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Avoid Overtraining: Take a Rest Day!

It’s been proven that sticking to a well-planned training schedule can help you reach your fitness goals more quickly. If you’re eager to see results, you may try to schedule every single day with hard-hitting workouts, hoping to see improvement if you push yourself harder. However, without rest, you’ll burn out quickly and can actually slow down your progress.

A rest day in your training week is as important as the rest time between sets or the downtime of an interval run. Just like your muscles need to recover before your next deadlift set, your body needs a longer period of downtime to repair itself and build strength. This repair process is critical to seeing improvements in both your cardio and muscular performance. A proper rest day should include both extra sleep and productive ways to keep busy and avoid overtraining.

The Role of Sleep in Recovery

Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool. While we sleep, our body repairs and strengthens our cardiovascular system, our nervous system, and our muscles. The stages of sleep found the graphic below, each plays a different role in muscle and cell recovery.

Tracking your sleep can help you get better rest. Apps for smartphones and wearables can help predict when you are in “light sleep” and tell your morning alarm to go off during this time period. This can help you wake up feeling alert and ready to start your day.

Getting Better Sleep as an Athlete

It’s important for everyone to get the right amount of sleep, and it’s especially true for athletes. If you are pushing your body harder, you need more time to recover. This is even more important on your rest days. Try to schedule your week’s rest day when you will not be forced to wake up early. Weekends are the most popular, but any day without early obligations is fine. This will allow you to go through more cycles of deep sleep, promoting recovery.

After a particularly intense training session, you may find yourself sore and lying awake at night. Studies show that cold-water immersion or ice-baths can help speed recovery and reduce pain and inflammation. Consider trying at least a cold shower before bed to ease muscle pain that keeps you up at night. It’s important that you are comfortable while you sleep. A hard day’s work can feel like it’s been erased if you wake up sore or stiff. If you have one consistent sore spot in the morning, try out different sleeping positions until you find comfort. Your bed should be able to provide support and comfort while you rest. Many athletes have found that the dense support of memory foam can help give the support they need. Invented by NASA, memory foam beds used to be expensive but they are getting more affordable – coupon code pages like this one are available for many major brands. Cost and comfort aside, you should always make sure your sleeping environment is set up for the best night’s sleep. Try to reduce extra light in the room, which can prevent melatonin production. Sounds and distractions can prevent you from going into deep sleep, which will reduce the effectiveness of your rest.

Rest Day Myth: Active and Passive Rest are the Same Thing

So you’ve committed to getting to bed on time, sleeping in, and getting a great night’s sleep. Now you’ve got a whole day ahead of you, and training isn’t on the menu. If you’ve really built up a passion for your sport or fitness journey, you may feel an itch to at least get something productive done towards your goals. If this is you, you might want to consider active rest. On an active rest day, you might do some light cross training to get the lactic acid out. A light jog, a slow hike, or a day of intramural sports might be a good idea if you can’t stay down on your day off.

Active rest is great, but you shouldn’t overdo it. A common analogy for the relationship of training and recovery is that working out “digs a hole” and your body’s rest and recovery “fills in the hole”. If you don’t rest, your body won’t recover, and you’ll feel the symptoms of overtraining. Dedicate most or all of your rest day to non-athletic activities such as hobbies or taking the opportunity to embrace your inner chef and prep some healthy meals for the week. A day away from your training is a great time to fit in a long stretch session or get a massage.

We all have goals we want to reach, and it can be hard to sit still when you’re motivated to push yourself. Getting proper sleep every night and building a rest day into your training schedule will help you recover faster, avoid overtraining, and prevent injury. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on your progress and see the achievements you’ve made thus far. Keep pushing, but don’t forget to rest.