A rest day is a day in which a person takes a break from their regular workout routine. Rest days are an important part of any exercise program. They give the body a chance to repair and recover, and help to prevent injury.
A person should plan to have at least one rest day every 7–10 days.
This article explains why rest days are important for health and outlines some signs that may indicate a need for a rest day. We also highlight some of the issues that can occur if a person does not incorporate rest days into their workout routine.
Rest days are an important part of any exercise routine. A person should plan to take regular rest days and should learn to recognize when extra rest days are necessary. The health benefits of rest days include:
- Alleviating muscle pain and soreness: During rest days, the body has a chance to remove excess lactate from the muscles. This helps to alleviate muscle pain and soreness.
- Repairing and building muscles: Exercise creates microscopic tears in muscle tissue. During rest days, cells called fibroblasts repair and build up the muscle tissue.
- Replenishing the body’s energy stores: Glycogen is a form of energy stored in muscles. Exercise depletes glycogen levels, which leads to muscle fatigue. Rest days allow the muscles to replenish their glycogen stores, thereby reducing muscle fatigue and preparing the muscles for their next workout.
- Preventing injury: Overexercising puts repetitive stress and strain on the muscles, increasing the risk of injury.
- Allowing the mind to rest: Overexercising can tire the mind as well as the body. Tiredness can lead to poor decision making during a workout routine, which increases the risk of injury.
Certain signs may indicate that a person needs a rest day. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), some signs to look out for include:
- persistent muscle pain or soreness
- inability to complete a workout routine
- continued feelings of sluggishness following a workout
- binge eating, or craving comfort foods
- increased incidence of injury or illness
- changes in mood or behavior, such as
- prioritizing fitness over everything else
- reduced beneficial effects of the workout, such as a decreasing rate of fat loss or muscle gain.
If a person experiences any of the above signs, they should take a day or two to rest and recover.
Exercise puts a strain on the body and mind. Exercising daily without taking a rest day can cause both physical and mental exhaustion.
According to ACE, not allowing the body to rest can cause a depletion of glycogen in the muscles. This depletion can trigger the body to use proteins for energy, meaning there is less protein available to assist muscle repair and growth.
Without a rest day, muscles, joints, and other important structures do not have adequate time to repair themselves. People may also become mentally exhausted and more prone to making mistakes while training. Continually pushing on without a rest day will eventually lead to injury.
The ACE make the following suggestions for activities to do on a rest day:
- spending time on a hobby or other activity, such as coaching a sports team
- enjoying time with family or friends
- catching up with work
- reading a book or watching TV to relax
If a person is not injured or physically or mentally exhausted, they may consider taking an active recovery day (ARD), which is a day of gentle exercise.
A person should see a doctor if they believe they have sustained an injury during exercise, or if they develop an unhealthy compulsion to exercise.
In some cases, a person may know instantly that they have sustained an injury. They may experience intense pain, swelling, or inflammation.
In other cases, an injury may take several weeks to become apparent. Repetitive use injuries to joints or muscles develop slowly over time. A person can often treat such injuries by following the RICE procedure:
- Rest: Resting the affected part of the body to prevent further injury.
- Ice: Applying a wrapped ice pack to the affected area to minimize swelling and alleviate pain.
- Compression: Applying a compression bandage to the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Elevation: Elevating the affected part of the body above the level of the heart to reduce blood flow to the area and alleviate swelling.
If a person’s symptoms persist or worsen despite following the RICE procedure, they should see their doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
People should consider talking to a doctor or therapist if they feel compelled to work out. According to a 2017 review, although compulsive exercising is not a recognized mental health disorder, it is associated with the following:
If a person experiences an uncontrollable need to exercise, they should talk to a doctor or mental health professional for further advice.
Rest days are an important part of exercise for all levels of fitness. A person should take a rest day every 7–10 days or as needed to help the body and mind recover.
A rest day can be an active day that incorporates gentle exercises such as walking or yoga. Alternatively, a person may opt for a full day of relaxation.
A person should talk to their doctor if they believe they are injured or feel compelled to keep working out without stopping. A doctor will help to diagnose any issues and provide any appropriate treatments.