In Defense of Rest
If you’re like me, the idea of taking a rest day seems anathema to my higher goal of being the strongest, fittest person I can be. Why would I want to rest when I could use that day to work out? Turns out, our bodies actually NEED a rest day. Don’t believe me? Here’s what happens when you take a rest day.
You restock your glycogen stores. What does this mean, exactly? Glycogen is the fuel reserve that gives our body the energy to run, work out, and basically function. We typically get glycogen through carbohydrates in our diet. When we work out, our body takes the energy from the glycogen stores in our muscles and livers, and then converts the glycogen into glucose. When you work out without ever taking a rest day, you deplete these glycogen stores more quickly and you’ll have less energy, strength, and mental stamina to draw from when working out.
You build strength. Did you know that our bodies only build muscle tissue when we are NOT weight training? So that means in order for you to get the muscles you are so dedicatedly working towards, you actually have to rest so the body can build them.
You minimize fatigue. Have you ever felt like you just can’t shake that tired feeling—no matter how much Starbucks you drink? The likely culprit is that you’re not providing adequate rest between your workouts. Remember, when we’re working our body hard, our bodies are expending a lot of energy and depleting our natural energy stores. So, your body needs rest in order to recuperate.
You reduce the risk of overuse injuries. You’ve heard of tennis elbow, right? Working out places a lot of strain on our muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints. If you continually work the same parts of your body, you’re more likely to strain or tear a muscle. But, if you don’t provide time for the body to rest, it doesn’t have the time to patch up what’s broken.
You avoid mental burnout. Who enjoys doing the same thing every day? Not I! And, neither does our body or our mind. In order to stave off mental boredom and burnout, give your regular exercise routine a break and try something new. This might mean on your rest day you go for a leisurely hike, or play at the park with the kids. Your brain and your body will thank you for the distraction!
You help your body repair itself. Still don’t like the idea of rest? Think of it as your body working out on your behalf. When you rest, you allow the body to take inventory of all the aches and pains, and the tight muscles or tendons that you’ve accumulated through your hours of working out. The immune system activates whenever the body detects a tear or strain, and floods overworked areas with fluid to help “cushion” those areas. If you don’t rest, the fluid retention will remain in your body to protect you—and this will alter the proper movement of your joints and create further injury. Thus, by taking a day off, you allow your immune system to fix you, AND you keep it from actually hurting you.
So, in summary: Yes, rest sucks, but our bodies need it. Just think: I rest so my body can live to work out another day!