Do You Need a Rest Day? [The Complete Guide]
There’s a saying that goes “to do your best, you need to rest”, but too much rest can be dangerous. Spoiler: the best approach to a well-rounded and healthy fitness routine is balance.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about rest days, their benefits, how frequently you should take them, signs that you need one, and well-balanced alternatives to complete rest days.
Let’s get started.
A rest day is when you take a day off from doing any physical activity. For example, you might workout throughout the week (e.g. Monday to Saturday), but on Sunday, you take a full day off of activity to rest.
Rest days are important because they prevent you from overexercising. Overexercising can cause workout burnout (also known as exercise burnout or overtraining syndrome) and be damaging to your physical and mental health.
Exercise burnout is thought to be a result of the physical stress and mental stress of training and occurs when a person fails to recover properly from a workout. Failing to recover from a training session is called under-recovery and can cause hormone changes, immune system suppression, physical exhaustion, and negative psychological changes.
When you take a rest day, your muscles repair themselves and replenish their glycogen stores. This reduces muscle fatigue and prepares your body for the next workout.
Because exercise creates microscopic tears in your muscles (specifically with strength training), your body needs time to send the proper nutrition and blood to the muscles in order for them to heal. It’s through this process that your muscle tissue grows and gets stronger. If you don’t allow your muscles the time they need to recover, the tears will grow, and your muscles will feel inflamed, sore, and exhausted.
When taking a rest day, your mind also gets to rest, which is important for your mental health. Instead of worrying about when you’ll fit your workout in during your day, you can focus on other ways to spend your time. Rest days also help prevent workout addictions or obsessions.
“Rest days allow your body to recover and muscles to repair from workouts and are important for your mental health.” - Lonnie Poupard Jr., lululemon Studio Trainer
You should take a rest day if you’re sick, experiencing workout burnout, noticing a decrease in performance, fatigued, injured from muscle overuse, and more.
Here’s a complete list of reasons why you may need a rest day:
- You’re experiencing workout burnout.
- You’re experiencing rapid weight loss.
- You’ve been instructed to do so by a doctor.
- Your immune function is lowered (e.g. getting sick—especially if it’s happening more frequently).
- Your performance is beginning to decline.
- You’re taking longer to recover after exercise.
- You feel tired and fatigued constantly.
- You’re experiencing mood swings, irritability, depression, or anxiety.
- You have difficulty sleeping.
- You have constant sore muscles or feel like your limbs are heavy.
- You’re sustaining injuries from overusing certain muscles.
- You’re losing your usual motivation.
- You’ve reached or exceeded your weekly fitness goals.
It should be noted that if you’re sick, you should always prioritize rest over working out. When you start feeling better, you can begin taking part in active rest (e.g. going for a walk, taking an online stretching class, an online Gentle Yoga class, or an online Tai Chi class). These activities are the perfect way to re-introduce your body to moderate or intense exercise.
Two rest days a week is more than we recommend. Unless you’re sick or burnout from exercise, complete rest days aren’t needed. Moving the body in some way, even if it’s a low-impact activity like walking, swimming, doing yoga, etc., should be prioritized.
You always have the option to incorporate active recovery into your week which can produce most of the same benefits as a rest day while still moving your body and increasing blood flow to sore muscles.
Here’s a visual example of how a healthy week of exercise and movement could look like while incorporating one day of complete rest:
One rest day per week:
- Monday: 30 minutes of moderate activity + weight training session
- Tuesday: 30 minutes of moderate activity
- Wednesday: 30 minutes of moderate activity
- Thursday: Weight training
- Friday: 30 minutes of moderate activity
- Saturday: 30 minutes of moderate activity
- Sunday: Complete rest day (no activity)
Want more sample workout plans to help you structure your week? Get access to expert tips and advice by signing up for the lululemon Studio newsletter.
Incorporate Rest by Split Training
Another approach to rest is to rest different parts of the body throughout the week. For example, on Monday you do an upper body strength training workout that targets your chest, back, biceps, and triceps. So Tuesday would be a rest day for your upper body and a time when you can work your lower body and do a strength training workout that targets your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Then Wednesday would be a rest day for your lower body, and so on. This is called split training and there are many different ways to split your workouts.
When incorporating regular rest days into your routine, there are a number of things you can do to enjoy this downtime, including:
- Reading a book
- Visiting friends or family
- Taking an online course
- Play board games or video games
- Work on a puzzle
- Watching your favorite movie or catching up on a TV series
”Rest days allow you fun opportunities to find activities that you wouldn't have considered before and find this makes creating a routine and daily active practice much more manageable.” - Lonnie Poupard Jr., lululemon Studio Trainer
While some rest days can mean laying on the couch all day (especially after an intense training week), they don’t always have to be a day that’s fully sedentary to count as rest. Rest days can also incorporate some movement—this is called active recovery (also referred to as an active rest day).
Active rest can include things like going for a brisk walk, yoga, Tai Chi, stretching, and foam rolling.
Incorporating active recovery into your weekly fitness routine presents fun opportunities to try new activities you wouldn't have considered before. Bringing active recovery into your exercise routine makes practicing daily activity more manageable. Instead of doing shorter bouts of high to moderate-intensity training to meet your weekly targets, you can incorporate slightly longer bouts of low-intensity training into your week and still hit the same goals.
Here’s an example of what a week could look like when using active rest days instead of full rest days as part of your weekly exercise routine:
- Monday: 30-minute Weight Training class
- Tuesday: 30-minute Dance Cardio
- Wednesday: 15-minute Yoga Flow + 15-minute brisk walk
- Thursday: 30-minute Weight Training class
- Friday: 30-minute Dance Cardio
- Saturday: 15-minute Kickboxing + 15-minute brisk walk
- Sunday: 15-minute Yoga Flow + 15-minute brisk walk
Spend Your Rest Days with lululemon Studio
lululemon Studio offers meditation classes to help your body and mind rest and recover on your rest days, as well as Yoga Flow, Restorative Yoga, Tai Chi, and stretching classes for your active rest days.
Attend classes live or stream them on demand so you can pause and rewind if needed. We have over 10,000 online classes to choose from, so there’s guaranteed to be something that’s perfect for your rest day or active rest day.
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