Updated: May 6, 2021
Be honest. How often do you stop to smell the roses? In a society dominated by deadlines and Instagram comparisons, chances are that you’re among the majority struggling to find opportunities to stop and rest.
Anybody with a green thumb recognizes the value of rest. Farmers, harvesters, and gardeners often refer to the concept of fallow fields. The demands of digging, fertilizing, and harvesting can exhaust soil to the point of infertility. Allowing soil to go fallow means that the land is given a period to rest. Consequently, the rested soil can produce new growth. Similarly, athletes must rest in order to grow.
What is a rest day?
A rest day is exactly what it sounds like - a day off from training to give both your body and your mind time to recover. As a result, you have the ability to further stimulate your body in upcoming training sessions. Training intensity, training styles, and life stressors beyond training are all factors to consider when planning for weekly rest days.
Why does the body need to rest?
In the human body, there are three nervous systems - the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS), and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). While all three systems wire our bodies, the autonomic nervous system powers our internal organs to impact our blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, digestion, body temperature, and water regulation. The ANS has two primary branches that directly maximize our training: sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Pump up the music, surround yourself with your gym family, and hit a new PR. As your heart rate increases, sweat increases, and blood pressure increases, it is evident that your sympathetic nervous system is active. The sympathetic nervous system is often called the “fight-or-flight” system. While most of us love the high of an intense cardio session or maxing out a bench press, our sympathetic nervous system can sometimes go into overdrive. Imagine a car running at idle. You rev the engine every day, but you never go anywhere or turn off the car. Eventually, this fuel supply will end, and the vehicle will be completely useless until it can be refueled. Likewise, athletes can go into sympathetic overdrive. Symptoms of sympathetic overdrive include:
High muscle tension
Weakened immune system
High blood pressure
On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for giving your body the opportunity to “rest-and-digest” through decreased blood pressure, relaxed muscles, and slowed heart rates. Imbalance between the two systems, parasympathetic and sympathetic, can lead to athlete burnout and a fitness hangover.
Invest in Your Rest
Plan ahead. Do you notice that you are constantly exhausted after a long run on Sunday? Rest on Saturday or Monday to recover from the run. Does your son’s soccer practice on Wednesday wipe you out? Rest on Thursday. Do your stress levels rise with project submission deadlines on Friday? Rest on Saturday. We each have our own variety of physical and social factors that add up to exhaustion. Modify your weekly schedule. Invest in your rest days.
“For the majority of our athletes, we recommend taking a full rest day on Wednesday or Thursday and Sunday each week. Without mid-week rest days, the fatigue will accumulate day to day and you will not see the full benefits of your workouts.”
- Christa Robets, Align Athletics.
(Athletes practicing breath work with coach Kyle Spears from Blacklisted HQ)
It’s a Growth Day, Not an Off Day
Remember that rest days are simply opportunities for growth. Sure. Every now and then, a rest day can include Netflix and naps, but there is a array of ways to seize these opportunities for growth:
Grab a Foam Roller - Reduce muscle soreness and improve your range of motion with foam roller exercises.
Practice Meditation or Mindfulness - Relax your body and mind to reduce stress.
Spend Time Preparing Meals - Instead of spending an hour at the gym, spend an hour preparing balanced meals to fill you up later in the week when you’re busy. Be sure to consume protein and complex carbohydrates to restore and repair your muscles.
Engage in Yoga - While some yoga poses are not exactly synonymous with rest (think warrior poses and inversion), restorative yoga practices can relieve your body and mind.
Practice your breathing - Focus on diaphragmatic breathing, body positions, and nasal breathing exercises to improve your performance.
Go for a Walk - Include your family and friends. Observe your surroundings. Soak up the Vitamin D. Embrace the sunshine.
In summary, as farmers tend to their crops, we have a responsibility to take care of our bodies. Continue to fuel your body with proper nutrients and water, but remember that sometimes it is okay to ignore that notification on your smart watch telling you to close your exercise ring. Stop comparing yourself to the social media fitness sensations. Give yourself grace and rest, and you will experience growth. Challenge yourself to stop and smell the roses.