When we are feeling extra motivated and eager to see results, we may push ourselves too far with our training.
The reality is that muscles will get stronger when they have time to rest and recover. Moreover, everyone is in a different stage of their training. You must listen to your own body before comparing yourself to others. Pushing yourself far beyond your limits may result in overtraining, sickness, or sports injury.
Your performance, muscle mass, and overall vitality benefit from rest!
If you find yourself stuck on a progress plateau, it might be because you don’t train enough. But it might also be because you don’t rest enough!
What is recovery?
According to award-winning sports journalist Christie Aschwanden, “recovery is a return to readiness; it’s all of the things that our body and mind need to get going again. At the most basic level, recovery is relaxation.”(1)
Here are a few signs you need a rest day and advice on what to do on rest days:
2. You’re Always Tired
According to Christie Aschwanden, “nothing trumps sleep when it comes to recovery.” As discussed in our Eight Tips To Speed Your Recovery blog post, sleep is key to physical recovery. It also helps mitigate stressors that might impact your workouts, like depression and stress. Recovery is psychological and physical. Getting enough sleep aids all aspects of your performance.(3)
Of course, you can’t be strong every day. But feeling tired during two workouts in a row is a sign that you need a rest day. Once you notice that your usual workouts seem much harder than they normally do, it’s time to take a break. A good rule of thumb is: that if you don’t feel any better after your warm-up, you are probably too tired for the workout.
3. Your Muscles Are Still Sore After 3 Days
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) typically occurs for two days after a workout and is usually most intense on the second day. If your DOMS recovery requires more than three days, you might need an extra rest day for those muscles or your entire body.
Very intense workouts that use a wide range of motion can require a week or more of recovery. Regular athletic training that causes mild muscle damage typically requires a few days. Nutrition, sleep, and rest can shorten the timeframe.(4)
Should I Work Out With Sore Muscles?
The short answer is no. Training when your muscles are really sore makes it harder for you to maintain good form and do your best. But there are two different ways of ensuring that you don’t.
1. Total Body High-Frequency Workouts
First, studies show that doing total-body workouts every time you exercise can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Newly trained muscles are less responsive to amino acids and therefore require around two days to complete muscle protein synthesis. As muscles become stronger, they become resilient to stress and sensitive to amino acids. The muscles repair quicker and are less sore.(5)
If you’re currently training three intense sessions weekly and experiencing muscle soreness, you might try training six lighter sessions per week. One study showed the same gains in both styles, but six lighter total-body sessions resulted in less muscle soreness and fatigue than three intense muscle-focused sessions.(6)
2. Fewer Muscle-Family Focused Workouts
If high-frequency training isn’t something you’re interested in, then do a few workouts per week focusing on different parts of the body. It’s best NOT to train sore muscles. Working out when you’re sore is shown to decrease performance and increase the likelihood of injury.(7) If you planned to train a muscle group but are still sore two days later, change your schedule. Train upper body one day, lower body the next day, and try different formats (like cycling and bodyweight workouts). Give the muscles time to fully recover and rebuild before they are broken down again with exercise. If you’re severely sore after a workout, take a rest day or exercise a different muscle group. If it’s mild, do a good warm-up, and don’t hit the same muscles hard again.
If you experience muscle pain within or directly after a workout, this is not DOMS. You might be injured. Proceed with caution and consider seeking medical assistance or physical therapy.
4. You’re Always Thirsty
Do you keep drinking water but never feel satisfied or hydrated? This can be related to insufficient fluid intake or even hot weather, but it can also be because you’re training very hard and need to give your body time to rest, restore, and rehydrate.
Here’s a simple way to calculate if you’re getting enough fluids for your exercise:
If the amount of water required seems more than you can enjoy, consider taking a rest day or fewer sports.
5. You’re Irritable
Does every little thing seem to get on your nerves? Does anxiety creep in at unsuspecting moments? Are you struggling to relax? When your body is drained of energy from too many workouts, you might notice you’re cranky. Before you take it out on someone else, reconsider your training schedule and try to get at least one rest day and one night of good sleep before doing another workout.
While it’s true that exercise can help with depression and anxiety, too much of something is never a good thing. Only you truly know when to take a rest day from working out. Be willing to experiment with different rest and work schedules until you find what works.
There is not a simple answer to this. If you’re experiencing any of the above systems, take one to three days of rest immediately. But you should plan rest days and active rest days as part of your schedule. Ask yourself, “How many rest days a week do I need?” The answer could be something like two to three days weekly, and/or one week monthly, and/or two weeks every six weeks.
The Best Ways To Rest
You’re not alone if you’ve been told to “take it easy” and felt unsure what that meant. In today’s hectic world, we learn the skill of being busy and not the skill of rest. Here’s advice for active rest days, how to do a rest day workout, and rest day nutrition.
Active Rest Day Activities
Besides sleeping well and eating well, two things are scientifically proven to aid recovery: foam rolling and massage.
Foam rolling increases joint range of motion and reduces soreness. Interestingly, this is because it triggers the nervous system and connective tissues (not the muscles).(8)Here’s our guide to foam rolling at home.
Athletes also use massage to help with sore muscles, stress, and mental fatigue after a workout. However, massage won’t increase your range of motion or make you stronger.(9)
Rest Day Nutrition
Add coffee to your post-workout recovery! Drinking up to two cups of coffee soon after a workout can help keep muscle soreness away!(10)
Eating a balanced diet is a shortcut to feeling great all the time. Eating a balanced diet to promote recovery is a shortcut to fitness. There are a couple of things to keep in mind regarding nutrition for recovery.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids help decrease exercise-induced cortisol in the body. The participants in one study who took Omega-3 supplements after a workout perceived minor muscle soreness compared to those who didn’t. The “recovery window” for glycogen and protein ingestion is not as short as we once believed. According to Christie Aschwanden, “it’s more like a recovery barn door.” Studies now show that the quality of the food matters more than the time when it’s eaten.Eating a high amount of anti-inflammatory food is detrimental to muscle protein synthesis. Inflammation of the muscles is a natural part of the building process. It’s also a sign of proper immune system functioning. On rest days, you should allow the body’s natural oxidative processes to occur.(11)
For more information, read this blog post about what to eat on cardio, strength, and rest days.
Rest Day Workouts
Light movement can alleviate the symptoms of DOMS(12). Getting light cardio on rest days, like a walk or casual swim, is an example of what to do on rest days.
Or, do Yoga!
While static stretching directly after a workout doesn’t help much with DOMS(13), doing a mobility-focused stretching workout on an active rest day can. Yoga is a fantastic active recovery workout.
Sometimes sitting and doing nothing can make the soreness even worse. Get outside for some fresh air and move a little bit; you might feel more energized.
The Importance Of Rest Days
Exercise, like anything else, can be abused. While it has incredible health benefits, exercise can also increase cortisol in the system and damage muscles more than they’re capable of repairing. Without adequate rest, repeated intense workouts can cause psychophysical distress.
Whether it’s for your mind or your body, you should take rest days as part of your exercise schedule. Check out the different yoga workouts on our adidas Training app for an active recovery workout!