You have a goal, you are feeling motivated, and you think that living at the gym will help you get faster results, because more is more, right? Not always. Your body needs time to recover and repair itself after exercise. To get the best results possible from your workouts, you want to make sure you are allowing your body to rest so that it can repair itself and come back stronger for your next gym session.
Signs of overtraining.
Resting heart rate that is faster than normal, which means your heart is working harder than normal, and you need to let it rest. To get a baseline for your resting heart rate, check it first thing in the morning before you get out of bed, (or during the day after you have been seated for at least 5 minutes) use 2 fingers to find your pulse on either your neck or your wrist, and count the beats in 6 seconds, then multiply by 10 to get the beats per minute. A normal range for resting heart rate is between 60-80 beats per minute. If yours is faster or slower than normal, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor to be sure you’re in a healthy range.
Frequent sickness can be a sign that your immune system has been compromised, due to over exercising and/or lack of rest. Sometimes exercise can help you feel better when you are sick, but if you are sick frequently, your body is probably telling you that you need some rest. Don’t feel guilty missing your regular gym sessions to recuperate, you will come back stronger!
Extended muscle soreness that lasts more than 72 hours can mean that your muscles need extra rest to repair and rebuild themselves. If you had a major leg day and you’re still sore days later, you can still do upper body work, but give those legs a rest so you can get back to it next workout.
Insomnia can be a sign of over-training, as a result of the nervous system or hormonal overload from not resting enough between workouts. Getting good quality sleep is crucial to muscle repair and growth. Typically the time between 10pm to 2am is the restorative part of the sleep cycle, and the most important part to see those gains. Your body grows the most while you’re resting, not during training. During REM sleep (the time during our sleep cycle when we are dreaming), our bodies produce the most growth hormone, which helps repair muscles.
Increased injury can happen if you are training without enough time to recuperate between workouts. If you are over working your body you end up training in a weakened state, which can increase your chances of being injured, or aggravating old injuries.
Slowed progress. You had great results in the beginning, but now your progress has slowed down, even though you’ve increased your activity level, sound familiar? During workouts we break down our muscles, and if we don’t give them enough time to rest they will never be able to repair themselves. If you keep working out a muscle that is already broken down, you risk entering a muscle burning phase. That is the last thing we want!
Lack of motivation or burnout. I see it all the time. Someone joins the gym and is feeling super motivated to get into working out that they are going hard, maybe even doing multiple classes on the same day, and it goes well for a few weeks but then they totally lose the drive to continue. It is better to be consistent and do fewer workouts, than to workout everyday and risk burnout. I’m not saying don’t push yourself, but if you pace yourself and gradually increase activity, your body will reward you! Remember, sometimes less is more. We are creating habits to benefit our lifestyle long term, consistency is more important than perfection.
What happens during recovery?
Muscles rebuild. When we exercise, our muscles and tissues break down, so when we rest and recover we give those muscles, bones, nerves and connective tissues a chance to repair themselves and they actually become stronger. (See protein synthesis).
Protein synthesis. “Protein synthesis, in general, is removing or repairing damaged proteins and building new proteins that are replicas of the original. The new proteins are stronger, more dense, and able to handle stress better than before. Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the rebuilding of muscle tissue and it occurs as a result of the stresses that we place on our body, whether it is to repair injury (such as a muscle tear) or because we intentionally try to damage it (microtrauma from training). The exact process is still under considerable scrutiny, however, one thing is certain: it occurs immediately upon stress. The second you begin to exercise, MPS activates and begins to repair muscles. Usually, protein synthesis is said to occur overnight, the next day, etc., but the truth is that it starts right away and may go on for as long as 48 hours at a single damaged site before it is repaired.” -David Sandler, Muscle & Fitness
Fluids are restored. Hydration is so important, considering that our bodies are about 60% water. A good guideline for water consumption is drinking AT LEAST half your body weight in ounces of water, but you should ideally aim for 1 oz of water per pound you weigh. Gatorade is not water, so don’t get confused by their marketing campaigns. If you have lost electrolytes because you’re outside hiking in hot weather, try brands like Scratch for drink mixes with low sugar content and real ingredients without dyes. When you properly hydrate your body, you will lose more body fat, and your body will be able to deliver vital nutrients to your organs.
How many rest days should I take?
Depending on your activity level, you should take at least 1 day a week. Some people like to split up their workouts into upper body and lower body, which allows muscles to rest on days you’re still going to the gym. This is a great option for people who hate the idea of taking time off. The biggest rule with rest and recovery is listen to your body. If you are having trouble walking up and down stairs because you hit legs super hard 2 days ago, its ok to continue to rest your legs! Try some foam-rolling on your leg muscles, and if you are itching to get back to the gym, make it an upper body day. Sometimes it feels great to get your body moving even when you’re sore, it can help to increase blood flow and decrease the soreness. Again, listen to your own body and do what is right for you. When you are just beginning a workout routine, you will probably need more recovery time than someone who has been exercising consistently for a long time. Don’t beat yourself up about it, as you become stronger and more conditioned you will recover faster.
Don’t feel guilty for resting!
Once you are in a routine of working out consistently for a while, its normal to feel a little empty inside on your rest day. “If I don’t go to the gym today will I lose all the progress I’ve made?” Believe it or not, you will be better for resting. Your body will have a chance to repair itself and you will come back stronger in your next workout. Taking a rest day doesn’t have to mean that you are sitting around watching Netflix all day (unless you want to), below are some ideas for activities you can do to keep yourself active while still allowing your body to recover. You can also aid muscle recovery by making sure you are eating enough protein. A good guideline for protein intake, is to multiply your weight by .8, which will give you the amount in grams you should be consuming. (For a 150lb person, they would need to eat at least 120 grams of protein each day.)
Active Recovery Ideas:
Casual bike riding
Stand up paddle-boarding
Remember to stay true to yourself, keep pushing yourself towards your goals, and take time to recover so that you can come back strong for each workout! Keep hustling, never give up on YOU.