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Fitness Recovery and the Importance of Rest Days

by Alexandra Parren
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Fitness Recovery

We all know how important it is to stay active in order to keep fit and healthy, but rest and recovery often go under the radar. Rest is a very important part of being healthy so make sure you know how much you should be resting and why.

Why are rest days important?

When we train, we are putting stress and strain on our body so that it has to adapt and change. When you lift weights you are tearing your muscles and it is not until you refuel and rest that your muscles repair and grow stronger. This is why overtraining is such a problem and why rest days are so important. Read our article on overtraining to find out more about what happens when you don't rest properly.

Signs your body is in need of recovery

You’re exhausted despite having had a good night's sleep

If you know you’ve had enough sleep but you still feel exhausted in the morning, it’s a good sign your body is in need of recovery and sleep just isn’t enough. Let your muscles repair by giving them complete rest until you feel more energetic. This could be anywhere from a few days off to a week without training.

Your resting heart rate is significantly elevated

An elevated resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining as your body’s metabolic rate is increased to meet the imposed demands of training. For those who train regularly with heart rate, this will be easy to monitor. For those whose resting heart rate is unknown, the best time to take a pulse for this reading is first thing in the morning, right as you wake up. Continue to monitor your resting heart rate as you awake for the days after training and if it is normal you know you’ve had adequate recovery.

You drink plenty of water but you’re still thirsty

Suffering from an unquenchable thirst is a sign your body is not experiencing adequate recovery. When your body is in a catabolic state (ie. breaking down muscle) it becomes dehydrated. Keep your water intake high to avoid dehydration and give your body time to recover.

You are always aching

Do you feel like your DOMS will never end? If you re-train muscles before they are fully repaired, they will never have the time to recover and grow stronger. It’s normal to experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for some time after a good workout, but any more than 72 hours is a sign your body is struggling to recover and you probably need a rest. A deloading week is often added into training programmes to allow recovery and recuperation before returning to regular training frequency.

Frequent sickness

Consistent training places your body in a constant state of repair and your immune system can suffer the consequences. An increase in illness frequency suggests that your body is in need of recovery.

Tips for ensuring adequate recovery

  1. Plan rest days. Create a programme with rest and recovery sessions included. Most people plan a training regime but won’t make progressive changes to it or factor in rest. Add recovery days to ensure you get the most from your training.
  2. Nourish your body. Eat a nutrient-dense diet with adequate quality resources from carbs, proteins and fats. Nutrition helps the recovery process by replenishing the muscle and liver glycogen stores, helping to restore the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, and proteins will assist with muscle repair. This is particularly critical in your choice of post-workout meal.
  3. Ensure your recovery timing is relative to your sport or exercise. For example, a boxer or fighter will need a significant amount of recovery time in between fights. A light jog or yoga class will, in contrast, only take minimal recovery.
  4. Avoid self-medicating. Pain killers can mask the pain of an injury or ache and lead you to rush into your next session too quickly, without giving yourself adequate time to repair.
  5. Have weeks of complete rest. This will give your body time to recover and you will return with a new lease of enthusiasm for your training, with more energy and regained focus.
  6. Get a massage. Massage can help to relieve tired, achy muscles through potentially helping to break down built up fluid which will help to reduce inflammation and speed up the recovery process.
  7. Reduce stress. The stress hormone cortisol interferes with your recovery in a big way. Elevated cortisol levels will leave you stressed, moody and can cause a catabolic state where muscle is burned and fat is stored.

How many days a week should you rest?

We all have different bodies and therefore we all recover at different rates. The average person can perform 5-6 tough workouts per week with a day or two recovery. However, athletes can train multiple times per day without rest. The key to knowing when to recover and when to carry on is to listen to your body. Keep track of your progress by writing down your workouts and noticing when you feel run down, or if your progress is stalling.

Never feel guilty about letting your body recover, rest days are just as important as training days and taking a rest day will not halt your progress, instead it will do just the opposite.

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