Whether you are a lifelong fitness maven or just starting to hit the gym for the first time in years, you’ve probably wondered how often you should give your body a break. Although there is no magic number of rest days you should take, as the answer varies based on your own body and workout regimen, there are some general rules to follow to protect yourself from injury while staying physically fit.
The Active Times consulted various fitness professionals, who seemed to agree that although it is generally a good idea to take two to three rest days per week, the most important thing to do is listen to your body.
“Mild pain when you use the muscle group you just worked out is normal,” said Joanna Stahl, a personal trainer and CEO and founder of Go2Practice. Muscle soreness and fatigue after a workout may even feel good. “However, when the pain creeps into the joints or feels like a stabbing/nerve sensation, you know you have to back off.”
According to fitness instructor Adam Kemp, if you take care of your body by getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet, the number of days you need off may be on the lower side. But if you find that you need more rest days than usual, don’t feel ashamed of taking more time off. If the idea of taking a day off from the gym gives you anxiety, remember that you will not feel any stronger or healthier unless you give your body time to recover.
“Exercise is a naturally catabolic process, meaning it breaks down your muscles and consumes a lot of energy in the process,” said Alex Robles, a health and fitness expert and founder of White Coat Trainer. “In order to recuperate, your body needs time to rebuild itself. Without rest days, there is no progress.”
You may think that going to the gym constantly is an accomplishment or something to brag about, but this is one of the many exercise myths — failing to give yourself a break could actually be counteracting your progress. According to the American Council on Exercise, too much physical activity can cause overtraining syndrome, which has symptoms like decreased performance, fatigue, insomnia and loss of appetite.
“Overtraining involves hormones being released in your body, ultimately making you less energized for your workouts and potentially decreasing your gains due to muscle breakdown,” said Austin Martinez, who has a master’s degree in athletic training and is the director of education at StretchLab. “This is commonly referred to as a training ‘plateau.’”
When you’re taking those much needed rest days, remember to spend them wisely. Make sure you’re taking time for self-care and allowing yourself to truly recover.
“Rest is useless if you don’t use it properly,” said Kemp. “Taking a rest day will do you no good at all if you go out and drink at night or engage in some other activity that is detrimental to your body.”
Stahl stressed that when it comes to the need for rest days, there are a few common misconceptions. While you want to avoid strenuous exercise, there are still ways you can keep your blood flowing while taking a break from your usual gym routine.
“Broadly speaking, you should do some type of physical activity daily,” said Stahl. “If that means you walked around Disney World but didn’t get in any squats or pushups, that is still a win for the day.”
If you find yourself feeling guilty on your rest days, remember that sometimes a walk in the park is healthier than high-intensity training. If you are wary of injuring yourself when it’s time to hit the gym again, try out one of the many low-impact workouts that will still make you break a sweat.