I get these question all the time; Are rest days important? Will I lose the progress I've made if I take a rest day? Can I just do cardio on my rest days?
I want to dive a little deeper into these questions and give you some solid answers and consequences of not allowing your body the rest it needs.
Are rest days important?
First of all, we need to start including rest days into our week and programming if we're not already. Rest days are part of the process. You only do more damage and make your workouts less effective if you're trying to exercise every day. You'll also drive yourself crazy if you tell yourself you're being lazy by taking a rest day, so understand rest days are not optional. Let me repeat, REST DAYS ARE NOT OPTIONAL.
Rest days do two things for your body/progress: 1. They allow your body to actually recover from the exercise and build/repair your muscles. Results are seen through adequate rest, NOT the work done alone. Without rest, you're stuck in the breakdown recovery trap and your progress will stall out; you may even gain weight if rest is not given properly! 2. They give your body a break from the stress of exercise and prevent over-training. Not only can over-training can be devastating and dangerous, but it can stop progress in it's tracks. Let's look at some symptoms of over-training:
Persistent muscle soreness (if you're too sore to go to the bathroom after leg day, you've over-trained. This is the most common and easily identifiable sign of over-training).
Elevated resting heart rate
Increased susceptibility to colds and infections
Irregular periods or changes to your menstrual cycle
If you have any symptoms on the list, consider taking more rest days and turning down the volume of your workouts. They shouldn't kill you!
Here's the deal: Exercise is a stress on your body. If you don't give your body the rest it needs, it will make you sick. If you consistently avoid your body's signals for rest, it has the power to make you chronically sick. It's common knowledge that constant inflammation leads to major diseases, yes? Sugar is the typical culprit people blame in that scenario, but exercise also leads to inflammation. With proper rest, it's a great stress on the body and your body recovers and becomes stronger on a regular basis. However, when over-training occurs for extended periods of time so does inflammation. Logic then follows that your body is more susceptible not only to the common cold, but to the other forms of chronic disease we endure in this country.
Pay attention to the other sources of stress in you life and allow you workouts to adapt to that. MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER.
Will I lose the progress I've made if I take a rest day?
Absolutely not. Scientifically, that's not a thing, it just doesn't happen that quickly. As I mentioned above, resting is when your body is actually making use of all the work you've put in. If you've been consistently restricting calories and exercising most days of the week, you may benefit significantly from a day of higher calorie intake (NOT an excuse to eat a full pizza, btw) and an extra rest day. Any negative impacts you "see" from a day off are 100% mental. Allow yourself some time off and cut yourself some slack. I will repeat: more is not better.
Can I just do cardio on my rest days?
Cardio as an exercise (i.e. stair stepper, running, etc.) is off limits during your rest days. They're for doing light activity at most. This means going for a walk with your family, although technically cardio is not going to push your body to it's limit and, is therefore a good way to stay lightly active, getting in some steps and movement without making you sweat or need a post-workout shake. Stop trying to get around a rest day and give yourself a break. You won't get lazy or gain a ton of body fat in one day, despite what you tell yourself. We are our own worst critics, after all!
MORAL OF THE STORY
Rest days are crucial for your progress. They are not optional. Find something to do on your rest days you enjoy that is not exercise. Read a great book for an hour, sit with your S/O and have a great conversation over dinner, go on a date night, whatever you can do that makes you look forward to and enjoy your rest days, instead of dreading them and trying to do anything but exercise. Regardless of how much you enjoy exercise, it is only part of your life. It's important to have other interests and pursue other things that make you happy. If your identity is wrapped up in exercise, an over-training injury is likely and it will be devastating to how you view yourself. You have so much value outside of how much you can lift, how far you can run or how many days you can string together workouts.
xo, Corin Groustra