodily functions, provides structural framework via muscle formation, helps maintain proper pH and even supports healthy fluid balance.
Complex carbohydrates are the next nutrient to utilize weekly, but on rest days as well. Complex carbohydrates are depleted during exercise and when consumed post workout and on rest days, help to restore our bodies glycogen levels. Some examples of high fiber complex carbohydrates to consume include quinoa, oats, brown rice, fruit (such as berries, apples, peaches, etc.) and vegetables of all kinds! These foods are also incredibly anti-inflammatory, thus helping to boost immunity, and reduce inflammation that can flare up in the body after an intense workout. Without adequate protein and carbohydrate replacement, your body may instead use existing muscles as a source of energy, which can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue. This can ultimately slow recovery from workouts and minimize strength training progress.
Another way to optimize your rest day is through a self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching technique such as foam rolling. Foam rolling can deliver improvements in flexibility, muscle recovery, range of motion, and pain reduction with just minutes of performing this technique in different areas of the body. Foam rolling can help to loosen and break up fascia. Fascia are our body’s connective tissues. Having a build up of fascia is what gives the appearance of cellulite. Breaking down this fascia with foam rolling has been shown to contribute to the reduced appearance of cellulite.
Lastly, stretching is an incredibly important aspect of recovery and can be performed during rest days. Stretching has been proven to improve joint and muscle flexibility, enable our muscles to move more efficiently, and prevent injury. Properly stretching for recovery requires static stretching. This is where we hold a stretch of a muscle for 30-60 seconds. Slow breathing can help to deepen the stretch and improve flexibility. Without stretching, our muscles can shorten and become tight. Optimize your rest days by incorporating stretching on a consistent basis. You will set yourself up for maximum success for the workouts that follow!
Benefits of Taking Rest Days
We now know how overtraining can lead to physical and mental complications. So let’s focus on the positive. Taking rest days each week not only allows time for your muscles to recover, but rest days also have some additional benefits. Rest days can also have psychological benefits to the mind. While exercise can have benefits to reducing stress, taking a rest day can also help to regulate our cortisol levels and stress response. Resting allows our hormones to not over-drive and this can lead to better sleep, an improved mood, regulate hunger cues, and prevent burnout. Exercising in all forms is a privilege. To be able to move our body in different ways, push our limits, grow muscle, lose fat, and release endorphins is a beautiful benefit we receive in life and taking a proper rest day or multiple rest days allows us to continue to move our body long-term.
Taking a rest day at least once per week, and possibly more depending on how strenuous your exercise routine is, will overall boost your muscle recovery, athletic performance and health. Do your body a favor and take a rest day! Look for activities you enjoy such as socialization, coffee dates, or nature walks. Not only will these forms of activities on rest days bring you joy, but your body will be ready to take on the upcoming week of workouts.
Mikaela Frame See all the author’s articles