Here's a crucial piece of fitness advice, one that many people don't hear often enough: Don't feel guilty when you need to take a day off.
If you work out regularly, rest is necessary for the muscles to repair and build new mass.
Even so, you might feel like you're being lazy when you're resting. On those days, you might be itching to go for a run or drive to the gym. But your rest periods allow your body to recover.
Yes, recovery is an important aspect of any exercise program. That's because the right recovery techniques help the body adapt to the stress associated with exercise.
Let's take a closer look at some different types of recovery — what they involve and what they could do for you.
Why Is Recovery Vital?
It might be hard to believe, but many fitness experts consider a recovery period to be the most important part of any exercise program.
Recovery gives your body the time and space to heal. It reduces the risk of major and minor injuries. And, with the right recovery program, you should see your stamina increase and your workout performances improve.
As a result, you can keep setting new fitness goals for yourself. You might lift more weight, do more repetitions of your favorite exercises, run a little farther each month, and so forth.
Indeed, you can make greater progress toward your fitness goals if you enhance your short-term recovery methods, which include cooling down after a workout, post-exercise meals, fluids, and supplements to replenish protein and energy.
To simplify matters, we can divide those recovery methods into two main categories: active and passive.
As the name implies, an active recovery method is one that involves moving around. However, those movements should be gentle.
You can choose from a number of effective active recovery methods: Walking, swimming, stretching, and yoga are among them.
Whichever form of exercise you select, your active recovery will keep your blood flowing. And it will keep your muscles warm. That way, they can gradually transition from intense activity to a state of rest.
Nevertheless, if you're in pain or feeling extremely sore after a workout, it's better to skip an active recovery session. It's also wise to see your doctor if that pain is strong or suspicious in any way.
When it's done properly, active recovery can work wonders for your whole body. It gets rid of toxic substances. Plus, it makes your muscles suppler and more flexible, which further reduces your chances of getting injured.
On top of that, the improved blood flow has benefits of its own. To name just a few, it can strengthen your immune system, keep your brain as active as could be, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
For its part, passive recovery involves resting your body.
You might choose one of these passive recovery methods: taking the day off and sleeping, massage, meditation, reading, or binging one of your favorite TV shows.
Maybe you're used to always being on the go. In that case, passive recovery might sound a little unappealing at first. In truth, though, we all need a day of passive recovery here and there.
Above all, it gives our bodies the opportunity to heal when we've sprained, torn, or otherwise damaged a muscle.
Not to mention, if you're in pain — as opposed to just being sore — doing a workout or even an active recovery session is too dangerous. It could easily worsen an injury. At the very least, working out when you're in pain is needlessly unpleasant.
Passive recovery will also help you overcome extreme fatigue. And maybe it's not just your muscles that feel tired. It's also necessary to consider your mental health.
There are days when we feel unusually anxious, sad, or overwhelmed. At certain points, work projects, family duties, and other responsibilities in life can be daunting, and they can sap us of our strength.
Whenever that happens to you, it's great to just enjoy a day of passive recovery. It really recharges those mental batteries. Later, when you go back to your workout routine, you'll likely have extra energy and a stronger sense of motivation.
When to Take a Rest Day
For sure, you don't need an excuse to take a rest day. Any time you'd like, you can opt for a little recovery and relaxation.
However, here are some telltale signs that a rest day is definitely in order: You're agitated or moody, or you have a hard time sleeping, a loss of appetite, stress, or depression.
These issues are often connected to exercising too much. For instance, when your body is overtaxed or you're dealing with too much stress, your delicate hormonal balance can be thrown off. Consequently, it can lead to crankiness and moodiness.
Then there are the stress hormones. When we work out at appropriate intensities, we lower our levels of cortisol and adrenaline, two of the body's main stress hormones. However, overly intense workouts actually boost the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream.
Overexertion can also lead to adrenaline spikes. And those higher amounts of cortisol and adrenaline can make it more difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep.
Further, excess cortisol and adrenaline can increase your stress levels when you're awake. They sometimes bring about depression as well.
Appetite also comes into play here. Many people think that the more they work out, the hungrier they'll feel later on. And that might be true — up to a point.
However, when you exercise too strenuously, it can prevent your stomach from releasing the ideal amounts of ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that can activate the appetite, among other digestive functions. Therefore, overexertion is sometimes responsible for a loss of appetite.
Of course, the problems above can lead to problems of their own. Researchers have linked a lack of sleep to higher blood pressure, for example. And, if your appetite is suppressed, you might not take in all the nutrients that your body needs.
Those issues can then lead to further health problems. The situation can quickly turn into a vicious downward spiral.
As you can see, rest days aren't merely relaxing. We can't do without them. If you view them as indispensable, you might enjoy them even more.
Plus, since your muscles will be in better shape overall, you'll be better equipped to stick to your fitness plan over the long haul.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Rest Days
Rest days aren't for doing whatever we want, however. Rather, there are certain ways we can maximize this precious time, helping our bodies to fully recover.
For one thing, your diet is important. It's good to, on rest days, eat protein and smart carbohydrates, which will help muscles repair, grow, and restore glycogen.
Smart carbohydrates, by the way, are carbs from healthy foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. Obviously, such foods will provide you with many other essential nutrients as well.
Be sure to drink plenty of water on those days, too. Among many other benefits, that water could keep your muscles from cramping.
Moreover, you can reduce inflammation and soreness with spices and foods like turmeric and pineapple. Or take bromelain and turmeric supplements if you don't usually have such foods in your home.
Omega-3 fatty acids — which are found in many types of nuts, seeds, and fish — also have anti-inflammatory properties. The same is true of leafy green vegetables and dark berries. Such anti-inflammatory foods make it easier for our muscles to repair themselves.
Another advantageous thing to do on a rest day is to use compression garments or recovery systems similar to those garments.
A compression garment is a special tight-fitting outfit that narrows your veins when you have it on.
When your blood vessels are momentarily narrower, your blood travels through your body faster. Therefore, your muscles get more of the oxygen they need, and they'll heal faster.
Another idea for your rest days is to use CBD and THC creams, salves, oils, tinctures, and patches on sore muscles, joint ailments, and injuries. These products come from cannabis plants. "CBD" stands for "cannabidiol," and "THC" is short for "tetrahydrocannabinol."
Such topical items are safe to use, and they're usually mixed with curative herbs for even more powerful pain and soreness relief. If you're not sure which CBD or THC products would be right for you, consult your doctor or physical trainer.
Dealing With Lactic Acid
We should say a special word here about lactic acid. When you exercise vigorously, your body probably won't be taking in enough oxygen to make glucose. And, when it can't make glucose, it makes lactic acid instead. That organic acid will then build up in your muscles.
Pools of lactic acid are temporary, and they shouldn't cause any serious health issues. They do, however, cause muscle cramps and pain.
The good news is that the right rest and recovery methods will get rid of lactic acid buildup. In fact, active recovery methods have the greatest impact on lactic acid in most cases.
While your muscles are recovering, your body can break down and flush out your lactic acid. And, since your muscles receive plenty of oxygen during recovery periods, your body doesn't produce any additional lactic acid.
You can further reduce your lactic acid buildup by taking in magnesium during your recoveries. Magnesium is a mineral that facilitates hundreds of enzyme reactions in the human body. When you consume a healthy supply of this nutrient, it improves your body's energy flow. With an optimal distribution of energy, your muscles will get more oxygen during your workouts. Thus, less lactic acid will collect.
Similarly, doing simple respiratory exercises when you're working out and when you're resting can improve your oxygen flow. One such exercise is to just inhale deeply through your diaphragm. A second example is breathing in slowly through your nose and then breathing out slowly through your mouth.
Rest Well, Rest Often
In the end, you should aim to rest one day every seven to 10 days. But listen to your body if you need more rest.
Indeed, if you know the symptoms of exercise burnout to avoid injury and demotivation, you can take a rest day whenever you need one.
In fact, listening to your body is the key to any successful wellness program.
For example, do you often feel hungry? If so, you should try to consume more calories throughout the day. Do you feel especially uncomfortable when you do a certain exercise? You could reduce its intensity or avoid it altogether.
When you listen to your body, you position yourself for effective workout recoveries. Your muscles will thank you for it.
At Studio Figura ATL, we understand how rest and recovery are essential parts of holistic wellness. That's why our studio contains a Wellness and Recovery Zone to help you rest and recover while maximizing body and muscle rejuvenation. And you can book a free consultation with us at any time.
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