How To Maximize Recovery Days & Why You Need Them

Have you ever been so focused in getting results that you eventually feel burnt out? In this blog, you will learn how to maximize your rest and recovery days and why you need them. This information is especially for those of you who love to workout, or are fully committed to your workouts and busy days. 

Many people who consider themselves a type A personality have a hard time taking rest and recovery day. If you’re someone with this type of personality you may exhibit certain traits such as competitiveness, time urgency, and a tendency toward spending a lot of time, focus and energy at work. This type of personality often loves to workout, or even if they don’t particularity like to workout they commit to regular workouts that are usually higher in intensity rather than low intensity or relaxing activities such as yoga or meditation. 

The problem with this “always on the go” type of behaviour is that the physical and mental body is often placed under excessive, and unnecessary, stress that can have negative effects on health and overall well-being. Some of the physical ailments that arise from too much stimulation and activity include: 

  • Hypertension, also know as high blood pressure. 
  • Heart disease. Hypertension is in the category, or a precursor for heart disease, which can cause major problems with health and even mortality. 
  • High levels of chronic stress that may be the result of a demanding job or high levels of physical activity. Over time, these high levels of stress wreak havoc on physical and mental health. 

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a type A personality you can still experience high levels of stress in your life that can negatively effect your physical and mental health. Add continuous high intensity exercise to the mix and you potentially place yourself at risk of burnout and injury. 

I get it, when you like working out, it’s hard to take days off. However, results happen on rest days. When you are always on the go and doing high intensity activity, your body is consistently in a state of stress, which increases the release of stress hormones, like cortisol, and increases inflammation and acidity in the body. When these things build up they cause long-term problems down the road. 

Taking time to rest and recover doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch and watch Netflix all day, it means giving your body tissues, such as muscles, tensions, ligaments and joints, rest from your normal activity and workouts so they are able to recover and repair from the damage that may be caused from the exercise. You can have active rest days where you still get out and do a leisure activity like walking, bike riding or hiking but at a lower intensity.

How Do You Know When You Need A Rest Day? 

There are many signs, if you pay enough attention, that will alert you to signify that you need to take a rest day. These include:

  1. Your resting heart rate is elevated. 

An elevated resting heart rate is a big sign that you need a day off to rest. First, it’s important to know what your resting heart rate is. Your resting heart rate can tell you a lot about your health. A usual rule of thumb is the lower your resting heart rate the healthier you are, with some exceptions. If the resting heart rate is low and you are not an active person this can signal a more serious cardiac issue that you will want to get checked out immediately. 

According to the Mayo Clinic a normal resting heart rate averages between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute. 

To check your resting heart rate, be sure to sit in a relaxed lying position for at least five minutes. If you can, check your heart rate before you get out of bed in the morning. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by four to calculate your beats per minute.

2) You are tired. 

If you feel exhausted, or are starting to experience insomnia, sleep disturbances, such as having a hard time falling asleep, it could be because your central nervous system is overstimulated from trying to heal your muscles and is a sign of overtraining. Some experts say two rest days in a row should be enough to reset the body back into a normal sleep schedule and cycle. If you’re still experiencing sleep disturbances during the second night, listen to your body and rest until your normal sleep schedule returns.

3) You’re more irritable than normal. 

If you find you are irritable, moody, cranky or lose your patience, more easily that normal, this may be a sign you are ready for a rest day. It could also mean your body is craving a change in your routine. Rather than a hard-core intense workout, go for a leisurely bike ride instead. Getting out in nature and breathing fresh air can also significantly improve your mood. 

4) You get sick more often than normal. 

Regular exercise can definitely help to boost your immune system, but too much of it can place your body in a continual catabolic (or overtrained) state, which lowers immunity and can compromise your health and lead to chronic illness. 

5) You’re always sore and achy. 

Although a little muscle soreness (called DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness) with training is normal at the start of a new exercise routine, you shouldn’t feel constantly sore and to the state it impacts your movement. Studies show that muscles need anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to recover. But if you’re still sore past the 72-hour mark, this is a good sign you need to rest. This type of extended soreness is a sign your muscles aren’t recovering. Soreness is your body’s way of telling you that it needs more time to repair and recover.

Muscle soreness is one thing but if you feel chronic soreness or pain the joints, you know something serious may be going on. If you experience chronic joint pain, I recommended seeing a health professional before continuing your exercise routine to ensure you’re not placing yourself at risk of more serious injury. 

6) You’re not as in to your workouts as usual. 

If you find you’re not as excited, or feel more tired than usual while doing your workout, this many sign you need some rest. Clients over the years have asked me about how to know the difference between needing a rest day and just feeling lazy. I usually say, if you’re unsure start your workout and if by 10 minutes into your workout you still feel like you just can’t do it then you need a rest day. If by 10 minutes in you’re raring to go you are likely fine. Sometimes just getting to the gym and starting your workout is the hardest thing. But if get there and you just can’t bring yourself to do it, there’s nothing wrong with taking a day off. 

7) You’re results are not progressing. 

If you find that your results have plateaued, such as your strength, endurance, or power is not improving over time, this may be a good sign you need a rest day. When you’re overtraining, your body is going in the opposite direction of growth, because your muscles are torn and all you’re doing is re-tearing them again, which doesn’t give them proper time to heal and get stronger.

8) You feel you need a rest day. 

The best way to tell you need a rest day is to listen to your body. If you find you’re dreading your workout, feel worn down, or have an inclination that you might be overdoing it, take a rest day. Asking yourself these three questions is a good way to tell: 

  • Did you sleep for 7 hours without waking up in the middle of the night? 
  • Do you want to train today? 
  • Are you in a good mood? 

If you answer “Yes” for 2 out of 3 questions, then you’re likely ready to workout but if you didn’t take a day of rest. 

Eight Reasons To Take A Rest Day 

Of course you now know that the physical and mental signs of overtraining are the best way to know if your body needs a rest day but there are so many other great reasons to take time to rest and recover. 

To research this topic, I found a great article from the American Council on Exercise and they outline eight reasons to take a rest day that I’d like to share with you. Some you already know and others you may not have thought of. 

1) Recover energy stores. 

The first, and most obvious that I already mentioned is the physical benefits of taking a rest day provides. Taking a rest day can help your body properly replace the energy stores in your muscle cells so that you have a full battery for your next hard workout. The energy stores you need to get you through your workouts comes from your nutrition. That is why if you are a regular exerciser it is imperative that your nutrition is on point to support the repair and recovery of your tissues. The energy your body needs to perform comes from carbohydrates and repair of tissues comes from protein. If you’re unsure how to eat for maximal performance you can read the article, What To Eat Before & After A Workout, or listen to episode 45 of the Rockin’ Wellness Podcast, titled How To Use Nutrition To Heal Your Body.

2) Repair and recover tissues. 

As already mentioned, a day of rest allows your body to repair tissues damaged from the mechanical stresses of exercise. Rest allows time for individual cells that repair damaged tissues, such as muscle proteins (called fibroblasts), to do their job and repair any tissues that need it. This is also another reason why you will want to eat high-quality, low fat protein in your diet so you can support the body in doing its job of repairing tissues.  

3) Reduce soreness.

Soreness in the muscles is often caused by the release of metabolic by-products, like lactic acid, during the physiological process of energy creation. If your muscles feel a little sore from your workouts, a day of rest can allow your circulatory system to perform its job of removing these metabolic by-products in muscle cells (from using energy during exercise) while also delivering the oxygen and nutrients used to help repair damaged tissues.

4) Improve and support your mental health. 

Outside of the obvious reasons to take rest days such as repairing and recovering the physical body there are also psychological benefits that come from taking rest days. Of course, regular exercise is beneficial for mental health but spending a day away from your typical training environment can give you a psychological break from exercise and help your mind relax, allowing it to recover along with your muscles.

5) Spend extra time with loved ones. 

We all have busy schedules, your rest days may be good opportunity  to catch up and have some fun with your friends or family. Taking time to do your workouts, in my opinion is an essential self-care practice but so is taking the time to connect with the people you love. Rather than fretting about taking time away from your workouts, think of this time as a great way to take care of your mental and spiritual health. We often forget that we have three parts, that is the physical, mental and spiritual body and all are important to nurture for overall health and wellness. 

6) Focus on a new hobby. 

While you may consider spending time at the gym or sweating to a favourite workout a hobby, as I do, taking a day of rest allows you to focus on other hobbies, such as learning or practicing a musical instrument, coaching a team, volunteering at your kids’ school, or visiting an older adult community. Taking the time for other hobbies or to perform volunteer work can help reduce feelings of self-importance, while benefitting your local community.

7) Improve your work-life and performance. 

Taking a rest day can benefit your work life, especially if you find yourself cutting your work short to make it to a class or meet friends for a run. Use your rest day to spend some extra time at work to become fully organized or get ahead of the next big project, which will demonstrate your commitment to your team.

8) Just relax and do nothing. 

In my opinion, this is the best reason for a rest day. Sometimes taking a day to reading a good book or binge-watch a show that all of your friends are talking about can be exactly what your body, mind and soul needs to refresh and be ready for another great week. When you take a day like this, tell yourself that you’re not being lazy, but rather you are focused on the recovery phase of your workout program and showing yourself some love. 

I hope that you have learned more about the signs and symptoms of overtraining and how to notice if you need more time to rest. I encourage you to review the list of benefits of rest day and find the one that resonates with you the most. Take this one reason and use it to keep you motivated and focused on taking rest days as a way to support your training, performance and to remember how important rest is to see long-term results. 

I hope you enjoyed and received value from this blog. If you’re interested in listening to the audio version, please visit The Rockin’ Wellness Podcast show notes page at to listen or listen through iTunes and Spotify podcasts.

Until next time my friends, 

Keep rockin’ your wellness! 

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