Rest: Overlooked and Under-appreciated

Your workout is meticulously planned. You have your goals and you’re working towards them. On various days, you tend to your strength, endurance and flexibility. But, are you getting enough rest?

We seldom think of rest as part of our fitness routine, but it plays a vitally important role in our overall health. In fact, a well-meaning, though overzealous athlete can end up impeding their progress or even hurting themselves by neglecting to rest. Why is it so important? How much rest do you actually need?

 Why It Matters

When you exercise, your muscles are stressed and damaged. Your stores of glycogen fuel are run dry. But during periods of rest, all this damage is undone and your body starts to make changes to adapt to the new challenges. Whether you’re working on strength or endurance, this is when improvements are made.

Without the chance to repair and rebuild, your muscles will breakdown, making you lose strength and endurance. This will also increase your risk of injuries.

Don’t underestimate the emotional and psychological benefits of rest, as well. These rest days will be a treat, something you can look forward to during a particularly challenging bout of training. It will also leave you refreshed and ready to get moving again.

Are You Overdoing it?

Overuse injuries can manifest themselves in a number of ways, with a wide variety of symptoms. If you’ve been working a certain muscle group, you may experience pain and soreness in the area. For instance, running every day may leave your calves sore and swollen.

Over-training can also have a much broader effect, causing problems throughout your body by upsetting certain hormonal balances. Particularly, DHEA and cortisol levels will be thrown into a potentially dangerous imbalance.

These two hormones counteract each other to keep things working properly. DHEA builds muscles while cortisol burns it for fuel. In a healthy body, these two hormones are used to control muscle growth in response to stimuli like stress and exercise. In an overworked body, though, DHEA levels drop and cortisol levels spike. This is likely because the body is reacting to what it thinks is a period of starvation or danger by reducing costly actions like building muscle and starting to horde extra fat for fuel. All this can cause exhaustion, mental confusion, moodiness, nutrient deficiencies, and increased blood pressure and cholesterol.

How Much Should You Rest?

Of course, sleep is the primary form of rest. You should be getting no less than eight hours per night since the aforementioned DHEA/cortisol ballet is largely effected by your sleep cycle.

But, rest days are also an important aspect of a balanced fitness routine. At the very least, you should allow yourself one day off per week. You may need more, though, depending on your fitness level, genetics, health and overall lifestyle.

The best way to judge how much rest you need is by keeping a training log. A detailed account of what you were able to accomplish during your workout will allow you to see how your workout is affected by different situations. For example, if you notice that your mile time increases, it’s safe to assume that you weren’t properly rested and can adjust your routine accordingly.

Do you have any tips for working rest into your routine? Please share them in the comments!