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Do you really need a rest day?

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27 October 2021|3 min read

If you have a regular exercise routine, you may find it hard to take a break.

You might have heard of rest days but aren’t quite sure what the fuss is about. You’ve worked hard to create an exercise habit, you’re kicking goals and feeling good – so why stop?

It turns out that rest days may help with all of this and more. Rather than interrupt your progress, they could play an important role in helping you reach your fitness goals

If you're wondering whether you should exercise every day or take a day off, we spoke to Personal Trainer Gabrielle Petterwood for an expert’s opinion on the matter. 

Is there a difference between a rest day and an off day?

A rest day is an off day from your everyday exercise routine. 

It could be a day where you take a complete break from any movement, or a day where you engage in active rest. Whatever you choose, the idea is to give your body a break from your routine. 

“Rest means different things to different people,” explains Gabrielle, “Having some scheduled time off from your resistance training is important as it helps your body repair.”

If the idea of doing nothing isn’t your thing, active rest is a great way to incorporate gentle movement and enhance your body’s natural post-workout repairing process. 

Gabrielle suggests low intensity activities to keep moving. “If you still want to go for a walk or a swim and that makes you feel good, go for it,” says Gabrielle. 

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Rest days support muscle repair, helping to build more muscle, increase strength and improve endurance.

Why rest days are important

“While we need to keep moving, rest days give you a physical and mental health break, helping to look after your overall health,” explains Gabrielle. 

Having adequate rest as part of your regular exercise routine could help:

Give muscles time to repair 

When you do resistance training, you create tiny tears in your muscle fibres, which explains why you might get sore muscles after the gym. Rest days support muscle repair, helping to build more muscle, increase strength and improve endurance

Alleviate muscle soreness 

Recovery isn’t always about remedial massages or (thankfully) jumping into a bath full of ice. Regular, scheduled rest days may help to alleviate muscle soreness by giving your body enough time to remove lactic acid build up. 

Replenish energy

As well as helping build muscle, exercise also tends to use up your energy stores and fluids. Rest and recovery often give the body time to replenish, helping to reduce fatigue and prepare your muscles for the next workout. 

Prevent injury

Pushing too hard on your exercise routine without a break could lead to injuries and pain. Not resting enough may result in exhaustion, which might lead to common sports injuries such as stress fractures, tendon pain and overuse injuries. 

Give your brain a break

While exercise has so many benefits, engaging in physical exercise often produces cortisol and may place stress on your body. Rest days with low intensity movement may help bring your cortisol levels back down to where they need to be.

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Recovery isn’t always about remedial massages or (thankfully) jumping into a bath full of ice.

Signs you need a rest day

If you’re new to rest days, you might not be sure when to schedule them. Here’s some signs from your body that it might be time to take a break:

You feel sore

Soreness after a workout is normal, especially after a new routine or increased weights or intensity. But, if your workout is feeling much harder than usual, it might be a sign to rest.

Your workout feels like a chore

Exercise requires focus and discipline. If you feel like your next session might be a slog, and you’ve felt like this for a bit, it may be time for a mini break to reset. 

You’re sick or injured

While some people are advocates of sweating it out when sick, a big workout when sick might place added stress to your immune system. Rest days support faster recovery, helping you return to your regular routine sooner. 

How often should you have a rest day?

Now that you understand rest days and why you may need them, you might be wondering about the magical number of days off between workouts.

Gabrielle explains there’s no hard-and-fast rule. Because as with most things fitness and health, it depends on your current fitness levels, goals and lifestyle. For example, if weight training or higher intensity activities are a regular feature of your routine, you might need more rest than someone who mostly walks. 

When deciding whether you should exercise every day or take the day off, Gabrielle advises that being in tune with and listening to your body is your best guide. If you have any concerns about your body or potential injuries, be sure to seek advice from your medical practitioner. 

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Regular, scheduled rest days may help to alleviate muscle soreness by giving your body enough time to remove lactic acid build up.

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Gabrielle Petterwood is a Personal Trainer with a holistic approach to fitness, nourishing the body with fresh foods and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle to realise full body health.

Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.