While many exercise programs (correctly) focus on a variety of exercise techniques, not enough is said, in my opinion, on the importance of rest. I’m not talking about laziness, or skipping workouts. I’m talking about scheduling days with no exercise as part of the plan. It’s often been said in the body building world that one works out in the gym, but grows outside of the gym. Weight lifting stimulates muscle growth by stressing the tissue and causing microscopic damage to muscle fibers. After the stimulus is applied, the body rebuilds the muscle, causing it to grow stronger, and larger. The repair process only occurs is one allows time for recovery from the exercise. Rest, and proper nutrition are both essential to optimum recovery after exercise. Without time allowed for repair, and a supply of the necessary building blocks, muscle growth won’t happen. As to how much recovery time is needed – well that depends on many factors. Older people (like me) for example, require more recovery than younger people (add that to the list of age-related bummers). I know that in my younger days, I was able to lift weights three days per week, and run 5-6 days per week, and feel pretty good over all. Now, I invariably need a rest/recovery day following a running day. I usually feel to drained the day after a run to do much heavy exercise. While I don’t like it, I accept that without the recovery time, I’d likely set my fitness back, so I rest.
The Importance of Rest and Recovery
I mention all this mainly as a warning, particularly to those that may be new to exercise. When an individual dedicates him or herself to a new program, it is usually with great intentions and much enthusiasm. While that determination is a necessary ingredient for success, it can sometimes backfire. When the enthusiasm becomes a compulsion to exercise, many of the benefits are lost. If taken too far, the build up of fatigue can lead to loss of motivation, or physical injury.
Any reasonable program should have built in rest days, to allow for a mental and physical recharging of the batteries. The only formal exercise program that I ever participated in had one built in rest day per week. The other six days were divided between strength training (3 days), cardiovascular training (2 days) and yoga (1 day). When I began the program, I was skeptical about the once per week rest, as I was a “more is better” guy at the time. I decided to follow the program strictly, and not skip the rest days. I was rewarded with significant gains in strength – better than any gains I had seen in a few years of “doing my own thing” in the gym.
So, to summarize, it is wise to take one to two rest days per week in any serious exercise program. The positive effects of rest include:
- Decreased physical fatigue.
- Improved mental outlook, and renewed enthusiasm.
- Decreased risk of injury.
- Improved strength gains, with fewer days in the gym.