Give it a Rest: It's OK to Skip Your Workout

by Sarah Gibson, Certified Personal Trainer, NASM CPT

Many fitness junkies find the idea of taking a day off as a device of Satan, meant to help us fall off track and regain all those little things we were trying to get rid of. Whatever your reason for working out, we all need a day off sometimes and here’s why:
 
Rest days are actually implemented in many professional training plans, even those of Olympic athletes, in order to allow the body time to recuperate. As we work out, we place greater strain on our muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints. Our immune system is activated when there are muscle tears or joint strains, but if the body doesn’t come out of continual practice, this system doesn’t have the time to catch up and start patching everything back up. Thus, if you’re building muscle, you should take a day off from lifting the same region so the body has time to repair the muscles you’re working. 

If you decide to not have a rest day, you run a greater risk of injury. Say you take part in a high-impact sport such as running; running puts stress on your joints and lower extremities to a level that has the ability to crack bones and tighten muscles. When you don't take a day off here and there, your tight calf muscles or tendons of the feet can lead to bone spurs, shin splints, muscle tears, tendon shearing and so much more. Also, when the immune system is responding, it floods overworked areas with fluid to help cushion those areas. While this is admirable, the problem lies in the fact that fluid retention can alter the proper movement of joints and create further injury. Thus, by taking a day off, you’re not only allowing your immune system to help “fix” you, but you’re also keeping it from hurting you.

Rest days depend on the type of athlete you are. Mind and body athletes (think Pilates and yoga) may want to take a day off altogether, whereas bodybuilders may only want to take a day off from lifting, but still do a little cardio. It also depends on your level of fitness. If you’re just now starting out in the fitness world, your rest day should probably be a real rest day in which you do not do any activity at all. A more seasoned athlete has a greater tolerance for continuing to do some light activity during a rest day.

The other big idea about rest days is to not eat the way you would on a fitness day. In no way am I condoning calorie restriction, but you probably do not need all those carbohydrates if you’re not exercising as much. Stick to your nutrition plan, but make it a light day. This will be different for everyone and your body will probably hit a point where you feel ravenous because your metabolism has shot through the roof as you work out more regularly. Just remember to eat well, eat right, eat on time and drink lots of water.

Give your body love and attention and know that every single athlete in the history of time does this, too. Take your day of rest to reflect on how far you’ve already come and acknowledge and be grateful for your body, willpower and dedication.