Finding time to rest can be challenging to say the least, but the fact is we need it. Rest days are crucial to support the body’s physiological process, enhancing both our physical and mental performance, as well as preventing burnout. Here’s what science has to say.
Muscle Repair and Recovery
Rest days play an important role in the muscle building process. (*link there to blog on how to build muscle*) During exercise, the muscles undergo microscopic damage, leading to small tears in the muscle fibre. Only during periods of rest can the body repair and rebuild these muscles, leading to muscle growth and increased strength.
Additionally, scheduling in rest days can help to prevent overtraining and strain injuries that occur when the muscles are fatigued. According to a review exploring the sleep and recovery practices of athletes, sleep has been reported as the most important recovery method used by athletes due to its restorative effect on the immune system. However, to have this effect the sleep must be of sufficient duration and quality.
Rest days are thought to contribute to the phenomenon of ‘supercompensation,’ where performance and fitness levels actually improve during the recovery phase following exercise. This means that after a period of rest, the body is better prepared to handle the next training session, leading to increased performance gains. Recovery time also allows the body to replenish glycogen stores, the muscle's primary energy source, allowing for optimal performance.
Better Quality of Sleep
Excessive exercise without sufficient rest can cause our cortisol levels to rise. While cortisol has important functions, chronic elevation can lead to impaired immune function and the breakdown of muscle. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, a rise in cortisol levels can be linked to reduced sleep duration and quality. We need rest days to balance this hormone, therefore resulting in better quality sleep.
State of Mind
Rest days offer not only a chance for physical recovery but for mental rejuvenation. When beginning a new workout regime, it’s easy to approach full tilt, only to burn out a few weeks later. Scheduling rest days can help to prevent burn out and maintain a healthy approach to exercise.
Making Rest Days Work For You
When it comes to determining your rest schedule, your body is your greatest ally. Listen to the signals. If you’re feeling fatigued, sore or mentally drained, it’s most likely a sign you’re due a rest day. However, rest days don’t have to exclude exercise completely. Active recovery is a strategy used to promote recovery and reduce muscle soreness. Unlike complete rest days, active recovery days involve engaging in low intensity activities that enhance blood flow, reduce muscle stiffness and facilitate the removal of metabolic waste products.
You can alternate between active recovery and complete rest days depending on your levels of fatigue and the intensity of your training schedule. Active recovery days can be beneficial in supporting the body’s healing process without subjecting it to additional stress. This can include yoga to alleviate muscle tension, low impact swimming to engage multiple muscle groups or even a walk to reduce stiffness. The aim is to promote rejuvenation without adding stress to the body.L’ACTIF Loungewear is a recipe for recovery. Pair our Athleisure Club Oversized Hoodie with the Athleisure Club Sweatshorts for a coordinated recovery ‘fit.