Fitness Plan - Pre-Workout
Fitness Plan - Pre-Workout
Fitness Plan - Pre-Workout
Fitness Plan - Beginner
Fitness Plan - Beginner
Fitness Plan - Beginner
Fitness Plan - Intermediate
Fitness Plan - Intermediate
Fitness Plan - Intermediate
Fitness Plan - Advanced
Fitness Plan - Advanced
Fitness Plan - Advanced
Fitness Plan - Post-Workout
Fitness Plan - Post-Workout
Fitness Plan - Post-Workout

Rest Days

Your muscles need rest from exercise to repair, rebuild and recover, which is why your rest days are just as important as the days you work out. Resting does not necessarily mean you’ll stay on the couch all day long. Instead of being completely sedentary, there are several things you can do to make the most out of your rest days.

7 signs that you’re exercising too much

Just like how lack of exercise can be damaging to your health, working out too much without giving your body a few days off can also be harmful. Exercise can be addictive and some people do end up working out too much — either by exercising too intensely or too frequently. Here are seven signs that you need to cut back on exercise and give your body enough time to recuperate:

  1. Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized.
  2. You get sick easily or it takes forever to get over a cold.
  3. You have the blues.
  4. You're unable to sleep or you can't seem to get enough sleep.
  5. You have ''heavy'' legs.
  6. You have a short fuse.
  7. You're regularly sore for days at a time.

One of the keys to a successful fitness plan is to listen to your body. I can provide you with guidelines and principles, but ultimately the key to your success will be learning how to be sensitive to the feedback your body is providing you and then honoring that feedback.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of excessive exercise, don’t push yourself harder, as it can seriously put your health at risk. In fact, one of the risks of excessive exercise is heart failure, so make sure you don’t skip your rest days. Continue reading to discover the beneficial activities you can do during these days so that it contributes to your fitness goals.

Meditation: Train your mind and body

Having the will to finish your workout takes mental strength just as much as physical strength. Without the mental fortitude to keep going and finish strong, your body may give in to the stress and decide to quit. This is why it’s so important to tend to your mental needs during rest days for a successful training session. Researchers have begun looking into how training your mind through meditation may in turn help you train your body.

What Is meditation?

Meditation helps you take a deliberate break from the stream of thoughts that are constantly flowing in and out of your mind. According to a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, taking the time to "train" your mind using meditation may be a simple way to enhance your physical fitness and well-being.

Researchers found that mindfulness training, which involves focusing on breathing and staying in the present moment, has an advantage over relaxation training, wherein study participants listen to calming music while relaxing their muscles.1

10 benefits of meditation

Besides helping you overcome mental barriers to exercise, meditation may also help:

  1. Reduce your risk of heart disease
  2. Boost emotional health and well-being
  3. Encourage self-awareness
  4. Fight addictions
  5. Improve sleep
  6. Increase feelings of compassion and kindness
  7. Lengthen attention span
  8. Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
  9. Manage pain
  10. Improve memory and concentration

How to do mindfulness meditation

If you'd like to try meditation during your rest day, you can take a professionally organized mindfulness training program. There are also several things you can do to become more mindful in your daily life. Ideally, start out your day with a mindfulness “exercise,” such as focusing on your breathing for five minutes before you get out of bed. Focus on the flow of your breath and the rise and fall of your belly. Doing this may help you stay focused for the rest of the day.

As the day goes on, try to minimize multitasking, as this is the opposite of mindfulness. If emotionally distracting thoughts enter your head, remind yourself that these are only “projections,” not reality, and allow them to pass by without stressing you out.

Some people prefer to close their eyes to block out visual stimulation. If you find that your mind starts to wander, direct it back to your focal point and continue from there. Ideally, set aside 25 minutes twice a day to practice meditation. You can also try it in shorter segments, but ultimately try to work your way up to 25 minutes.

You can also try the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) as a form of meditation, helping reduce stress and anxiety. In this video, Julie Schiffman demonstrates the proper way to do EFT for meditation:

Sauna: A great fitness aid

Another great way to spend your rest day is to go to a sauna. Historically, saunas have been an approach used in Eastern Europe, Asia and Finland for detoxification, relaxation and health. Athletes use extreme heat to reduce post-workout stress and to improve conditioning and athletic performance by increasing endurance.

Exercise and sauna bathing both raise your body's core temperature, essentially creating a short burst of heat stress. This activates genes that optimize heat shock proteins in your cells and increases the expression of mitochondrial biogenesis regulatory genes.

Just like high-intensity exercises, sauna bathing increases nitric oxide (NO). In addition to being a potent vasodilator, NO may also help stimulate your brain, kill bacteria, lower the risk for tumor growth and helps boost muscle growth and strength. Through the use of a sauna, you can:

  • Increase plasma volume and blood flow to your heart, which may help reduce cardiovascular strain and lower your heart rate during exercise
  • Increase blood flow to your muscles
  • Improve thermoregulatory control and increasing sweat rate, thereby allowing your core body heat to remain lower even during high exertion
  • Reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases
  • Aid the detoxification process
  • Improve your immune function
  • Alleviate pain
  • Improve your brain health
  • Boost your mood
  • Lower inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Improve respiratory function
  • Reduce all-cause mortality

General sauna recommendations

If you've never used a sauna before, start out by spending only four or five minutes in there and work your way up to somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. You will lose important body electrolytes when you use a sauna, so it is important to make sure you supplement with extra salt.

Even if you can comfortably tolerate the heat, the detoxification process can be severe in some cases, depending on your toxic load. If you experience detox symptoms or feel ill after sauna bathing, try cutting down on the time you spend in there and slowly work your way up.

If you’re using infrared sauna, spend 10 to 20 minutes with the temperature set to 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. For regular Finnish wet or dry sauna, spend 10 to 20 minutes with the temperature set between 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Avoid using a sauna by yourself; always do it with a companion.
  • Do not use a sauna if you've been drinking alcohol.
  • Avoid saunas during pregnancy.
  • Always listen to your body when deciding how much heat stress you can tolerate. If you’re ill or heat-sensitive, decrease the temperature, time spent in the sauna or both.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of pure water before and after your sauna session. To replace electrolytes, use Himalayan salt.
  • You may want to rest either sitting or lying down for about 10 minutes afterward.

Falling out of shape

While rest days are necessary for optimal fitness, resting too much can make all your hard work go to waste. But how long will it actually take for you to feel the consequences of being inactive? Studies have shown that it just takes between 10 days to two weeks of skipping workouts to catapult your body back into the “out of shape” category.

When you stop exercising, one of the first places to experience the repercussions may actually be your brain. According to a study published in the journal Frontier in Aging Neuroscience, endurance runners who skipped exercise for 10 days had reductions in blood flow to their brain's hippocampus, which is a region associated with memories and emotions.2

An even longer hiatus can lead to more health problems. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that skipping workouts for two weeks can significantly reduce your cardiovascular fitness, lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.3

Another study found that after just 12 days without exercise, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) dropped by 7% while blood enzymes associated with endurance performance dropped by 50%.4 VO2 max is defined as the maximum volume of oxygen you can utilize in one minute of maximal or exhaustive exercise,5 and it's used as a measure of endurance.

Likewise, four weeks of inactivity among endurance cyclists resulted in a 20% decrease in VO2 max.6 Keep in mind this is among trained athletes — among those new to exercise, gains in VO2 max completely disappeared after four weeks of inactivity.7

According to sports physiologist Iñigo Mujika, it takes about twice as long to get back into shape than the time you spent being inactive. Mujika noted that after three to four weeks of inactivity, your muscles will start to atrophy and your body will start to revert to using carbs instead of fat for fuel, which sets the wheels of insulin resistance in motion.

How long should you rest between workouts?

The frequency of your rest days depends on a number of factors, including your age, fitness level and goals and type of activity. A general rule is that the more intense the exercise, the fewer times a week you should do it.

Remember that as your fitness increases, the intensity of your exercise goes up and the frequency that your body can tolerate goes down. As a result, you need to continuously customize your program to your own fitness level and other lifestyle factors.

What happens when you stop exercising?

Once you’ve reached your fitness goals, your next step should be to maintain your condition, not end your workout routine. The phrase "use it or lose it" definitely applies when it comes to your muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness and more.

Aside from the mentioned repercussions that you may experience within two weeks of stopping exercise, there may also be noticeable changes to your body physically and aesthetically. Your strength may start to slip after about two to four weeks with no activity, and after about six to eight weeks, you may start to gain weight. For instance:

  • Competitive swimmers who stopped exercising intensely for five weeks gained body fat and had increases in body weight and waist circumference.8
  • Taekwondo athletes who stopped exercising for eight weeks had increases in body fat and decreases in muscle mass.9

Meanwhile, in the case of the elite taekwondo athletes, an eight-week training break helped suppress physiological stress.10 This just goes to show there's a fine balance between giving your body needed rest to recover from your workouts and taking too long of a break, which starts to negate some of exercise's key benefits.