Yes, Gabby Douglas loves flying into a double-flip on the gymnastics floor, but ask her to do it Monday through Sunday and she may just flip out. That's because athletes know that more isn't more. "Pros are phenomenal rest takers; it's everyday exercisers who often don't have enough confidence in their routines to take a day off," says David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Built-in rest days are physically necessary for your body to get fitter. When you work out hard, you create tiny tears in your muscle tissue; those fibers can't rebuild and strengthen if you're asking them to go at it again the next day, Holland explains. So see, we're not saying you deserve a rest; it's part of your training! That also means no junk workouts. Skip kickboxing if you're still dead from yesterday's MetCon class. Don't run 30 minutes longer than you'd planned, just to make up for eating brownies the night before. That seemingly innocuous extra work adds up and can keep your body from being able to do crucial muscle repair; it may even edge you into overtraining—an ugly, plateau- and injury-inducing zone.
Borrow a page from the pros and...
- Schedule rest days: Yep, right into your Google Calendar or smartphone, just like you would a workout. You want a breather at least every three to four days, Rooney says, to prevent muscle fatigue from intense workouts, or 24 to 36 hours after a workout that makes you body-crushingly sore. (That's when delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, tends to strike, and when your muscles need the most reprieve.)
- Don't just sit there: Athletes foam-roll, stretch, take ice baths. OK, maybe that last one doesn't sound so appealing, but Fran-Bieuzen, Ph.D., who has studied contrast water therapy, says alternating your shower temp between super cold (50 degrees) and hot (crank it to 100), for two minutes each, may help ease muscle soreness, too.
- Do lie there: For at least seven hours. You need that sleep to capitalize on the gains you made in the gym. Some 80 percent of your supply of human growth hormone, what's created in your brain's pituitary gland to repair and strengthen muscles, is produced while you snooze. Regularly get less than seven hours a night and you're limiting your potential gains. "In fact, among some professional coaches and trainers, sleep is now being considered an 'advantage metric,'" says Epstein. Follow all six of our strategies and it's advantage, you.
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