You’ve done the research, you’ve got the exercise program and you’re sticking to it. Congratulations! In fact, it’s going so well that you’re tempted to skip the rest days to see quicker results. Big mistake. Read on to find out why rest days are so important, what to do on non-workout days and if there are any exercises you can do on rest days.
Physical exercise builds muscle by breaking down existing fibers in order to build them back up stronger. This causes inflammation, which manifests as that aching stiffness and limited range of motion familiar after a heavy session in the gym. The exercise causes a temporary ‘damage’, which on your rest day your body is hard at work repairing – and it is in this recovery period that the good stuff happens, and new muscle fibers emerge. Bigger, stronger muscle fibers.
Ok, ok. You’re itching to keep moving, and nobody’s saying you should be lying flat-out on the couch all day either. But is there such a thing as an off-day workout? A simple rule-of-thumb is to relate the intensity of your rest to the intensity of your workout. If you’re hitting it really hard the days you’re in the gym, then your rest days should be similarly committed. No more than walking the dog, a casual swim or some light stretching.
If your workouts are lower intensity however, it follows that you have less to recover from and you can allow for gentle exercise – a yoga class or some steady treadmill action. The key is to gently stimulate blood flow around the body, getting more precious oxygen to those muscles in recovery.
Turn your attention to diet. A high protein diet will give your muscles what they need to rebuild for optimal strength, and plenty of fluids will help flush away toxins created as old fibers are broken down. Keep intake of both steady throughout the day and your body will thank you for it. Tackle muscle inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods such as berries and leafy greens – both super-charged with antioxidants necessary for recovery.
Lastly, why not use your rest day to treat yourself to a soothing and toning sports massage? Not that you needed any motivation to get you through to your next off day between workouts of course…
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