As hard as you may crush a workout, the real labour happens on the day you don’t sweat. “When you exercise, your muscles undergo microtrauma. Later, what are known as satellite cells, fuse to the damaged area to repair the muscle fibers,” says Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise. But this process happens only when you’re at rest. If you keep exercising, your muscles never get a chance to repair themselves, and your progress will plateau and eventually decline. So taking time off is essential. Use these expert tactics to strengthen and maximise your rest day.
1. Don’t take rest so literally
“There’s a difference between passive and active recovery,” Matthews says. A passive-recovery day means you are not doing any physical activity, and the only time you really need one is when you’re injured or sick. Most of your days off should focus on active recovery, which involves low-intensity movement, like an easy bike ride or walking the dog, flexibility and mobility exercises, or foam rolling. These activities will increase circulation and assist in bringing key nutrients to your muscles so they repair faster. Matthews says, the goal is to get your heart rate up slightly and loosen any tightness, not break a serious sweat.
2. Give your mind a break too
Stressed exercisers took longer to bounce back from a strength workout than those who were more Zen, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports. Researchers say elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may impede recovery. Combat stress and speed muscle re-building by practicing this breathing exercise at least once a day, says Tiffany Grimm, a member of the performance innovation team at EXOS, a training facility in Phoenix Breather in four counts, hold for two, and exhale six. “This brings the heart rate down, lowers blood pressure, and restores glycogen, which your muscles use as fuel,” she says.
3. See Your Friends
Exercising triggers your body’s stress and immune responses, and taking a day off allows these systems to recover. Socialising may make them shut down even faster, says Blair T. Crewther, Ph.D., a sport science consultant. That bonding time may also lead to the release of hormones such as oxytocin and testosterone, which have energy-boosting, mood elevating, and pain-reducing properties.
4. Keep your calories steady
Many people dial back their food intake on days they’re not working out, but that can backfire, says Marni Sumbal, R.D.N., the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition. It can mess with your next sweat session too, she adds. “Your energy stores will be depleted, so the following day, you might feel overly tired,” Sumbal say. Stay consistent with your healthy diet.
5. Sleep, sleep, and more sleep
“Banking on sleep has been shown to be beneficial for recovery,” says Amy M. Bender, Ph.D., a sleep scientist at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Alberta. When you’re snoozing, your levels of cortisol are low and your body releases growth hormone, which helps turbocharge the tissue-and muscle-rebuilding process.