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Do you actually need a rest day?

Rest days are a vital part of any exercise routine. Taking time off from working out allows your body to recover and repair itself, setting you up for better performance next time. But with busy schedules, you may wonder if you can skip your rest day and power through daily workouts instead. Here’s what you need to know about rest days and whether you actually need to take them.

What happens when you don’t rest

Continuously working out without taking rest days can take a toll on your body. Here are some of the effects of not getting enough recovery time:

  • Increased risk of injury – Fatigued muscles are more prone to strains and tears. Lack of rest increases injury risk.
  • Muscle soreness – Exercise causes microtears in muscle fibers. Rest allows them to repair and prevent excessive soreness.
  • Reduced performance – Fatigue can decrease strength, speed, coordination, and stamina over time.
  • Overtraining – Pushing too hard without rest can lead to overtraining syndrome with exhaustion, insomnia, irritability, and more.
  • Higher cortisol levels – Cortisol is a stress hormone that can increase due to constant training. Chronically elevated levels may contribute to illness and depression.
  • Slower progress – Recovery is when your muscles actually get stronger after being broken down through exercise. Skipping rest days limits gains.

The bottom line is that your body needs downtime to bounce back from exercise stress and supercompensate so you can continue getting fitter, faster, and stronger.

How much rest do you need?

Most experts recommend taking at least 1-2 rest days per week. But the ideal amount of rest time can vary based on factors like:

  • Your fitness level – Beginners may need more frequent rest than experienced athletes.
  • Training intensity – High intensity or heavy lifting requires more recovery time.
  • Training volume – The total amount of exercise performed impacts rest needs.
  • Age – Older adults may need longer recovery periods than younger folks.
  • Nutrition – Proper refueling and hydration supports recovery.
  • Sleep – Adequate sleep is crucial for allowing the body to heal.
  • Stress – High stress levels increase the need for recovery.

Pay attention to how your body feels after different types of workouts. Signs you may need more rest include lingering soreness, fatigue, loss of performance, lack of motivation, and irritability.

Benefits of taking rest days

Consistently taking rest days in your workout routine offers many benefits beyond avoiding the issues of overtraining. Here are some of the top reasons you should be sure to schedule rest days:

  • Muscle repair and growth – Exercise causes tiny tears in muscle fibers. Rest days give cells time to fuse those tears and reinforce the muscles.
  • Recovery for connective tissues – Tendons and ligaments adapt more slowly than muscles. Rest allows them to strengthen and avoid injury.
  • Replenishment of energy stores – Your body needs time to restore depleted glycogen stores to power future workouts.
  • Immune system support – Intense exercise can temporarily suppress immunity. Rest days provide immune reinforcement.
  • Reduced risk of overuse injuries – Taking time off prevents repetitive stress that can cause chronic injuries.
  • Improved mental recovery – Breaks prevent burnout and mental fatigue from constant training.
  • Enhanced performance – Recovery from workout stress enables you to workout harder and continue progressing.

In short, strategically taking time off to rest will enable you to get fit and strong more quickly with lower injury risk.

Active recovery vs complete rest

Recovery days don’t necessarily have to mean being totally sedentary. You have options when it comes to the types of rest days:

  • Complete rest days – Taking at least 1 full day per week off from any exercise allows comprehensive recovery.
  • Active recovery days – Low intensity activities like walking, cycling, yoga, or stretching help blood circulation without taxing the muscles.
  • Crosstraining days – Partake in a different activity from your usual routine to give specific muscles a break.

Active recovery days provide additional benefits like increased blood flow to enhance muscle repair and help flush out metabolic waste products. But be sure not to make the mistake of turning an active recovery session into a grueling workout.

Examples of rest day activities

Here are some smart ways to spend your rest days to recover and recharge for your next workout:

  • Light walking
  • Leisurely cycling
  • Yoga or stretching
  • Swimming
  • Low-intensity hiking
  • Recreational sports like golf or volleyball
  • Self-myofascial release with foam rolling
  • Light mobility exercises
  • Massage therapy
  • Relaxation like napping, reading, or meditation

The key is choosing activities that get your muscles moving without overly fatiguing them. This stimulates circulation for recovery without causing more damage.

Tips for successful rest days

To make the most of your rest days, keep these tips in mind:

  • Schedule rest days in advance so you’re less likely to skip them.
  • Vary your workout days and rest days rather than working out 5 days in a row.
  • Listen to your body and take additional rest days as needed if you feel fatigued or have nagging pains.
  • Pair rest days with good sleep hygiene and stress management.
  • Eat a nutrient-rich diet and stay hydrated to supply your body with resources to heal.
  • Focus on light activity, mobility, stretching, foam rolling, and other recovery techniques.
  • Avoid exhausting activities, overeating, and other behaviors that impair recovery.

Planning and programming your rest days effectively will ensure you bounce back strong.

Rest day dos and don’ts

Want some specific guidance for what to do and what to avoid on your rest days? Follow these dos and don’ts:


  • Do sleep in if your body needs extra sleep.
  • Do foam roll and stretch lightly to improve mobility.
  • Do go for walks to get the blood flowing.
  • Do prioritize nutritious whole foods to refuel.
  • Do take leisurely bike rides or swims if you enjoy active recovery.
  • Do read, meditate, or nap to give your mind a break too.


  • Don’t lift weights, interval train, or play intense sports.
  • Don’t overeat or binge on junk foods and alcohol.
  • Don’t neglect hydration and consume electrolytes.
  • Don’t sit around all day – some gentle movement is beneficial.
  • Don’t work, think about exercising, or stress about your fitness.

Aim to strike the right balance between rest and recovery boosting activities without overly straining yourself.

Workout routine example with rest days

To put it all together, here is an example one week workout routine that incorporates adequate rest days:

Monday Lower body strength workout
Tuesday Rest day – stretching & foam rolling
Wednesday Upper body and core strength workout
Thursday Moderate bike ride or swim
Friday Lower body strength workout
Saturday Rest day – yoga and leisure walking
Sunday Upper body strength workout

This allows for an adequate 72 hours of recovery time between strength training the same muscle groups while incorporating some gentle active recovery.

Signs you need more rest days

Even if you carefully schedule rest days, sometimes your body needs additional recovery time. Watch for these signs you should take some extra days off:

  • Persistent muscle soreness lasting more than 48 hours after your workout
  • Lack of progress in your strength or performance
  • Feeling fatigued and drained instead of energized post-workout
  • Elevated resting heart rate in the morning
  • Disrupted sleep and inability to fall asleep
  • Frequent illnesses and depleted immune function
  • Decrease in appetite and difficulty recovering from workouts
  • Loss of motivation to work out
  • Moodiness, irritability, and other signs of burnout

Pay close attention to your body and don’t be afraid to take a few extra days off when needed. It will pay off in the long run.

Common rest day mistakes

While rest days are crucial, they can also be sabotaged or misused in ways that prevent you from recovering optimally. Here are some common rest day mistakes to avoid:

  • Working out anyway because you feel guilty skipping
  • Using rest days to try “catching up” on other work
  • Performing intense training because you feel good
  • Not actually resting by running errands and tiring yourself out
  • Neglecting mobility exercises for true recovery
  • Ignoring pain signals and symptoms of overtraining
  • Drinking alcohol, which impairs protein synthesis needed to repair muscles
  • Treating rest days as “cheat days” with poor nutrition

Make your rest days truly focused on renewal by avoiding these common mistakes and prioritizing restorative activities instead.

Rest days on popular training programs

If you’re following a specific workout program, it likely provides recommendations for how often to take rest days. Here’s what some popular training regimens typically suggest for recovery:

Program Typical Rest Days
Starting Strength 2 full rest days between every workout
Couch to 5K 1-2 rest days per 3 running days
P90X 1 rest day per 5-6 workout days
CrossFit 1-2 rest days per 5-6 workout days
BodyFit by Jillian Michaels 2 full rest per 5-6 workout days

Most experts recommend at least 1 full rest day per 3-6 workout days, but adjust based on your needs.

Rest day ideas for different sports

Your ideal rest day activities may vary depending on your sport or primary training routine. Here are smart recovery day options for different athletic pursuits:

  • Runners – Yoga, swimming, cycling, hiking.
  • Cyclists – Yoga, pilates, rock climbing, light running.
  • Weightlifters – Stretching, foam rolling, massage, light cardio.
  • CrossFit – Yoga, pilates, rock climbing, hiking.
  • Powerlifters – Yoga, mobility work, massage, stretching.
  • Swimmers – Yoga, stretching, massage, low-impact cardio like the elliptical.
  • Rock climbers – Yoga, mobility work, stretching, pilates.
  • Rowers – Walking, foam rolling, stretching, yoga.

Choose recovery activities that complement your sport while avoiding overuse of the same muscles.

Make rest days more relaxing

Since the goal of rest days is to recover both your body and mind, it helps to build relaxing and rejuvenating habits into your days off. Here are some ideas to help you unwind and de-stress:

  • Unplug from technology and enjoy nature.
  • Spend time with supportive family and friends.
  • Read an engrossing novel or listen to podcasts.
  • Take relaxing baths with epsom salts.
  • Get a massage or experiment with self-massage.
  • Savor nourishing comfort foods.
  • Engage in hobbies you enjoy like gardening or arts and crafts.
  • Take relaxing nature walks.
  • Journal or reflect on your goals and accomplishments.

Prioritize activities you find mentally and spiritually rejuvenating to make your days off as restorative as possible.


In conclusion, rest days are absolutely vital to include in your workout routine. Taking time off from exercise gives your muscles, connective tissue, hormones, immune system, and central nervous system a chance to recover and adapt so you can continue improving your fitness and performance. Aim for at least 1-2 rest days per week, and be willing to take additional days off when you notice signs of overtraining. Use your rest days proactively for light activity like gentle stretching or mobility work to aid recovery without further fatigue. Rest and recovery is when true progress happens – your future PRs depend on taking those well-deserved days off!