We don’t want to see you breaking a sweat every day of the week. No, we’re not kidding. If you want to make gains, you should build in rest days and active recovery into your workout routine. Without a little bit of both, overtraining can actually set you back by leaving you perpetually sore and fatigued. It can even lead to injury. So what’s the difference between a rest day and active recovery, and when should you deploy them? Let’s get into it.
It’s exactly what it sounds like. A day of hitting the couch instead of the weight bench. Rest days are especially important if you’re just starting your fitness journey when it can be tempting to go too hard, too often. That kind of push can quickly lead to burnout and potentially quitting your fitness goals altogether, so take rest days as seriously as your next PR. They’re there to help you recharge physically and mentally because making progress depends on both.
A few good rules of thumb:
- If your body is sore, take a rest day.
- If the thought of working out is making you exhausted, take a rest day.
- In general, we recommend making every third day of your workout routine a rest day.
As you gain more experience, you can make some of your rest days, active ones. It may seem counterintuitive, but low-impact activity after busting out a bunch of reps can help your body and mind recover for the next round of intense workouts. Low-impact movement that still gets your heart pumping increases blood flow, clears out enzymes responsible for muscle damage, resets your central nervous system and helps your body adapt to new training loads. Low-impact activities include: walking, swimming, yoga, stretching, foam rolling and light hiking.
A day of active recovery can also entail resting sore muscle groups while working out a different part of your body. For example, if your upper body or core are sore from a strength workout you did yesterday, you shouldn’t train them again today or even the next day, but you can do some lower body exercises that don’t involve the same muscles. Targeting different muscle groups on different days of the week means you can take fewer rest days, but we don’t recommend skipping them altogether, so save one to two days a week for just doing nothing.