What to do on your rest day?
On rest and recovery days it is important to avoid doing the worst thing you can do for your body… nothing. Examples of rest and recovery activities are walking, static stretch exercises (after a warm up and loosening up period), dynamic stretching, swimming, water running, and riding a bike.
Mistake #1: You’re Determined to Get Fit, and Recovery Day Isn’t Even in Your Vocab
Overtraining will catch up to you. “You don’t have to beat yourself into the ground seven days a week to get where you want to go,” says Albert Matheny, cofounder and trainer at Soho Strength Lab. So take an easy day when you need it. “There are worse things than skipping your class to hit golf balls with your friends,” he says. Stults-Kolehmainen recommends using the Total Quality Recovery (TQR) Scale to tune in to your body’s recovery process: Before every workout, you simply rate how recovered you feel on a scale from zero to 10, 10 being totally fresh and zero being totally whipped. He recommends modifying your workout (think: stretching, light yoga, or an easy elliptical session) for ratings less than five. “Overtraining symptoms and recovery needs are very individual,” says Stults-Kolehmainen, “but the TQR scale gives people an easy way to determine what type of exercise will serve them best that day.”
Mistake #2: You Go for Carbs. On Carbs. On Carbs.
Carbs, we love you, but on our less-active days, we really don’t need so much of you. It turns out that carbohydrates are our body’s preferred fuel source, and when they aren’t readily available, it starts to eat fat. “If you main goal is weight loss,” says Matheny, who is also registered dietician, “limiting your carbohydrate intake can help you reach that goal.” On your off days, he suggests simply cutting out your mid-morning smoothie or going for a lettuce wrap instead of fresh-baked bread on your sandwich at lunch—save those delicious carbs for hard workout days.
Mistake #3: You Give Your Muscles the Cold Shoulder
A tough indoor cycling session, strength day, or extra-long run can give your fitness a boost—but it can also leave your muscles feeling tight and sore, which can eventually wreak havoc on your joints. Myofascial release is a technique that targets soft tissue to help relieve muscular immobility (that stiff feeling) and soreness (that sensation that we love to hate). And you don’t have to schedule a professional massage to reap the benefits of Myofascial release. Matheny recommends targeting large muscles on a foam roller (think your IT band the day after cycling class) and going after smaller areas (like your calves after a run) with a massage stick. Lacrosse, tennis, or baseballs can be massaged into sore, tight muscles too for the same sweet release that the massage stick offers. “Especially if you are sitting most of the day,” says Matheny, “massaging muscles will help prevent the shortening and tightening that can affect your next workout.”
Mistake #4: Your Protein Intake Is Weak
Studies show that under-eating after exercise can majorly dampen recovery. And no wonder: After a strenuous workout, your body is desperate for refueling—yep, that means calories. There’s no better way to get the most recovery bang for your calorie buck than protein. “Protein isn’t just for those trying to gain,” says Matheny. “You need it to maintain lean muscle mass, too.” Even if you’ve just finished an extra-hard effort and know that tomorrow will be an extra-light day, focus on taking in a high-quality mix of protein and carbs soon after your workout, like oatmeal with nuts, berries, and flax seed. Your post-sweat session fuel will play a big role in how you well you recover the next day—and you’ll feel better, too!
Mistake #5: Your Sleep Schedule Looks a Lot Like Your Hair in the a.m.: All Over the Place!
If you focus on optimal nutrition, lots of feel-good stretches, and even sprinkle a sports massage into your recovery days, you should be able to kill your next training session—well, unless you’re not getting adequate z’s.
“(Sleep is) definitely one of the most important recovery strategies,” says Stults-Kolehmainen, noting that a lack of enough high-quality sleep (think seven to eight hours for most of us) will result in extra stress on the body and less energy focused toward muscle recovery. He suggests trying a phone app that monitors your sleep, and then analyzing how recovered you feel based on the amount of sleep you’re getting. Matheny notes that people usually sleep better if they maintain a consistent schedule. No matter when you schedule your workouts and recovery days, try establishing a routine that gets you in and out of bed at relatively the same time every night. That way, you can use your recovery days to, well, recover—and not just guzzle coffee!
Mistake #6: You Take the Elevator—to the Second Floor
Think yesterday’s extra set of pushups gives you permission to sit on your booty all day? Sorry, it doesn’t. Unless you’re recovering from an incredibly taxing workout or competition, like a triathlon, Stults-Kolehmainen recommends that you make movement a part of every day, even recovery days. Why? A more active easy day will ramp up your immune system and get more blood and oxygen moving through your systems. Why does that matter? “Recovery is actually dependent on your immune system,” says Stults-Kolehmainen. In the same way that it helps us overcome sickness, our immune system cleans up the debris from muscle micro trauma caused by exercise. On recovery days, Matheny suggests walking to work, going for a leisurely bike ride, or taking a restorative yoga class to prevent a day of sitting, lounging, and lying down in front of a screen. Even light movement will help repair your muscle’s micro-tears and leave you feeling looser and more energized, not sluggish.
Mistake #7: You Spend Your Recovery Days Stressed Out
You are in the midst of a rough week at work with a zillion deadlines, your social life is seriously weighing on you, and your brain starts working overtime the minute you try to fall asleep. To make matters worse, all that extra mental stress you’re carrying around can make you feel more tired, sore, and achy after workouts, too. According to Stults-Kolehmainen, stress management and emotional health actually affect your physical recovery. Why? Because stress—whether it’s coming from work, family, friends, or any other source—has a profound impact on your immune system, dampening its responses and hampering with its ability to focus on repairing your sore muscles. “Our research shows that the accumulation of negative life events is associated with poor recovery,” says Stults-Kolehmainen, referencing a 2012 study he led at the University of Texas. Not to mention, stress can impact your sleep, diet, and how much self-care you engage in overall. Stults-Kolehmainen recommends trying mindfulness practices, like meditation, to reduce post-workout stress. And Matheny notes that if the workout you have scheduled for the day is only adding to your stress load, it’s a good idea to skip the intense session for a fun evening with your friends—bonus if it’s movement-based.