Rest is a crucial ingredient in any recipe for good health. When getting in shape, a string of strenuous workouts will only weaken the body without adequate recovery periods in between. Hard workouts tear down the body, and then rest builds it back up. It’s the one-two punch that leads to good fitness.
However, getting quality rest doesn’t have to mean staying out of the gym. It just means being smart about what you do during recovery days.
Rest your tired muscle groups
Did you just do a killer chest workout? Then don’t do any pushups, bench press or other chest exercises on your recovery day. Did you just do a killer 8-mile run? Then if you must do cardio on your rest day, do 10 minutes of easy biking. Find creative ways to work out while allowing your most heavily taxed muscles to rebuild.
Turn down the intensity
No matter which exercises you do on your rest day, don’t do them at full intensity. Remember, your goal on rest days should ultimately be recovery — any exercise you do is just to keep your body loose and ready. You should never work so hard on a rest day that you feel like you’ll need another rest day immediately afterward.
Use the opportunity to stretch
Even avid gym rats often neglect their flexibility. On days when you’re not putting in hardcore, time-intensive workouts, you can cover a lot of ground (and aid in recovery) simply by doing various simple stretches. Be sure to hit the muscle groups that are most in need of recovery; carefully stretching your tired muscles will prevent soreness while improving range of motion. Plus, you’ll be able to jump back into higher-intensity workouts with lower chances of being injured.
Watch your diet
Be careful with your diet. It’s tempting to gorge on bad foods knowing you won’t be putting in a hard workout, but remember that whatever you put in your body during your rest day will most likely still be with you the following day — and nothing can kill a workout faster than a full or upset gut. Be responsible with your diet and don’t eat anything that’s too far out of left field. Also, don’t eat too much.
Maintain your routine
Rest days aren’t like normal recovery days in terms of what you do and how hard you do it. However, the logistics of your day should be pretty similar. If you normally work out during the morning, then still work out in the morning. If you usually eat a small snack before working out, then keep doing that, too. The more closely you can stick with your usual routine, the easier time you’ll have jumping back into tougher workouts.
Don’t think of rest days as resting; think of it in terms of active recovery. Nothing good ever comes from just camping on the couch and doing nothing for hours on end. Finding ways to stay active without straining your body will help you feel rejuvenated and ready for your next hard workout.