When you’re in the zone and loving your workouts, it can be tempting to skip rest days. Your workouts are making you feel great and you’re seeing progress, so why would you not work out?! However, like most things in life, exercise is all about balance. While it’s great that you want to work out harder and more often, time out is a vital part of any exercise plan – and exercising without taking rest days can actually do your body – and your mind – more harm than good.
Not taking a rest day when you need it can increase your risk of injury, decrease your performance, crush your motivation and suck the joy out of an activity you once loved. Rest days are hugely underrated because they can actually stop you from burning out and losing your mojo.
How can you tell you need to take a rest day?
Getting in tune with your physical and mental wellbeing is important when deciding when it’s time to take a rest day. Here are some physical and mental signs that you should skip a workout and have some chill time instead.
You’re really sore
It’s normal to feel sore after a workout, especially if your workout was particularly intense or included movements your body isn’t used to. The soreness that comes after a workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS usually lasts between 24-48 hours after your workout. However, if the soreness continues for more than a week, then it’s worth asking yourself if you need more rest in order to let your body recover properly. Also, if at any point the soreness is a 7 out of 10 or higher on a 1-10 scale, you should definitely take a day off – or at least rest the body part that is aching.
You’re dreading your workout
You may think that exercising just challenges your body, but it also challenges your brain too. Exercise demands focus, discipline, and mental fortitude, which is why your brain, just like your body, needs time to recover afterwards. Sometimes, the biggest sign that you need to take a rest day is when you really feel like you don’t want to exercise. The ‘ugh its workout time’ mentality isn’t good and isn’t the way you should be feeling about exercising. Exercise has many positive effects on us mentally, however we need to be careful that this doesn’t flip and have negative mental effects instead.
You’re warmed up and still not feeling it
Most of the time, you should be raring to go and feeling motivated about working out. However, some days, a workout just doesn’t appeal, even if you know it’ll make you feel better. More often than not, once you start moving your body, your mindset will shift and you’ll be able to mentally embrace the workout. This is not always the case though, and if you make it through the warm-up and you find you’re still not connecting to the workout, you should probably just call it quits!
Your muscles are cramping
If you experience muscle cramps while doing relatively gentle activities, or if you wake up in the night with pain/cramps, this may be a sign that your body is excessively fatigued. Dehydration or muscle overuse can cause that muscle to cramp – one of the main side effects of intense exercising. So, if random muscle cramps are ambushing your workout, do your body a favour and take a day off.
Your workout feels much harder than usual
We all have days where we’re just not feeling it, whether that’s physically, mentally or emotionally. If these feelings happen when you’re thinking of working out – maybe you feel like you’re dragging yourself on a run, or you’re unable to focus during yoga, or you just don’t have the mental capacity or energy to complete your usual weight lifting routine – it’s probably a sign you need to rest. Before you even start a workout, it can help to take a moment to check in with yourself. Ask: How am I feeling today? What is my body telling me? Use those answers to determine what is really best for you.
You feel like you have to work out
If you feel like you have to work out – and become angry or anxious if you can’t – you may be dealing with compulsive exercise. Other signs and symptoms include continuing to exercise despite injury or other health conditions that make it difficult, exercising that interferes with other important activities, hiding your exercise form others, or using exercise as a way to try to negate calories you eat. If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms, or are concerned about your relationship with exercise, seeking out a qualified mental health professional can be an important step. Even if your commitment to exercise isn’t as extreme as the above, but it’s still causing you to neglect other important areas of your life like spending quality time with family and friends, it may be time to consider taking a day off. Fitness is an important component to overall health – but definitely not the only component.
What should you do on rest days?
Rest days don’t have to be spent on the sofa with a boxset. Active recovery – that’s very gentle, low-impact exercise – can be beneficial too. Walking the dog, playing in the park with your children, stretching and self-massage with a tool like a foam roller can all get the blood flowing and help you relax. Rest days are also the perfect time to give your mind a break too so you feel refreshed and ready for your next workout. Try meditating or having a long bath with some relaxing music or a good book! Sleep is also another key component to remember! Sleep helps our body to repair and leaves us feeling full of energy and ready to go when we wake up.
Experts often highlight the benefits of exercise on our physical and mental health; however, it is so important to keep everything balanced in order to be at our best both physically and mentally. The most important thing is to listen to our bodies and once we start doing this, the benefits will come rolling in!