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There Are Advantages to Taking a Day off From Your Workout

By Dr. Molly Casey

The Importance of Rest Day

As a doctor I often need to drive home the importance of exercising enough. But I also see the other end of the spectrum. There are people with whom I have to have very serious conversations regarding rest days from their weekly exercise routine. Although the conversation of rest days and their importance certainly happens less frequently, it’s important nonetheless. There are physical and non-physical benefits to rest days from your regular exercise routine.

Physical Benefits of Rest Days

There are several good physical reasons for incorporating rest days into your regular exercise routine.

Tissue repair - Exercise is a form of mechanical stress on the body. Routine mechanical stress causes tissue loading and damage. This is normal. With increased loads, such as weightlifting, the point is to actually break down tissue in order for it to repair; when it repairs, it grows bigger, stronger, and you develop more than before. As you lift more weights, more tissue is damaged in a controlled manner, and then tissue repair occurs properly and you see and experience muscle growth. Rest days are required for repair time in this process. One cannot continually mechanically overload a tissue and expect that the repair occurs without any break from the load. The rest is required for maximum benefit to be achieved. Note that all exercise, not just weightlifting, puts a mechanical load on tissue.

Glycogen replenishment - Glycogen is a form of sugar stored in muscles to be used as fuel reserves. Moderate to high intensity workouts use glycogen stores. These fuel stores are important. If moderate to high intensity workouts are performed too often or for longer than optimal time periods, glycogen storage is not able to properly refuel itself. If you are consistently feeling significantly gassed at the end of a workout and then unable to get the energy back for the next workout, it is likely you are far too fatigued and something needs to shift in your workouts. Start with adding in some rest days.

Removal of waste - There is metabolic waste produced with exercise because of the mechanical load and tissue breakdown, as well as the repair processes occurring. This is normal and healthy. The waste produced must be cleaned out of the system. The circulatory system and lymphatic system clears that waste. If workouts have been long, hard, and too frequent, sometimes those systems need a little extra time to perform their job. In other words, a rest day or two may give those systems a moment to catch up with no new metabolic waste being added into the mix. A little bit can go a long way.

Non-physical Benefits of Rest Days

There are a couple of good non-physical benefits to taking a day off from your workout routine.

Mental rest - There are no two ways about it, physical workouts take mental stamina and toughness. The mental strain takes a physical toll. Think about the last time you had a very stressful day at work -- or in life in general. While you may have done very little physically, meaning you sat at a desk or perhaps in a hospital room for hours, when the day was done you were exhausted. Mental stamina to make it through those experiences takes a physical toll. It is no different with the mental toughness it takes to get through hard workouts. So take a break and enjoy the mental, as well as the physical, vacation.

More time for other things - One of the biggest complaints I hear is that there is “not enough time.” I fully believe this is a bogus complaint or excuse in life. If you’ve ever used lack of time as an excuse for something outside of the gym, know that rest days will provide you more free time to engage with those things. Enjoy time with your family, engage more with your hobbies, find a new hobby, volunteer, or do a million other things that may come to mind. Just give yourself a break and a bit of variety; it will help you be more excited to return with motivation and joy.

Rest is just as important as activity. It is all about balance and moderation. There is value to both movement, pushing yourself, and resting. Don’t skimp on the days off because it will fuel your progress. Rest may be just the thing to dial up the results you’ve been looking for but found slightly out of reach.

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