When you're consistent with your training, your body takes a beating. Strength training and high-impact cardiovascular activity day in and day outbreaks down your muscles and is hard on your central nervous system. Allowing your body time to recover and implementing rest days into your routine is essential for the body to grow and change.
It also helps to prevent overtraining and reduce the risk of injury. Resistance training, cardio, nutrition, and recovery all play important roles in actually reaching your fitness goals.
While the purpose of an active rest day is not to maximize your efforts or focus on tremendous gains, moving around and breaking a sweat won't hurt. Treat your rest days and training days the same regarding scheduling and preparedness. Have a plan and stick to it! You're more likely to succeed when you have a plan in place.
Listen to your body - it will tell you when it is due for a recovery. Although rest days may not be as exciting as training days, here are a few ideas as to how to make the most of them!
1. Get outside
Explore the outdoors - go for a hike, take the dog for a long walk, go kayaking, volunteer for a community clean-up, or work in your garden. Do something active that you enjoy and that you don't typically have the time to do regularly throughout your week.
2. Work on your flexibility and mobility
Most individuals tend to spend little to no time focusing on flexibility and mobility in their training routines as it's considered monotonous, boring, and sometimes painful. Try a yoga class or simply pull out your mat and foam roller at home! Take some time to focus on your weaknesses and areas that are particularly tight and don't move as freely as they could or should. On an active rest day, the goal is to feel better after your workout than you did before you began.
3. Do a low-impact cardio session
Cycle, swim, walk on a slight incline or hop on an elliptical for 30-45 minutes. The idea is to get some blood flowing, but not push yourself to exhaustion. Remember, fatigue is not the purpose of active recovery.
4. Challenge your balance
If you feel like you just have to do a more traditional workout, create instability in your movements. Try a unilateral bodyweight circuit:
- Single-leg squats
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Bodyweight renegade rows
- Single-arm pushups
- Single-leg glute bridges
Unilateral training helps to reduce muscular imbalances and increase proprioceptive control, which in turn should improve your overall strength with consistent implementation into your programming over time. Focus on maintaining good form and use a means of stability as needed. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps per side for each exercise.
5. Work on your core strength
Training your core on an active rest day is especially effective if you don't do much direct core work in your established strength training regimen. Remember, your core consists of more than your abdominal muscles and obliques. Focus on strengthening your glutes and low back, too! Below is a sample core workout for active recovery:
- Plank to step through
- Elbow plank - hold as long as possible
- Dead bugs
- Side planks with rotation
- Glute bridges
Aim for 3 sets of 15-20 reps per exercise.
Head down to the park for a pick-up game of basketball. Work on your golf swing. Throw the pigskin around with your buddies. Spend the afternoon in the batting cage. Just move!
7. Get prepared
Spend the day preparing for the upcoming week. Use your rest day to set yourself up for success in the week to come. Take some time to grocery shop and prep your meals for the week. Get your programming ready and workouts scheduled so that you know exactly what you're doing each day once you arrive at the gym. We all know showing up without a plan in mind leads to a mediocre workout at best.
It's not a called a rest day for nothing. Relax, take a nap, get a massage, and have a cheat meal!
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