Rest: It’s Part of the Program
I used to be someone under the mindset of “more is better”. More reps, more sets, more weight, more cardio, more dietary restriction….it’s all got to help right? Unfortunately, I could not have been more wrong as I didn’t see the results I wanted, and instead simply found myself exhausted.
Being dedicated to your fitness routine is absolutely something to be admired, but dedication does not mean driving yourself in to the ground. If you’re like how I used to be and are always skipping out on your rest days, instead of the results you’re hoping to achieve, here’s what actually happens to your body:
1) Increased Stress- Exercise stimulates your stress hormone, cortisol, and while a little bit of this hormone response is beneficial, too much adversely affects your body. The harm comes when your body is in a chronic state of stress from never being able to fully rest and recover. Cortisol specifically blocks growth hormone and acts in opposition by tearing down muscle tissue, meaning that all of your hard work in the gym could be for nothing.
2) Decreased Performance & Results- In the gym, we tear our muscles apart. That’s what lifting does- it puts stress on the muscles until the little fibers within them tear, and then muscle growth happens when these fibers heal back together. However, if you never give your body the time to heal, and you’re just always breaking your muscles down day after day, instead of feeling strong and increasing your lean muscle, you’re going to feel fatigued with minimal change in muscle mass.
3) Burnout- Not only do your muscles and hormones become exhausted from too much exercise, but your mind does too. Being in a constant state of fatigue and not seeing the strength or aesthetic improvements you expect can cause mental changes such as decreased vigor, motivation, confidence, depression and even anger.
If you keep pushing yourself past your rest days, eventually your body is going to force you to rest due to injury or illness, and that’s not fun for anyone. Instead of always trying to do more, focus on training with the mantra, “smarter not harder”. Instead of doing cardio and weights all at once, try formatting your lifting routine in to supersets. This style will keep you moving the entire time, elevate your heart rate, burn more calories, all while being achieved in half the time of two exercise segments, meaning your cortisol levels have also been elevated for half the time.
Another option to keep in mind is active recovery. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to sit still, find ways to move your body that are less intense, and simply help increase the blood flow through your body and stretch the muscles. Active forms of recovery I enjoy are yoga, walks in the park, or an easy bike ride outside on a nice day. Find what works for you, but ultimately, do yourself a favor- take a rest day for your mind and body, so you don’t end up having to take a permanent rest from an activity you love.