Getting fitter isn’t just about working harder in the gym. It’s also about doing the right things when you’re out of it. Here’s how to maximise your rest day.
As hard as you might crush a workout, the real labour happens on the days you don’t sweat. “When you exercise, your muscles undergo microtrauma. Afterwards, what are known as satellite cells fuse with the damaged areas to repair the muscle fibres,” says Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise. But this process can happen only when you’re at rest. If you keep exercising, your muscles never get a chance to repair themselves, and your progress will plateau and eventually decline. So taking time off is essential. But if your usual rest day is a date with your couch, cancel those plans pronto, and use these expert tactics to strengthen your recovery.
A SMART WEEK OF EXERCISE
Schedule active recovery days following HIIT-style exercise, like boot camp, Jessica says.
"As hard as you might crush a workout, the real labour happens on the days you don’t sweat."
DON’T TAKE REST SO LITERALLY
“There’s a difference between passive and active recovery,” Jessica says. A passiver ecovery day means you’re not doing any physical activity. The only time you really need one is when you’re injured or sick. Most of your days off should focus on active recovery, which involves low-intensity movement, like an easy bike ride or walking the dog, ﬂexibility and mobility exercises, or foam rolling. These activities will increase circulation and assist in channeling key nutrients to your muscles so they repair faster, Jessica says. The goal is to get your heart rate up slightly and loosen any tightness, not break a serious sweat.
GIVE YOUR MIND A BREAK TOO
Stressed exercisers take longer to bounce back from a strength workout than those who are more zen, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports. Researchers say elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may impede recovery. Combat stress and speed muscle rebuilding by practising this breathing exercise at least once a day, says Tiffany Grimm, a member of the performance innovation team at EXOS, a training facility in Phoenix: Breathe in for four counts, hold for two, and exhale for six. “This brings the heart rate down, lowers blood pressure, and restores glycogen, which your muscles use as fuel,” she says.
SEE YOUR FRIENDS
Exercising triggers your body’s stress and immune responses, and taking a day off allows these systems to recover. Socialising may make them shut down even faster, says Blair Crewther, a sport science consultant. That bonding time may also lead to the release of hormones such as oxytocin and testosterone, which have energy-boosting, mood-elevating, and pain-reducing properties.
KEEP YOUR CALORIES STEADY
Many people dial back their food intake on days they’re not working out, but that can backﬁ re, because muscles need those nutrients to rebuild, says dietitian Marni Sumbal, owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition. It can also mess with your next sweat session, she adds. “Your energy stores will be depleted, so the following day, you might feel overly tired,” Marni says. Stay consistent with your healthy diet.
SLEEP, SLEEP & MORE SLEEP
“Banking sleep has been shown to be beneﬁcial for recovery,” says Amy Bender, a sleep scientist at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Alberta, Canada. When you’re snoozing, your levels of cortisol dip and your body releases the growth hormone, which helps turbocharge the tissueand muscle-rebuilding process.