This is the second part of my discussion on rest days. During the first post I put forth the idea that you are probably not resting enough. The first post discussed the importance of taking rest by explaining what your time in the gym actually does for you. Rest is a vital (and perhaps the most important) piece of any effective training protocol. I understand that many athletes have a hard time taking rest. Most of us continue to train in the fashion that we do because it is fun. It is all too easy to forego that well-needed rest day because something extra fun shows up on the board, your friends asks you to join them, or not working out bring feelings of guilt or laziness. I used to fall victim to these and many other follies and would frequently find myself broken down as a result. Approach rest days as you do your workouts. Channel the same discipline and intensity into maximal rest and recovery rather than a maximal workout. Record what you did for rest and recovery the same way you record every lift and workout. Attach the same pride and accountability to your rest days as you do to each gym session. I have found an effective way to make certain a take my rest days and ensure that I get the most out of them.
Rest Day Ritual
I schedule when I take my rest days and what activities I fill them with to create a little mid-week holiday for myself. I look forward to it as my favorite night of the week and it serves as a perfect re-charge to fuel my workouts during the latter half of the week. This takes a bit of planning and preparation but requires no more dedication than you apply to your workout schedule. Set it up properly and you will thank yourself every time your little holiday comes around. My rest day holidays are Wednesdays but the process I outline below can be applied to any and as many days of the week as you desire.
Do your best to eliminate any regular chores, household tasks, and errands during other parts of the week. Let this apply things that you dislike most. If there are particular household tasks or errands that you enjoy (cooking, organizing, etc) save these for your rest days. Rest days can be so much more than time away from the gym. Let them be an escape from all or many of the things that cause you stress. Chronic stress can be terribly destructive. Cortisol is cortisol regardless the source. Make your rest days not only about eliminating the physical stress of the gym but also about escaping the aspects of your life that bring additional mental and emotional stress.
Rest Day Activities
The activities that you fill your rest day ritual with should meet two criteria:
- Enhance your physical (and mental/emotional) recovery
- Be enjoyable or indulge one of your passions
Choose rest day activities that leave you feeling put back together both physically and mentally. These can be things that you have always loved or you can let your rest day be an opportunity to try something new. It is always best to choose things that get you moving but keep the intensity relatively low. This is called active recovery. The best active recovery is movement that will warm your tissue and elevate you heart rate to promote circulation and mobility without causing excessive fatigue or muscle breakdown. My preferred rest day activity is yoga. I find that it provides everything that I am looking for in a recovery activity. Yoga done properly will elevate your core body temperature almost immediately and will promote movement and circulation through every area of your body. The primary reason that I prefer yoga is the focus on mobility and mindfulness, two areas my (and many others') training regimen do not give ample priority. While the focus of each individual yoga class shifts I have yet to leave a class that did not open up my shoulders, hips, and low back and significantly stretch my posterior chain. These are all incredibly beneficial for the nature of training that we do and to counter the effects of the relatively sedentary lives we lead outside the gym. Yoga also places a focus on mindfulness, connecting to your breathing, and living in the present moment. This allows me to shut out the external factors that cause stress and to exist for the experience of the present. This is the piece of the rest day puzzle that I would most like to promote.
Finding something that hits your mental and emotional reset button is so important for a healthy physical existence. A body will never reach its physical potential without managing mental and emotional stress. Find something for your rest days that allows you to briefly step away from your worldly responsibilities and stresses and you will return to your training (and regular daily routine) with vigor and clarity. Many people find this through extended bouts of low-intensity, mono-structural movements like swimming, cycling, and running (ever heard of the "runner's high"). Others find it through long walks, mediation, or bubble baths. It doesn't matter where you find it but pairing some form of mental and emotional reset with your physical recovery activities will optimize your rest day ritual.
Feel free to contact me or comment about any unique or effective recovery activities that you use. I love to learn what works for others are doing and perhaps we can extend the benefit to anyone else who sees this post.
Thanks for reading.