Getting fitter isn't just about working harder in the gym—it's also about doing the right things the rest of the time.
Refresh, Restore, Reenergize
As hard as you might crush a workout, the real labour happens on the days you don't sweat. When you exercise, your muscles undergo microtrauma. Afterward, what are known as satellite cells fuse to the damaged areas to repair the muscle fibres. But this process can happen only when you're at rest. If you keep exercising, your muscles never get a chance to repair themselves, and your progress will plateau and eventually decline. So taking time off is essential. But if your usual rest day is a date with your couch, cancel those plans pronto, and use these expert tactics to strengthen your recovery.
Don't Take Rest So Literally
There's a difference between passive and active recovery. A passive-recovery day means you're not doing any physical activity, and the only time you really need one is when you're injured or sick. Most of your days off should focus on active recovery, which involves low-intensity movement, like an easy bike ride or walking the dog, flexibility and mobility exercises, or foam rolling. These activities will increase circulation and assist in bringing key nutrients to your muscles so they repair faster. The goal is to get your heart rate up slightly and loosen any tightness, not break a serious sweat.
Give Your Mind a Break Too
Stressed exercisers took longer to bounce back from a strength workout than those who were more Zen, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports. Researchers say elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may impede recovery. Relieve stress and speed muscle rebuilding by practising this breathing exercise at least once a day: Breathe in for four counts, hold for two, and exhale for six. This brings the heart rate down, lowers blood pressure, and restores glycogen, which your muscles use as fuel.
See Your Friends
Exercising triggers your body's stress and immune responses, and taking a day off allows these systems to recover. Socialising may make them shut down even faster. That bonding time may also lead to the release of hormones such as Oxytocin and testosterone, which have energy-boosting, mood-elevating, and pain-reducing properties. (You'll love the other activity that boosts oxytocin and speeds recovery.)
Keep Your Calories Steady
Many people dial back their food intake on days they're not working out, but that can backfire, because muscles need those nutrients to rebuild. It can mess with your next sweat session too. Your energy stores will be depleted, so the following day, you might feel overly tired. Stay consistent with your healthy diet.
Sleep, Sleep, and More Sleep
Banking sleep has been shown to be beneficial for recovery. When you're snoozing, your levels of cortisol are low and your body releases growth hormone, which helps turbocharge the tissue- and muscle-rebuilding process.
So yes work hard but remember the importance of active rest days!