Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts have been taught about how important it is to take rest days, but they also have a love-hate relationship with them. On one hand, sometimes it’s nice to just sit around the house rather than rushing to the gym or a practice site. However, people who are very accustomed to regular workouts can find it very hard to convince themselves that taking days off is necessary.
One of the major reasons for that difficulty is that a rest day represents a departure from the usual routine, and that contrast can make active people feel bored — or at least, that their rest days are wasted. That’s when active rest days are very useful. They still involve activity, but it’s at a much lower intensity than usual. Keep reading to get more details on why you shouldn’t sacrifice rest days and, even more importantly, how to make the most of the ones you get.
The Benefits of Rest Days
Most people who take part in sports or otherwise live very active lifestyles are very used to being told to take active rest days. However, some of them just willingly do so without really knowing why that downtime is beneficial. In general, rest days are worthwhile because:
- Our bodies are under greater strain during workouts, and rest days allow time for recuperation.
- A lack of adequate rest days makes the immune less able to help the body recover after muscle tears and strains.
- People who do not take enough rest days put themselves at a higher-than-average risk of injury.
How Much Rest Do You Need?
Confusion often surrounds rest days. Athletes are uncertain about whether they should take a complete rest day — when they do not do any physical activity at all (known as passive recovery) — or do a light workout (active recovery).
Usually, the answer to that question depends on the kind of athlete you are. For help, consider consulting a sports medicine specialist. You can also experiment with different types of light workouts that encourage mental clarity. They’re especially helpful if you take part in a sport that is mentally and physically taxing.
Also, it may be appropriate to do a type of activity that has the advantage of being very low-impact on your joints, such as underwater training. Using an underwater treadmill or something similar can boost your performance on land, while reducing your risk of injury.
This piece will focus activities you can do during an active recovery rest day. Before choosing activities to do, it’s important to be mindful of intensity. Active recovery involves light movement or muscle stimulation.
As a general rule, any sort of exercise performed during an active recovery day should not make you feel worse when you’ve finished than you did at the start of the activity. Otherwise, you probably worked out too hard, and that may end up being counterproductive.
To make the most of an active recovery day, consider:
Doing a Light Workout With a Friend
If you’re always participating in a very rigorous workout schedule, it can be easy to forget to make time for friends. Brighten someone’s day by calling a good friend and sharing what’s been happening in your life. Invite him or her to do a light workout with you. Getting that chance to connect can be very therapeutic for both for you.
Using Foam Rollers for Massage
Foam rollers are helpful for self-myofascial release of your muscles. Some believe using foam rollers or similar items to massage their own muscles may promote better range of motion and help individuals who struggle with overactive muscle tone.
Going for a Walk
Walking is another great option if you’re wondering how to pass the time during your active rest day. The amount of walking you do should be based on your fitness level and training schedule. If you have a dog, consider taking him along to enjoy a little canine companionship.
Jumping in the Pool
Earlier, you learned how many athletes depend on underwater training when they want to stay active while putting less stress on their joints. Moving your training regimen to the pool gives you a welcome break from the ordinary.
However, if you don’t have access to specialty equipment such as underwater treadmills, no worries — you can still have a great active rest day by donning a swim cap and pair of goggles, and swimming some laps.
Doing so is a healthy way to exercise your cardiovascular system, and the rhythmic nature of swimming can also help clear your head. As with walking, it’s important to match the amount of swimming you do to your current level of fitness. Just be careful not to be too intensive.
Yoga is an effective way to improve muscle flexibility and range of motion. The activity also centers on better mental focus, and many people find it very relaxing. If you’re new to yoga, see if instructors hold classes in your community, so you can learn some of the most common poses from a pro.
Lifting Lighter Weights Than Usual
An active rest day presents a good opportunity to lift weights, but at a lower intensity than you normally would. Doing so can help your muscles stay conditioned while still allowing them time to repair after an especially strenuous weight-lifting session.
Taking Part in Gentle Stretches
Stretching before, during and after intensive exercise is a trusted way to prevent injuries. However, stretching is also an essential part of an active rest day. It’s also helpful to focus on stretches for specific parts of the body each time you have an active rest day.
Your Rest Day Diet
During your active rest day, make sure to tailor your diet accordingly, so it’s not the same as what you’d eat if you were training at your usual intensity. Usually, that involves cutting down the amount of carbohydrates you consume by 50-100 grams. This reduction fulfills your body’s nutritional needs but can help you maintain your current weight — or lose weight — despite having a rest day.
For additional guidance, it’s smart to meet with a nutritional counselor who has expertise in assisting athletes and other extremely active people.
Be Flexible and Open Minded
When you’re not used to taking active rest days, the very idea of them may feel foreign, and you might even resist taking them at all. If you find that’s the case, try meeting with other people who have active lifestyles and ask them how they make the most of their active rest days. Getting input from others who have similar activity schedules to your own not only could generate some fun and worthy ways to spend your time, but it could also help you expand your circle of friends.
The possibilities above should get you off to a great start, but it’s also a good idea to be open to trying new activities to fill your downtime. Keep an open mind prior to trying new things — you may find new activities you will look forward to doing on your active rest days.
The sooner you can figure out what it takes for you to happily take active rest days and relish the change of pace, the more able your body will be to recover. Then, when you do train in full force again, your body will be capable of rising to the challenge with ease.