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Here's Exactly How To Know If You Need A Rest Day

February 26, 2019

Truly listening to your body and knowing when to take rest days has always been a challenging part of fitness since it’s easy to fall off the wagon and lose motivation during this downtime. As a trainer and die-hard health enthusiast, it’s always been difficult for me to mentally and physically take a break from what feels like progress. However, after years of training I’ve learned that rest days between exercise are when the body sees (and more importantly feels) the most progress.

The deeper you get into your exercise regimen, the easier it will be to determine how much rest you need on any given week. Here’s a simple guide to get you there.

The biggest rule of thumb: Listen to your body.

We all know soreness is part of the glory of getting in shape or achieving fitness goals. It's like a physiological affirmation sent to us from the fitness gods saying, "Yesterday's workout was worth your time! Keep up the good work!" It truly is the best. However, when your butt is so sore you can't get out of bed in the morning, your body is sending you a loud and clear signal: You need a break.

No matter how hard we fight it, our muscle fibers need quality time to recover and rebuild before we work them out and tear them apart again. For example, if your lower body is sore, drink a lot of water and either fine-tune your upper body, or just take the day off entirely. You can do it.

Sometimes, we fear taking a rest day because we know how easily one day off becomes two, and two becomes, "I'll work out next week." Instead, we need to discipline ourselves to make conscious rest days part of our week-to-week routine. A rest day for me does not mean I sit on the couch doing absolutely nothing.

In fact, it's quite the opposite: I still walk as part of my commute in New York, and I make healthy meal choices. Maybe I'll get a deep-tissue massage, and I make sure to get to bed at a reasonable time and avoid too many happy hour drinks with friends. Life’s all about consistent, healthy moderation. Don’t let "rest day" be defined as a departure from the healthy lifestyle you’re trying to build—it is only a part of our weekly routine when our bodies get a break.

Let's get specific.

Now that you have the basics down, here are some more specific guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to rest days.

If you're working out in class and lifting your usual 3-pound dumbbells and it becomes suspiciously difficult or almost impossible, this probably means it's time for a rest day.

Similarly, if you wake up from your usual eight hours of sleep and have a stiff back and you're snoozing until that last alarm, it's probably time for a rest day. And If you're working out at your favorite gym with your favorite instructor and you're hating every part of the workout and it all feels stupid and overwhelming, it's probably time for a rest day.

Keep in mind that taking rest days twice a week isn’t set in stone or the unchanging "golden rule"—our bodies are all so different, and as your fitness goals progress and change, so should your fitness schedule. Our bodies have different needs all the time, even week to week.

Above all, listen to your body. Know that it’s OK to take that extra day off and that you won’t lose momentum. If anything, it will accelerate your progress, and your body will thank you for avoiding overexertion and potential injury. Here's to resting when our bodies say so!

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