Remember when “No Rest Days” was popular as a hashtag or on a shirt at the gym? In 2022, we now recognize that rest days are essential — and “no rest days” is a product of toxic fitness culture.
It can be really hard to know when to take a rest day. We get a lot of varying messages around what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do when it comes to exercise. The truth is, everyone’s different — and while there are some important things everyone needs to do (cough, cough, fuel!), the frequency of your rest days is dependent on a variety of factors. A good rule of thumb is one rest day a week.
Is it time for you to take a rest day? There are a few signs your body needs a break.
How to know it’s time to take a rest day
You’re tired and/or cranky all the time
Being tired every day when you’re getting enough sleep is your body’s way of telling you to slow down. Often when we’re tired, we’re also cranky. Crankiness can be our brain’s way of telling us to rest.
If you haven’t built a rest day into your schedule, these signs are what to look out for. Yes, you can push yourself and continue to work out — but it won’t solve your tiredness or crankiness. If you wake up and find yourself having an almost daily debate about whether or not to work out, that means you need a rest day!
You’ve stopped enjoying your workouts
If you find yourself dreading the thing you usually like to do, that’s a good sign of burnout. What’s a good solution to burnout? Taking a break! Tune into your inner dialogue during your next workout. If the thoughts are primarily negative, take tomorrow off.
Another toxic fitness trait that needs to go away? Struggling through every workout and thinking that’s normal. We want to enjoy the way we move our bodies. A great way to find pleasure is to listen to your inner dialogue and pay attention to the signals it’s given. You can challenge your thoughts — but leading with negativity doesn’t bring anyone joy.
You’re dealing with persistent soreness
Are you seeing the theme yet? Toxic fitness culture sends all these messages about what exercise “counts” — when in reality, a lot of the very thing people believe should be happening during a workout (soreness!) is your body’s alarm system.
Persistent soreness is a really important message from our bodies that you need to rest. Your muscles need time to recover in order to get the benefit of exercising.
If your muscles are extremely sore, you’ll likely compensate for the soreness and risk injury. Delayed onset muscle soreness can last a few days — but when soreness makes it hard to do normal things, i.e., go down stairs, it’s high time for a break.
Ways to make rest days easier
Taking rest days is something people struggle with. A lot of that struggle comes from believing you need to suffer for your workout to be effective. This takes the joy out of exercise and creates a negative relationship with exercise overall. Here are a couple of things that will make taking a rest day easier.
Use the time you would normally spend working out doing something you’ve wanted to do and haven’t had time for. Sleeping is a very legitimate way to spend your extra time! Do things that feel good for your body — get a massage, get a manicure, go to brunch.
Planning ahead also makes the struggle of whether you “need” a rest day easier to manage. Just like you know what days you might do what exercises, you can put a rest day in the calendar.
Recognize the benefits
Recognizing the benefits of rest days should help quiet any lingering negative thoughts in your head. Your mind and very much your body need time to recover. It’s a good thing to do for balance in your life and to make sure you aren’t over-relying on exercise as a stress reliever.
While exercise is a great stress reliever, if that’s your only way to release stress, then that’s a sign your relationship with exercise might need to be reevaluated. Using rest days to find other things that help you when you’re stressed or feeling bad is helpful for your overall well-being.
The bottom line: Rest days get a bad rap — but if you follow the science, there’s no doubt they’re necessary. As a triathlete and marathoner, I look forward to my rest days.
I know my workouts will be more efficient when my body is recovered. I also know my mood will be better. I can’t name one negative thing that occurs on a rest day.
As a sports psychotherapist, I like to use rest days for clients to evaluate their relationship to exercise. A rest day shouldn’t be a question — when you’re in tune with your body, it will tell you what it needs.