The importance of having a day off
How many of us have sat at home on a ‘rest’ day, feeling horrifically guilty about the fact we’re not out pounding the streets for a quick 10K, or down the gym sculpting our abs? The truth is that taking sufficient rest is the very key to getting fitter, and increasing muscle strength and size.
The truth about exercise
Our bodies are wonderfully trained to cope with what we throw at them day-to-day. This is why, if you never go to the gym or do any exercise at home, your body doesn’t have any muscle, as it would be a waste of energy to build it.
Instead, it diverts that food intake into stores of fat – a remnant of the times when our ancestors had to hang on to all of their calories in case the next meal was a week away. Exercise is simply a way of convincing our bodies that we need more muscle, by throwing more at it in our daily lives. Then, we know it will respond by growing the corresponding muscles to deal with the new strains being put on it.
When do we build muscle?
Amongst other things, a session at home or on the bike will stress your muscles and break down the fibres contained within those muscles. Your body doesn’t want to leave your fibres broken so it rebuilds them, and if it thinks the same thing is likely to happen again, it rebuilds them slightly stronger and a little bigger. If you decide to attack it again straight away though, it never gets the chance to recover or rebuild, which means it simply won’t grow.
Good exercise regimes look to harness this process, balancing the number of days spend exercising the muscles with the days needed to rebuild them properly.
How many rest days should I have?
As with many aspects of exercise, this is not an exact science. However, as a rule of thumb, amateur athletes should have two or three days a week of rest, with professionals managing well with just one. Although it is tempting to think that you can get a head start on exercise by skipping rest days, it really is a false economy, and you are more likely to end up injured and unable to exercise at all. Don’t feel as though you have to spend the whole rest day on the couch; rather, it just means that high-intensity workouts and sessions should be avoided.
The bigger picture
Even by building in rest days to your regime, it is likely your body is never quite recovering completely, particularly if you are doing one repeated exercise continuously. Studies published in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggests that muscle groups should be rested for about a month for every six months of training in order to try and get rid of all the fatigue in those muscles. If you are a lifter, consider taking part in a sport for a month, or vice versa, before returning refreshed to your normal regime.