Working Out? Work in a Rest Day

For many Americans, a good work out regime is measured by action—what you did at the gym, how long you worked out, how many times you worked out in a week, how many calories you burned. This type of thinking, however, often ignores a necessary component of overall health and fitness: rest.

As crazy as it may sound, rest is just as important as the activity itself. It allows for a period of recovery in which muscles become stronger. Running or high-impact cardio, weight training, and even yoga exposes the body to physical stressors, which ultimately boost calorie burn, improve cardiovascular endurance, and increase lean muscle mass. Regardless of how you exercise, you're putting strain on your body. For optimal results (and minimal injuries) the body needs time to respond to this strain, and to do this, a time for recovery needs to be set aside.

10 Signs You're Pushing Your Body Too Far

Overtraining can lead to a litany of unwanted physical and cognitive effects.

Physical symptoms of overtraining

1. Muscle tightness and pain
2.  Joint pain or stiffness
3.  Back pain
4.  Fatigue
5.  Appetite Loss
6.  Impaired athletic performance
7.  A lack of mobility

Mental symptoms of overtraining

8.   Poor sleep habits or insomnia
9.   Anxiety and depression
10. A general lack of enthusiasm for exercise

How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

If you're exercising for general health, there may be such a thing as too much. According to researchers at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, California, proper cardiovascular health can be maintained by burning 2,000 to 3,500 calories a week through exercise (a 200-lb. man will burn 755 calories running for one hour at a 5 mph pace; 391 walking at a 3.5 mph for the same duration). Once the 3,500 calories are surpassed, the benefits of exercise for the average individual begin to decrease and the risk of injury increases.

How to Get Your Rest

1. Plan a scheduled "rest day." If you plan your workouts day to day, be sure to include a day of rest. Choose a day of the week in which you skip the gym or your run and "work" on relaxing.

2. Alternate workouts. When you lift weights, your muscle fibers tear slightly, and then repair themselves to be stronger. Without rest, the muscles will not be able to recover. If you strength train one day, try going for a run the next, or alternate muscle groups—lower body, upper body—to allow for recovery time.

3. Pamper your muscles. Gently stretch before and after workouts and on rest days. Dedicate your off days to muscle nourishment. Eat plenty of protein, as well as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and D to help with muscle recovery; engage in light exercise to maintain mobility, and relax.

4. Change your perspective. Rethink your approach to fitness and make it more about health. Look at your body comprehensively rather than simply how hard you're pushing it. How well are you feeding your body? Are your goals short term or long term? Will you be able to sustain your current regimen without injuring yourself? And of course, how much time are you allotting for recovery?

Ben Greenfield reviewed this article.



Santa Clara University. "Athletes and Complusive Exercising."

Suzanne Girard Eberle, MS, RD. "Compulsive Exercise: Too Much of a Good Thing?"