Trainer talk: What to do on rest and recovery days
Expert advice from our in-house exercise scientist!
By Brooke MacDonald • 3 years ago • HEALTH & FITNESS
When it comes to working out, we are an “all or nothing” society. That is to say, we’ve adopted a frantic “must workout every day” mindset to be healthy and stay in shape. And sometimes, the most important part of exercising effectively is to give ourselves time for rest and recovery.
Ever felt like you couldn’t miss that F45 class or that boot camp even though you’ve already gone hard on your body all week? Here is why we need to allow our body some time out and what we should be doing on those days off:
Risks of avoiding rest and recovery
The negative effects of continuous exercise with no rest or recovery are rarely spoken about due to the high levels of inactivity in this world. Most of us know that exercise is a form of stress on the body that provides numerous benefits to our health. However, just like mental stress, ongoing levels of high, physical stress can lead to a range of issues including:
– Overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, muscle strains and joint pain
– Decreased performance
– Poor sleeping patterns
– Altered hormone activity
– Reproductive disorders
– Decreased immune system
– Mood and psychological disturbances
How much rest?
Resting is as important as working out when the goal is to build strength, endurance and muscle. Training or stress on our muscles breaks down body tissues and causes microscopic tears, particularly during resistance training. Rest days actually provide time for your muscles, bones, joints and nerves to rebuild. The amount of recovery time needed for this process is influenced by different factors such as the intensity level of your workout, the total volume of training per week, your training experience and your age.
As a general rule, muscles take 24- 48 hours (sometimes even up to 96hours) post-workout to recover. For resistance-style, high intensity interval training (HIIT), it is ideal to have one day of rest before attempting to work similar muscles groups again. My training style for most of my sessions throughout the week is HIIT and I aim to have at least 2 rest days per week to let the body heal and allow for greater performance in my next session. It is best to separate these days because you want to allow enough time for the body to recover after different sessions, but not so much time off that you will lose the gains you have made.
How to spend rest days
We now know that there is a lot more to recovery than just laying on the couch flicking through Netflix. Although that has its place, research has taught us that there are many ways we can increase and enhance the recovery process to allow our muscles to heal quicker in order for us to get us back into that HIIT circuit sooner.
Recovery days no longer mean doing nothing. To help reduce the residual fatigue and bi-products that are created within the body during a workout, a very low intensity, continuous activity can help circulate the blood and flush this out. The movement can be as simple as walking just enough to get the blood pumping and a regular breathing pattern. It will also help to loosen up any stiffness caused from heavy movements.
Slow running, cycling or swimming are great ways to spend part of your rest day. Allow these moments to be focused on putting the mind at ease and really taking it easy.
This is something we all know we need to do more of but just don’t seem to. Plan your rest days to incorporate 30 minutes of stretching and you will thank me later! Flexibility is one of the fastest adapting fitness components. You can see improvements almost instantly if you stick to a plan. Both dynamic (moving) and static stretching (held) is so important to maintain and increase range of motion through muscles and joints, which can so easily be tightened post-workout. Stretching also decompresses major joints such as your spinal discs, knees and hips, preventing injury.
Try setting your timer that you would use for HIIT to 1min on x 20 sets. Hold a different stretch every set for the full minute and before you know it, each muscle will be smiling!
Tight muscles and trigger points sometimes need further assistance to return to healthy normal tissue. Using a foam roller can almost act like a self massage, moving the tissue in a way to promote blood flow and remove built up scar tissue.
Ice is really great way to reduce pain or soreness straight away from those extra hard sessions. Putting ice on the muscles causes a vasoconstriction in blood vessels, essentially slowing down or reducing blood flow in the muscles. An increased sign of blood flow or swelling is usually a sign of inflammation so ice packs for 20 mins on and off post session will decrease the rate at which inflammation can occur.
A rest day can be improved with the use of compression garments. The days following a workout are when the body is trying to heal any damage that has been done to the muscles or joints. This requires extra-oxygenated blood flow to these areas. The compression technology found in these products and garments promote increased blood circulation around these areas helping to fasten up the muscles ability to repair.
Sleep is one of the most important processes of recovery. Does that mean we can take an afternoon nap on rest days, you bet! During sleep our bodies production of growth hormone increases, which aids in the repairing and rebuilding of muscles post workout. It is recommended to get between seven to ten hours a sleep per night.
Exercise Scientist (BExSc), F45 Instructor
With a bachelor’s degree in exercise science behind her, Brooke has spent many years in the fitness industry, devoted to helping people on their path to wellness through strength, conditioning and rehabilitation. Coming from a strong track and field background, she has developed a love for all things health and fitness. Her passion is driven from her belief that exercise acts as a form of medicine and she tries to promote and educate this throughout her every encounter. Her love for sneakers and runners is also a little bit obsessive…
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Main image credit: iStock
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