The Importance of Rest for Recovery
Moving every day is vital to maintaining optimum physical and mental health, increasing brain function, circulation, energy, mood and strength. But striking the right balance with an exercise routine that provides optimum results for your body and lifestyle is a difficult task. Getting your routine right in order to build your body to be both functional and to look the way you want it to involves a very careful balance of nutrition, exercise and recovery.
Inactivity is increasingly discouraged by health experts, as the general population’s lack of daily movement leads to increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and mental health issues amongst other health risks. But if you are reading this blog, you are likely in the minority of the population that has no problem getting a workout in most days, if not every day, because you love and live health and fitness.
Consistent training regimes, with a focus on building strength or cardiovascular fitness, must be regulated with enough rest, as rest days are critical to improve your physical performance and to maintain your health.
Is it possible to exercise too much?
Exercise is fantastic for increasing aerobic capacity, reducing fat, building strength and reducing the risk of certain lifestyle diseases. During an intense training session, your muscles fatigue as a result of metabolic processes, which are not just physical or mechanical, but also psychological. When you exercise, your body requires more oxygen, which increases your breathing and raises your heart rate in order for your body to pump more oxygenated blood to your muscles.
The risks of overtraining
However, exercising too frequently or too intensely without giving your body time to recover can heighten the body’s stress response. Heavy resistance training or long distance running stimulates the body’s cortisol response and without allowing our body enough time between sessions to reduce these levels of cortisol, the body can maintain an acute cortisol response to training which can result in poor sleep, weight gain, muscle loss, digestive issues, and autoimmune responses. All of which directly hinder the positive results of your training sessions!
Over-exercising hinders your body’s recovery time as it prevents muscle fibres from rebuilding and stress levels from normalising. It also creates a risk of weakening your immune system leading to illness, chronic fatigue and even ongoing autoimmune conditions.
Beyond these health risks, preventing your body from fully recovering after each training session, can cause physiological stress on your body which can lead to injury from overuse, muscle fatigue and weakness, stress fractures and joint pain. If you feel that you are constantly sore from your training sessions, this could be an indication that you are not allowing your body adequate time to recover.
What happens when you rest
Factoring recovery or rest days into your training program is vital to ensuring that your body can refresh and rebuild its energy stores, and restore damaged or fatigued muscle fibres. Without sufficient rest, your body will remain in a state of breakdown which will continue to worsen the more you push yourself.
In the short term, that is in the 1-2 day period after an intense workout, your body begins its recovery during the cool-down phase straight after your workout and then proceeds to replenish its lost fluids and energy stores. It is important at this time to eat the right foods, including protein, to restore the protein content in your muscles and prevent further muscle breakdown. During this time, your body also repairs soft tissue and removes chemicals and toxins that build up in the body as a result of intense exercise.
Over the longer term, a good quality training routine will include recovery days every week, and if you train intensely often, every 12 weeks or so a lower intensity “rest week” should be incorporated into your regime. This will allow your body to fully heal so that you can benefit from the gains of every training session fully.
If you are looking for muscle growth, the importance of rest is paramount – it is during recovery periods that you actually build strength. Rest periods are equally as important as your workouts, as regeneration of muscle fibres occurs when you rest and if you overwork the muscle before it has fully recovered, you will hinder your results.
The amount of rest needed to optimise results varies for everyone, so you need to listen to your body and look for signs of burnout or overtraining.
Signs you may be Burnt Out
5 signs that you may be over-exercising and not giving your body enough time to optimise recovery are set out below:
1. You feel exhausted after working out
A sweat session should leave you feeling invigorated and re-energised, however if you are exercising too hard, for too long or too often, your workout is just going to drain your body’s already depleted energy stores.
2. Your sleep is disrupted
If you are having trouble getting to sleep at night, even though your body is exhausted, or if you are getting adequate sleep but still have trouble dragging yourself out of bed in the morning, then your cortisol levels may be heightened from too much exercise. Sleep is vital for the body to repair itself, so if you are exhausted despite getting around 8 hours of sleep at night, this is a sign your body requires more rest than you are giving it.
3. You are putting on weight
Despite how well-intentioned your 7 training sessions per week may be, working out too much can lead to muscle break-down and fat deposition. Just because you are “burning calories” with the amount of exercise you are doing, does not necessarily convert to burning off fat, as too much stress on the body will put your hormones out of balance which means your body is more insulin resistant and your body will store fat more easily. High cortisol levels will also contribute to your body retaining water which can leave you feeling bloated.
4. You can’t remember the last time you skipped a workout day
If you are training every single day, even if those methods of training vary (eg weight training one day, HIIT the next, running the next) you cannot possibly allow your muscles to recover due to a lack of adequate rest. Your performance will deteriorate and it will become increasingly difficult to reach your goals.
5. Your body hurts
If your joints, muscles or bones hurt, and not just for 24 hours or so after a heavy session (beyond a natural DOMS reaction), this is likely to be a sign that you are pushing your body too hard for it to heal effectively, and risk causing yourself a serious injury. If you are also not getting the post-workout rush of energy and endorphins, but rather feel overtired and anxious, this is an indication that your overtired body is taking a toll on your mood and you need some rest.
It is important to Move Everyday
It is important to note that whilst it is not beneficial for our bodies to train everyday, it is beneficial for our health to move everyday. Depending on how your body feels, you should aim to have 2 rest days per week, and space them out. If you are undertaking really heavy weight training, you may need more rest in between sessions, even up to 48 hours between sessions, for the muscles to really recover.
On days away from the gym, try and incorporate some form of movement into your day, whether it is a walk or a gentle yoga or stretch session, as this will assist in the recovery process, and assist in maintaining your mental and physical health.
10 Ways to Optimise Recovery
1. Vary your training sessions – focus on different muscle groups or styles of training on each day to optimise recovery time for each muscle.
2. Sleep – training should generally make you sleep better at night, as your body will want to rest and repair. Human growth hormone (HGH) is naturally released through the body as we sleep so you can optimise recovery by establishing healthy sleep hygiene.
3. Active recovery –Gentle yoga exercises or incorporating a stretch band for mild resistance exercise not only assist if you have particularly sore or tight muscles, but gentle movement assists in removing waste products from the body which build up after intense exercise.
4. Foam roll – foam rolling is effective for reducing muscle tension and increasing blood flow to muscles which can reduce muscle soreness.
5. Stretch - gentle stretching after a workout is a fast way to reduce acid in the muscles and to help your muscles recover quickly.
6. Hydrate – water supports your body’s metabolic function and assists in the transfer of nutrients around the body so ensure you drink lots of water, both after exercise and on recovery days.
7. Eat enough – after exercise, your body needs to be refuelled, so it important to watch your nutrition and eat enough nutrients during recovery periods. On rest days, you may be inclined to eat less calories, but to insure that your body has enough fuel to recover make sure to eat as much as you normally would, including protein.
8. Consume protein – high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate should be consumed within 60 minutes of finishing your workout to refuel fatigued muscles and to maximise efficient recovery.
9. Massage – the symptoms of DOMs can be relieved through massage, minimising muscles soreness.
10. Listen to your body – if you are exhausted and sore, take it easy, your body will thank you for it.