Ask anyone what their least favourite day of the week is, and if they’re not into the gym or exercise, it’s probably Monday. Ask someone who is into exercise and the answer will be their dreaded rest day.
“You mean to tell me I have to do something other than train today?!”
“Fine. I’ll think about training, talk about training and watch videos of others training!”
It’s for this reason the ‘anything-counts-as-training’ mantra is being popularised more and more; people are doing all they can to quash the rest day for good. I have been there too, surviving a rest day by running the script of tomorrow’s workout in my head.
So, what’s the deal, should a rest day be a couch potato day, a day of light stretching and walking, or can you get away with H.I.I.T. workouts on rest days?
As someone who has trained anywhere from 3 days per week to 7, I can tell you that rest days are definitely needed if you wish to make genuine progress in your sessions. If you just want to feel tired and get sweaty, you could in theory do cardio workouts everyday. (Note: I do NOT recommend doing random workouts everyday where you don’t track progress. Making consistent and steady progress over time is the ultimate key to making long-standing changes. But you knew that anyway because you read my content)
I’m a personal trainer and gym instructor. I also teach exercise classes. Some are softer in nature (pilates and yoga based) and some are more intensive (spin and kettle bells). Recently I had a workout that was ‘one of them days’……everything felt heavy. My power was low and my mind didn’t want to endure anything. And I really couldn’t pinpoint why….
My body felt OK, albeit a little sore – and I’d slept reasonably well. What the hell was making me so zapped?!
Then I got thinking about my schedule the last few days and came to realise I hadn’t had a true rest day, in the purest sense; one where all I do is walk and some passive stretching. Surely teaching a stretch based exercise class the day before wouldn’t steal the power from today’s pull ups, would it?
Honestly, it looks like it did. Even though the exercise isn’t intense it still takes energy – both mentally and physically.
Doing nothing gets bastardized by today’s #workoutordie mentality but I really think for all of us training hard, smart and safe, we need at least one rest day where we’re not exerting ourselves at all. Can you walk? Sure. Can you stretch a bit? Go for it. Can you do weighted stretching and intense mobility? Not today!
Even constantly thinking about working out can be a drain, I’ve found. It’s far better to occupy yourself with other things – reading, socialising, other hobbies, resting, meditating…….you name it.
Rest days for the win
In summary, I really think rest days are important. They allow you to come back fresh and try to smash the last workout’s numbers, and actually have the chance to do so! As to how many rest days you need, that’s more of a personal question which depends on many factors: how hard you train, your experience, your lifestyle habits, stress levels, age, health and many other things.
But I will go out on a limb and say everyone needs at least one FULL rest day per week. Yep, even you!