I know I give rest days a hard time (see how to survive restday) but the truth is, they are SO important! I have spent most of my bodybuilding career not taking enough of them, and I am finally starting to realize just how important they really are – so in an effort to help you learn from my mistakes and not suffer the problems I have, I wanted to talk a little today about why rest days are so important and how many you should take a week!
First of all, you do not build muscle in the gym, you build muscle while you rest! Well, that is not entirely true – you have to tear down the muscles first (i.e. lifting weights) but in order for those muscles to grow you have to allow them ample time to recover – they are actually doing the growing part while you rest, not while you are lifting. So, you need both aspects (obviously), and you need to make sure you are treating your rest days with the same importance as your workout days.
One of the most important aspects of rest day is your diet – in order to allow your muscles to properly recover and grow, you need to make sure that you are properly fueling them not only on the days you work out, but also on the days you don’t. Make sure that you are getting all of your macro-nutrients (fats, carbs, and protein) that your body needs! Just because you didn’t work out on a certain day does not mean that you don’t need to eat! My rest day nutrition is typically identical to my work out days, and sometimes I actually eat MORE on my rest days to help my body recover and to prepare myself for the next day’s lift.
A rest day means just that, allow your body to rest. After putting in work all week, your body deserves it – my rest days are usually spent on the couch and 90% of the time result in a nap – sleep like a baby, grow like a monster! But seriously, you can incorporate ‘active-rest’ into your routine, but I can’t stress enough how much good a day of doing absolutely nothing can be. I don’t recommend multiple days of doing absolutely nothing, but if you are really pushing yourself in the gym I fully believe that one day a week of complete rest will work wonders for you. As far as active-rest is concerned – this is typically low impact activities like walking, yoga, or other light activities that still allow your body much needed rest – I highly recommend both yoga and walking actually – they are not only good for your body but are amazing for your mental health.
So how many rest days should you be taking each week? That is really going to vary from person to person, but I think 2 is a good starting point. Again, this depends on each individual and their training habits, goals, recovery time, etc… Some people can thrive off only 1 rest day a week, while others do best with 3 – personally, I take 2 a week and it works really well for my body. Listen to YOUR body, learn how to better understand what your body needs and go from there. I know it may be hard to take time off the gym, trust me, I used to be the worst when it came to rest days – but in the long run your body needs them, and it will make you stronger in the end. Please respect your body, it works hard for you, give it some much needed rest.