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How to Do Workout Rest Days Right

Everyone falls somewhere on the health and fitness spectrum. While some need a little extra motivation, others may fall victim to mental burnout from over training. Regardless of your current fitness habits and goals, making sure to pencil in time for recovery is just as important as planning the workout regimen.

We invited Amy Jo Overlin, MD, an orthopedic sports specialist at Banner – University Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute in Phoenix, AZ, to share a few tips for maintaining balance as you train.

“We frequently see acute and chronic injuries due to overuse,” said Dr Overlin. “For runners, this may present as a stress fracture in the foot. For a swimmer, it may be rotator cuff impingement.” No matter your sport, there is such a thing as overdoing it. Even professional athletes know that peak performance includes budgeting time for rest and recovery.

What is a rest day?

Dr. Overlin went on to explain that a rest day is a chance for your body to recover from the repetitive microtrauma that comes from exercise. In some cases, a “rest day” may actually last 2-3 days, depending on the strain your body underwent and how quickly your body can rebuild.

Rest days can include yoga, Pilates, foam rolling or stretching and/or light aerobic activity.  Cross training at high intensities does not count as a rest day, although if you’re returning to training from an injury, it can help to prevent a re-injury. In short, a rest day should include, well… rest. It’s as simple as that.

Why are rest days so important?

During a workout we naturally cause the breakdown of tissues. It’s not just your muscles that need to rest, bones and tendons also feel the stress of exercise. When we give our bodies proper time to recover, the tissue will build itself back up stronger than it was before, thus making us stronger, faster, etc. “It’s easy to forget that process when you’re pushing your body to achieve more,” said Dr. Overlin. “The rebuilding phase is the part that actually makes you stronger.”

When too many workouts occur in a row without proper recovery the muscle and bone that has been impacted doesn’t have time to repair. This leaves tissues vulnerable to further injury, such as muscle strains, tendinopathies, and stress fractures.

Did you know that your brain needs a rest day too? A long run or vigorous workout can be like therapy for an over-occupied brain. Yet, just like the rest of your body, your brain is tired after exercise. Regular rest days will help you stay mentally motivated, focused and in touch with what your body needs.

5 steps to preventing overuse injuries

Healthy athletes should incorporate rest days into their schedule. But there is more to resting than sitting on the couch. Dr. Overlin offers five steps that every casual or serious athlete should remember.

1. Make a plan

Give your mind and body a predictable schedule. Work a rest day into your routine every 2-3 days.

2. Cross train

Cross training other muscle groups doesn’t count as a rest day. But be sure to include your full body in your workout plan. Be sure to work muscle groups that may not be routinely emphasized in your primary sport.

3. Be flexible

Strength and endurance are important, but flexibility and stability are also vital elements for every athlete. Try incorporating yoga or Pilates into your workout to increase your flexibility and balance.

4. Get plenty of sleep

“Sleep is often a forgotten keystone habit,” said Dr. Overlin. “Your body needs sleep to heal and recover. Consistently getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night allows your body to perform at its very best during each workout session.”

5. Stay hydrated

Overuse injuries are more likely to occur if you are not well hydrated and being hydrated also helps you get nutrients to your muscles as they work and recover. Stay hydrated to help clear away any toxins created while working out. This also has the added benefit of preparing your body for another day of work.

Constructing a well-rounded and effective workout plan can be complicated but the results are extremely rewarding. Read these articles to learn more about fitness from Banner experts like Dr. Overlin.

Orthopedics Physical Therapy Sports Medicine