While days off from the gym may leave you feeling lost, wondering what the hell to do with yourself, they aren't merely a waste of time between workouts. What many people fail to realize is that your rest days ARE in fact a crucial part of your training program - or at least, they should be. Rest days, whether they are planned or impromptu, are essential to your progress, and you should put just as much thought and effort into making those happen, too. 


From taking a day off to let your muscles recoup to taking a full week to get your head back in the game, there are numerous benefits to skipping the gym:

  1. Facilitate muscle growth. Muscles grow when you allow them to heal after tearing them down. Your body rushes to repair the muscle fibers that were torn and damaged during your workouts, rebuilding them stronger than ever. Your rest days are when this restorative process takes place, and if you skip them, no matter how much you are working out, you will not only get weaker, but you'll set the stage for injuries. The process takes 24-48 hours, so your muscles need that much time off to recoup. You can manipulate this by splitting your workouts by muscle group to avoid training them on consecutive days, but be aware, even if you are giving your arms a break while you do leg day, your arms are still integral parts in those lifts, even if they aren't the direct target. Full rest days are needed at least once a week to not only allow all of your muscles to grow stronger, but to avoid overuse injuries.

    2.Avoid overtraining. Overtraining is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but it's actually a serious condition where you are putting so much physical demand on your body for an extended period of time that its survival mechanisms kick in to protect itself. Not only will your results stall or reverse no matter how hard you work, but you'll experience other symptoms that can effect all areas of your life, including irritability, mood swings, insomnia, depression and lack of motivation. Rest days are crucial to stave off overtraining.
  1. Catch some extra ZZZs. Sure, extra sleep is always an enjoyable thing, but sleep can be more beneficial for your health than a workout if you're running low. If you're trying to decide between your workout and catching up on some much needed sleep, sleep should win. Here's why: while you sleep, your body is hard at work repairing your cells from the demands of the day and getting it ready for what you'll put it through during the next. Sleep is not only when you grow stronger, and replenish energy stores but it helps your brain function at its best, reduces your risk of chronic diseases and boosts your immune system to fight off disease and illness. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, messes with your hormones, causing an increase in hunger and appetite while signaling your body to store fat. Not only that, but if you are feeling fatigued and sleep deprived, your workouts will feel harder, and your lack of concentration and focus can set you up to get hurt. 
  1. Keep motivation levels high. From a psychological standpoint, taking a few days off can rekindle your hunger for exercise and help prevent burning out. Mental fatigue can be every bit as detrimental to your health and performance in and out of the weight room as physical fatigue, and taking a rest day helps to recharge the psyche. If a day off stretches into two or 5, don't worry: while everyone is a little different, in general it takes your body almost two weeks of non-activity before you start losing a noticeable amount of strength or muscle mass. If you're dragging yourself into the gym every day and starting to dread it instead of looking forward to it, a little absence can make the heart grow fonder.
  1. Reduce stress. Yes, exercise works to reduce stress on a chemical level, but if you have so much on your plate you're head's about to explode, and your workouts have become one more thing on that ever growing to-do list, take a mental health day. Stress hormones, like cortisol, will work against you more than a workout will work for you. Health is an all-encompassing thing, so take care of yourself mind, body and soul.

 

 

by Kelly Turner

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