Rest and why it's so important
The benefits of exercising are well documented and firmly based in evidence. It can change your quality and outlook on life. However, rest days are just as important as exercise days. Some people believe having a rest day is going to ruin your gains and the more sessions you do, the better it’ll be. This is an outdated thinking pattern.
Doing too much exercise can lead to burnout and overuse injuries.
Sleep issues are common! A lack of sleep can be one of the biggest impediments to recovery!
Sleeping allows our hearts to rest as well as our cells and tissues to repair themselves. This will especially help after physical exertion. Sleeping also prevents illnesses. During our sleep cycle, our bodies produces Cytokines which are hormones made to help fight off infections.
What we eat and drink, medications, the environment we sleep in will greatly affect the quality and quantity of our sleep. If all of these factors decrease, even slightly, our quality of sleep will be greatly improved!
There are still strategies to help improve our sleep. To understand this more, we have to recognise the three components of sleep. These are our sleep duration, which is the total time asleep, our sleep quality, which is the standard of our sleep, and lastly, our sleep phase, which is our actual bedtime and our sleep routine. Any strategy to help improve our sleep must be targeting at least one of these three sleep components.
When planning to improve your sleep, it’s important to understand general sleep recommendations, which include the minimum sleep duration of six to eight hours a night. From here we can start specifically improving other areas of our sleep. Some tips could include
- Improving the environment of the bedroom. EG: cooler and darker room.
- Having some downtime before bed. EG: removing all technology, reading a book, avoiding exposure to bright lights
- Avoiding having sugar and coffee later in the day
As much as exercising every day is vital to our health, rest days are just as important as our exercising days. A good fitness lifestyle is achieved with our rest days. Taking regular rest days is a critical part of training. If we don’t however, this can lead to burnout and overtraining, two things we don’t want to happen.
When you are exercising, whether you’re doing your group class or your PT sessions, you are creating microscopic tears within your muscles. Which is why you often feel a bit sore after your sessions. The only way for these microscopic tears to restore is rest. This is when our cells repair the tears, helping restore and allowing for the tissue to grow stronger. As well as growing and repairing our muscles, we are also replenishing our energy stores (carbohydrates in the form of glycogen) before our next workout.
Having a rest day also helps reduce our risk of injury. When your body is overworked, we increase our risk of injury as your muscles will likely not have the proper form needed for the exercises, which can create long term injuries. This can sometimes lead to forced rest for weeks/months as your body is more severely injured.
Having a rest day also helps support our sleep cycle. When exercising, our energy boosting hormones increase. Constant stimulation of these hormones can lead to fatigue, which in turn can result in a hard time getting quality sleep, which will only worsen fatigue.
Rest days however don’t have to include lying on the couch. If you are completing vigorous activity, you can have a lighter work day. This leads into our next topic of recovery.
Active and Passive Recovery
Active recovery, includes low intensity movements, such as walking, yoga, stretching. Passive recovery however, involves no activity and just simply letting your body rest either by actually resting, sleeping, massage or therapeutic treatments.
After you have completed a hard, intense workout an active recovery will help reduce your muscle lactate faster. Lactate is a waste product that our muscles produce, basically that burning feeling after a good, hard work out. By completing a low intensity workout, you will help your bloodstream in clearing waste products allowing your body to get back to your normal, energised state.
You can engage in active recovery, or simply relax and put your feet up. This is what we call passive recovery. Muscles are given a full relaxation, maybe even stretch but then nothing more utill your next session. Learning this rest skill is hugely beneficial for achieving progression. This type of recovery does little to promote blood flow, but minimises the stress on the body.
A combination of both type of recoveries are greatly beneficial. A blend of both will help maximise your performance. Some ways you could integrate both could be having a proper warm up and cool down for 5-10 minutes. Try a combination of both dynamic and static stretching. As well as listening to your body, utilise heat or ice to help address pain and soreness.
When your body starts feeling fatigued, constant muscle or joint pain, emotional and hormonal changes, sleeping issues and reduced overall everyday performance, this is a huge sign that your body is telling you that its time to start looking into some rest.
So, whether you’re new to exercise, or a veteran regular rest is crucial. It’s necessary for muscle repair, preventing overuse and fatigue, and improving overall performance. So, take the most out of your recovery days and do some low intensity workouts such as walking or yoga, these activities will help you stay somewhat active while letting your body rest.
Remember with enough rest, your body will be performing at your best!
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