A Guide To Rest Days


Written by Sophie Heywood

Sophie is founder of double shot, personal trainer, yoga teacher and yoga therapist for mental health. Double Shot Is the online guide to Berlin and London’s fitness hotspots, from HIIT workouts and yoga studios, to vegan cafes and smoothie bars all with a hedonist twist including, best brunch places, wine bars and parties, and arranged into double shot combinations of fitness and refuelling for readers to try. 

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Exercise is a beautiful thing and has so much to offer, far beyond aesthetics. It can make you feel empowered, strong and capable. It can be a great way to socialise and meet new friends. It can be a de-stressor and offer you mental space, and of course its physical effects in terms of heart health, bone health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels are abundant.

However, when you are so focused on hitting your fitness goals, and especially when starting a new fitness routine, it can be easy to fall into the trap and pressure of feeling like you should be in the gym every day. The “fitspiration” feed on Instagram doesn’t help either. But we are here to reassure you that training every day is not necessary! In fact it might very well be setting your progress back and even putting you at risk of damaging your health.  

Overtraining and signs you need a rest day:

Overtraining is essentially when the body has been exposed to more stress than it can handle and it can no longer adapt to the stress load effectively.

It has been shown by various studies that excessive exercise causes the body to increase its natural cortisol levels and free radicals count, alongside reducing DHEA hormone levels. This imbalance can negatively impact thyroid function, lower energy levels, reduce immunity capacity, use up vitamin and mineral stores needed for optimal function and cause disrupted sleep patterns.

In short, you might find yourself feeling run down, drained and easily picking up bugs. Digestion can also be thrown off and the body can hold on to salt and water in a bid to prevent dehydration. Sore, weakened muscles are also a hallmark because they haven’t been given enough time to recover.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for women in particular to see their hormones become out of kilter and temporarily lose their menstrual cycle (in this state your brain is saying to your body that you are too stressed to possibly carry a child right now). Other hormones can become disrupted like serotonin (our happy hormone), whose levels will drop and trigger feelings of depression and anxiety. And lastly, if you carry on with training whilst feeling like this then you will never be working to your maximum capacity and your resting and maximum heart-rate will be lower. 

Photo Credit:  W&W Studio

Photo Credit: W&W Studio

Rest days: why we need them:

Taking rest days should also be a non-negotiable in your workout routine, not only for physical performance and muscle growth and recovery but also to give yourself a mental break and reminder that there is life outside of the gym - namely spending time with friends and family and pursuing hobbies you love.

Exercise should only be adding to your life and not taking away from it. Also remember physical exercise is a stress on the body, so if you are experiencing any other stressors in your life, be it work pressures, family issues or friendships troubles, these all load onto your physiology and high intensity or demanding exercise may be counter to what your body actually needs. A lower intensity activity like yoga or walking may in fact be more beneficial for you at that time.

Likewise from a physical health perspective, it’s only when you give your muscles time to rest that they can repair and strengthen and grow. Training too much can actually damage and weaken muscles, putting you at risk of injury, and be counter-productive to why you might be exercising in the first place. Energy levels and motivation to be active are also likely to fall. Over a long period of time this can lead to total burnout and chronic fatigue. 

Photo Credit:  W&W Studio

Photo Credit: W&W Studio

How to”do” rest days:

Generally you should be taking one rest day off a week, minimum! Otherwise a two days training, one day off is a good general rule to stick to.

For those just starting out on their fitness journey, more rest days may be required. Likewise, it is also important to be able to be flexible with your training and rest days. Listening to your body and tapping into signals your body is making to you (feeling very sore and fatigued, or feeling yourself being irritable and moody a lot of the time for example) should inform when you take rest days.

You, your body and your needs are entirely unique and there is no one rule that works for everyone. In fact spending more time and energy on good mobility and resting may be more beneficial to your training to make you stronger and faster in your sessions long term. 

On the flipside, just because you’re taking a rest day doesn’t mean that you have to stay horizontal on the sofa all day. If you’re feeling good then doing some active recovery like going for a walk with a friend or doing some light stretching and foam-rolling which will aid muscle recovery, boost blood flow and reduce inflammation.

Remember, you can always decide to up your training if you are feeling good, adequately fuelling yourself and getting in decent recovery (notably high quality hydration, sleep and managing stress). However, you can’t easily or quickly undo damage that has already been done, so if in doubt err on the side of caution and do fitness on your own terms.