How Rest Days Made My Workouts More Effective
I Never Used to Prioritize Rest Days, and It Left Me Burned Out and Exhausted
Like many people living in the modern age, I have found my life, especially before the pandemic, to be all types of "go, go, go." Whether trying to make it to meetings or finding time to squeeze in errands like grocery shopping, appointments, or running to the post office, it sometimes seems like my to-do list is never-ending. And my fitness routine has historically been no different.
Whether I am practicing yoga in my living room or riding my fold-up stationary bike while watching the news, I love pushing myself to the limit and taking my workouts to the next level. Pilates class on a Saturday afternoon followed by a morning workout on a Sunday? Sure, why not!? Four days of back-to-back ab and thigh routines? Sounds good to me! My at-home workout setup means that my fitness regimen is completely accessible (maybe too accessible), which has caused me some issues in the past. One of those issues: not knowing when enough is enough.
Working out feels good and it can help invigorate your body and mind. It allows you to build muscle and stamina, it gets your blood pumping, and it may even help raise your energy levels. But you know what feels even better? Knowing when to take a rest day.
Have you ever heard of the saying that was born from Newton's Law of Motion? It goes something like, "an object in motion tends to stay in motion." This is something that has been used to describe motivation in people or used as an analogy when talking about forming good habits. Well, in my case, it can describe my relationship with fitness. I always felt that if I took a day off I'd fall off the wagon, but I was wrong.
Taking rest days has changed my relationship with fitness entirely. In the past, I would go on workout marathons that would stretch for a few weeks until I would inevitably crash one evening, confused, sore, and agitated as to why I couldn't muster up enough strength to get myself to my mat. "But I was on such a roll!" I'd say exasperated. This feeling of soreness and fatigue would last for days, until I would eventually come out on the other end of it and do the whole cycle over again. I knew something had to change.
Over time, I realized I needed to listen to my body more, even if my mind was guilt-tripping me into working out every single day of the week. By doing this I set up more realistic fitness goals for myself — instead of stacking workout routines with no end in sight, I would exercise for two or three days in a row and then take a day off. I also began to diversify my workouts; I added more yoga, focused on certain muscle groups, and cut back on exercises that I felt weren't benefiting me as much as I thought they would.
However, the biggest surprise was that building rest days into my schedule not only helped my body physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I felt more positive and upbeat. I didn't experience that "what am I doing with my life?" existential feeling that often accompanied my energy crashes when I pushed myself too hard for too long. I was able to sleep better and find more balance in my life. When I cut my workouts back, I had more time to do other things I love, like exploring new neighborhoods outdoors, reading, and working on personal projects. I was less tired, something that I really struggled with when my workout regimen was overwhelming.
Of course, rest days don't mean you have to stay home in bed or on the couch. (But if that's more your speed, then that's totally fine, too!) Rest days for me look like long walks in gardens or along the water or gentle stretching on my yoga mat in the sun. I usually try to plan out my rest days to fall on a day of the week where my boyfriend and I have time to do outdoor activities — such as visiting a new part of the city or walking over the bridge into Manhattan — or when we have more time to take things slow — such as walking to do our errands instead of taking public transportation or a car.
No matter what your rest days look like, there's one thing that's for sure: you owe it to yourself to take them.