Rest days is something most elite athletes look forward to and plan for. Oddly enough, the average, recreational athlete like you and me, will overlook rest days in their strength and fitness regimen.
As I tell my 1:1 BarbellSTRONG Coaching (BSC) ladies – Rest days are just as important as the workout day. It’s programmed intentionally to allow your body to replenish glycogen stores, repair muscle damage from exercise, and get you performing better the next workout session.
Nothing will zap your performance, creativity, focus, productivity, and energy faster than operating out of a constant state of anxiety, urgency, scarcity, and criticism. Women in particular tend to overlook rest days because we are used to doing so much at once. From managing successful careers, businesses, households, partners, and kids, it’s no wonder rest days feel like a luxury.
In fitness, neglecting rest days leads to elevated heart rates, overtraining, chronic fatigue,
Inability to focus, and eventually injury and lack of performance.
Rest Days Done Right
It’s tempting to throw on your coziest sweatpants and park on the couch with a Netflix marathon on rest days, but for most people, an “off” day is more intentional than that. If you’re strength training 3-4x days a week, like most of my BSC ladies are, your “off” activity will be 30-40 minutes of moderate level of conditioning, Pilates, or mobility work. You want the rest day activity to complement your training and that might involve addressing a combination of core work, endurance work, and mobility.
Pilates has always been my #1 recovery tool on rest days because it hits five key necessities that complement the heavy lifting I do in my own program: Core strengthening, joint stability, low-impact, strengthening of smaller muscles, and stretching.
Depending on your fitness level or activity, strength training might actually be part of your rest day activity. If you’re a runner, an “off” day might look like working on posterior chain and core strength — two important factors necessary for strong running performance and injury prevention. If you’re a powerlifter, recovery might look like 30-minutes on the bike or rower for conditioning, followed by a visit to the chiropractor or massage therapist.
Make Sleep a Priority
Regardless of when your scheduled “off” day is, the amount of sleep you get on a daily basis can propel you to greater fitness levels or hold you back entirely. The standard seven to eight hours works for the average recreational athlete, but if you’re an athlete training for a specific event, you may need eight to nine. I’ve seen professional athletes clock in ten+ hours of sleep per night and incorporate daily naps as part of their recovery. While this may not be in the realm of possibilities for everyone (don’t let your boss catch you napping at work)! you can still set-up your life to get adequate sleep by cutting out caffeine late in the day, avoiding alcohol 3-4 hours before bed, and shutting off your electronics at least 1-2 hours before going to sleep to get your body ready for a great night’s sleep.
Eating Smart is Key
Regardless of when your rest day is, nutrition is a crucial part of your recovery, too. If you’re serious about your performance and want results, being intentional about the amount of food you consume and the quality of those foods will enable your muscles to repair and grow, and give you energy to perform at your best.
It’s tempting to skip meals because you’re busy or indulge in a full day of “cheat” meals but that may be the very thing impairing your performance and ability to adequately recover. Nutrition doesn’t have to become an obsession, but it’s worth investing in a nutritionist not a meal plan that will educate you about the process of eating for your performance. I have worked with nutritionist plenty of time before and have seen my focus, energy, strength, and progress sky rocket when I’m eating smart consistently and at over 2,000 calories per day!
Changing your body composition and enhancing performance comes down to being strategic about what you do in the workout and what you do outside of it. Be intentional about your recovery.