How to Take Rest Days Without KILLING Your Momentum
I get it.
You've spent all this time listening to me tell you to build better habits; find exercise that doesn't feel like a chore; hit all your strength training sessions so you can age healthfully; get 10,000 steps per day; and reduce your sedentary hours so you can manage your weight and stay fit forever.
And then here I go telling you, in the same breath, to SLOW THE HECK DOWN and recover.
A lot of clients ask me what the "ideal week" looks like in terms of exercise, and I offer largely the same formula to 99% of folks:
3 days of progressive strength training (slow, steady, planned, purposeful)
2 days of cardio-focused training (check out my other blog on Zone 2)
1 day of mobility/alignment work (yoga, Pilates, physio, etc.)
1 DAY COMPLETELY OFF FOR REST AND RECOVERY
And yet somehow, once folks get goin' on a good, solid workout plan (congrats!) - that last little bullet point starts to melt into all sorts of euphemistic (but still exercise) things, like "active rest," "gentle yoga," or "brisk walking."
When I'm talking about an off day, gals - I am talking OFF. As in, take a full-a*s breather.
Leave your fitness-tracker watch on the charger. Sleep in. Eat some nice food. Get a massage. Sit and watch a movie. Float in a pool. Lie down and meditate. Give your body the actual break (from the chaos that is modern life) that it needs to actually do its job better.
What do I mean by that?
If you've already drank the Kool-Aid around why strength training is so crucial, then it's definitely time for a second sip of why recovery is where your strength training work actually benefits your body composition goals - and how, without it, you'll eventually spin your wheels in "weight training purgatory" - too overtrained to build muscle properly despite training harder/longer, and working hard without seeing results in composition or performance.
The simple concept is this: exercise breaks down your muscles; rest builds them up. If you simply repeat the breakdown cycle over and over without adequate recovery (which includes consistent nighttime sleep and proper nutrition, but that's a story for another blog), you will simply pummel your body toward burnout, increase the chances of repetitive-movement injuries (hello rotator-cuff tendinitis, runner's knee, tennis elbow, and hip pain), and suffer slower performance gains as your tired bod just slogs through its next workout.
As I mentioned to a friend who inspired this article - I am all about discipline, but not to the point that it becomes punishment. If your workout schedule is leaving you burned out, bored and demotivated, then it's really not working for you, is it?
But I hear you - even if you're convinced that off days are good for you in theory, there's a voice in the back of your head that pushes back: "but if I take one day off....what if it turns into more....what if I reverse all the hard work I've done....what if I lose all my mojo...what if it all falls apart because I got lazy...what if...."
Listen up, and listen hard: it ain't gonna happen.
The only way to take your killin-the-workout-game-buff-betty train off the tracks is to QUIT - and truth be told, I've seen a LOT more quitting (or stop-and-start training interruptions) happen from clients that go too hard, burn out, and/or get hurt - than I have out of properly-programmed, balanced athletes simply taking and enjoying their prescribed rest days (ahem).
If you're struggling to allow yourself "rest" days, by the way - change your term. Bodybuilders, S&C coaches and those in the know call them "growth" days - because that's exactly what they are: crucial to the actual growth of the lean muscle you're bustin' your hump so hard to build (and more broadly, supportive of a growth mindset that allows for self-care & rest).
And if the updated lexicon isn't enough for ya, how about:
creating a ritual around your growth days that you look forward to (for me, it's massage)
planning something pleasurable in what would usually be your workout time so it doesn't feel "empty" or "wasted" (have a solid nap, get coffee with a friend you've been meaning to catch up with, or do a home chore you've been putting off)
reading or listening to a podcast specific to your health & fitness journey so you still get a sense of "putting in work" toward your bigger goals, even at rest
using your growth day as your meal planning/prep day for the week so you can focus on getting your nutrition pitch-perfect to complement all your hard work in the gym
I always say - if you're aspiring toward a particular goal in life, look at who's already killing that game, and take a page out of their book to apply to your own habits. If you're trying to get lean and muscular, look at what lean & muscular people do - they lift weights, eat well, and take rest. If you're trying to life a long, healthy life, consider that very few centenarians are beast-moding in the gym 7 days per week. If you're trying to increase performance, note that professional athletes TAKE ENTIRE OFF SEASONS and come back better and stronger.
So if your goals are any combination of those things, take note. Take a rest day. And rest assured that your progress, goals, and results will be waiting on the other side.