What Is an Active Rest Day and How it can Benefit you?
If you've spent any amount of time around me, worked with me or listened to me for even a fraction of the time; you've no doubt heard me preach about active rest and down days. If you haven't, you're probably wondering what the difference is between the two is and how can you use them together to make your workouts more effective.
The major difference between the two is the level of activity.
Down days are just how they sound. No workouts. No exercise. No hard movements. Just you being a couch potato or reading a book or watching TV. You avoid much movement or anything strenuous.
You know, you rest.
Active rest days (sometimes also called active recovery days) mean you keep moving in some type of exercise, but it's a great deal less intense than your usual, day-to-day workout regimen. While I usually stress active rest days, down days are also crucial for your wellbeing and growth.
Your training doesn't (and shouldn't) always need to be 100% effort and hopefully, this article will give you a little insight on how to use your time between heavy workouts to rest and recover, helping you reach your fitness goals.
Benefits of Rest Days:
- Injuries. Rest days reduce the risk of accidents and injuries brought about from overtraining. When you take a rest day, you're giving your body a chance to heal between workouts and recharge its energy. You're also fighting mental fatigue, which is probably the most common form of “injury” I see.
- Muscle Soreness. You've busted your ass in the gym and now your arms are like limp noodles the next day. You can hardly wash your hair without a struggle and something as simple as putting your shirt on is now a chore. Active rest can actually help you build muscles with less pain because it keeps you moving around and keeps your blood circulating.
- Make more progress. Active rest will burn calories, in addition to keeping blood and nutrients circulating, so your body will still slim down and tone up. Plus, both passive and active rest allows your body to repair micro-tears in your muscles that occur while exercising, so you grow stronger.
How to Schedule Down Days:
- Follow up tough sessions. You'll see more results from hard workouts if you slow down afterward. If not, you could actually undermine your fitness by letting all those gains go down the drain.
- Develop a system. Taking regular rest days is a good plan. Maybe you'll scale back each Wednesday, or you could have floating days that you build into your training schedule.
- Overtraining. It's probably a good sign that you should take a rest day if you find yourself tired and irritable or if you're experiencing more injuries than usual.
- Listen to your body. How much rest you need is an individual thing and you should pay close attention before, during, and after your workouts on how your body feels. Find the right balance that allows you to enjoy yourself while still making those gains.
How to Spend Your Active Rest Days:
- Aerobics. The top tip I give my clients is to use an active rest day to work out at about half of your usual intensity. Depending on your fitness level, that might mean hitting the heavy bag in 3-minute rounds, going for a short jog or taking a walk. Biking and swimming are also helpful options.
- Yoga. Many yoga poses can be therapeutic. You could sign up for a yoga class that focuses on static stretching or find an all-levels community class in the area or even buy a book to help you create a routine to do at home. You could also find one of the 1,000,000 videos online to practice along with.
- Light Lifting. Lifting heavy weights will build up your muscles as long as you respect your limits. Spend some days lifting half your usual load and concentrate on correcting your form.
- Cross Training. Varying your workouts keeps things exciting and helps you to master new skills. When you're cross training on an active rest day, be sure to pick an activity that allows you to maintain a moderate pace.
- Have fun. The most important advice I can give is to have fun on your active rest days. The key here is to be active (it's even in the name). It doesn't have to be exercise: you can go to a water park or play games with the kids. The bottom line and ultimate goal is to do anything that makes you smile and gets you moving around a little more than a rest day, but a lot less than a workout.
A good, common sense, balance of rest and active rest days will protect you from injuries and get the results you want from your workout program. Enjoy your downtime, knowing that you're growing stronger and fitter.
The founder of Combat Mindset, Michael Saad, is an international security consultant, self-defense instructor and mixed martial arts conditioning coach that helps people rebuild their confidence and create intentional paths to their perfect life.