Rest Days, Part 1 - Less Is More

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You're not resting enough.

This is not a universal truth across all athletes but it does seem to describe much of the clientele base across two of the gyms with whom I have been closely tied. We all seem to intellectually know (or at least have been told) what the importance of rest days are. The greatest challenge comes in executing the principles. As it has been so wisely put, "Knowing is the easy part, it's the doing that is hard."

Failing to give yourself adequate recovery comes from two fundamental misunderstandings:

  1. Understanding what your time in the gym is actually doing for you.
  2. Scheduling your rest days as carefully as you schedule your workouts.

This post is meant to focus one first point. Please see Part 2 for a discussion of the second.

What is your time in the gym actually doing for you?

It is easy to fall into the thinking that each day you spend in the gym is driving your progress and that each rep is making you a little bit stronger. This is an easy point to defend; your fitness gains are the end result of a process that begins with pushing yourself through each workout. The biggest take away from that statement is not that each rep makes you stronger but rather the word process. Working to your limit is only the first step in a long process of making strength and conditioning gains. The improvement that we all seek is an adaptation. Demand more of your body than it is currently capable of and it will adapt. This is the basis of any strength and conditioning protocol that has ever been created. Even more fundamental than that, it is survival and drives the changes that occur in individual humans. Our bodies are wonderful machines, quite adept at adjusting to external, environmental demands. This is the reason that gyms exist. The purpose of every piece of workout equipment available is to provide this external demand. What you are doing in the gym is inciting the adaptation. For example, when lift up to or near your limit and your body understands how close to it was to its physical limit. This will incite the need become stronger so it is better prepared to handle that type of demand in the future. Failure to understand the following principle is a key flaw in the mindset of many athletes.

Your workouts are a way of asking your body to make a change, they are not the change itself!

A well crafted workout plan is constructed with this concept at the core. It will focus on demanding maximal adaptation from the athlete while minimizing the physical breakdown. There is much more to be said about program design that will follow in later posts.

Maximizing Your Rest

Let the changes happen.

We have just concluded that gains do not directly follow your workout. The most important step to maximize your return from each workout is to give your body the fuel and opportunity to make the changes you demand. Proper nutrition both pre- and post-workout as well as at all times of the day is fundamental to get the most from each gym session. Much has been written on this topic and surely much more will follow (include many posts of mine) so we will suffice to say that nutrition is of paramount importance and return the topic at hand.

Take sufficient rest days to provide adequate recovery between workouts. There is no perfect prescription and only your body can tell you when you need to rest. I understand the paradox inherent in saying that you are not resting enough while simultaneously telling you no one can know that better than you. My goal in all of this is a shift in many athletes priorities. Understand that maximizing your recovery is every bit as important, and perhaps more so, than maximizing your workout. Understand that letting the changes happen to their fullest is more important than that extra day, that last set, etc. Make recovery your focus rather than your workout. When in doubt of whether to rest or workout, choose rest rather than gritting through a workout. Which choice will provide the best results? Choosing to rest more often and receive the maximum benefit from each workout or working out that extra day or two to demand a little extra adaptation but hindering the gains from the days that came before? I choose the first one.

Plan your rest day program as carefully as you plan you workout program. The best advice I can give on rest days is to make them ritualistic. I plan my rest day activities carefully, lining up appointments and activities that will not only help maximize my physical recovery but provide me with a little recovery holiday to look forward too. By carefully planning one or two days a week in this manner I make certain that I take I my rest days because I anxiously anticipate them. I also ensure that I get the most out of those days because I have planned recovery activities or appointments. I will give a full discussion and breakdown of how I plan my rest days and the specific elements that I plan for them in the Part 2 of this post. Stay tuned.

Thanks

- Justin

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