You already know that getting results comes from spending lots of time at the gym. But what you might not know is that, on the path to physical fitness, your downtime is as important as your uptime. Why? Because your body needs a period to repair and adapt to the stress of rigorous exercise. When you pump iron or hit it hard on the treadmill, the body’s tissues, muscles, bones, and joints break down, and rest days give them time to rebuild.
And then there’s the fact that working out without regular breaks can lead to over-training syndrome, which causes fatigue, poor sleep, decreased immunity and increased risk of injury. You need to punctuate your hard-hitting gym sessions with soft-hitting rest days. Active recovery days—days where you work out at no more than 70 percent of your usual level—are important to keeping your body in a good position to make long-term improvements.
Activities To Do On Your Rest Days
Here are some great things to do during active recovery.
Do Restorative Yoga
Resist the urge to sign up for power vinyasa or Bikram on your day off. Gentle, controlled stretching is extremely important to keep your body agile in the gym. It can also lead to improved physical performance and a lower likelihood of injury. Because it’ll still help you build muscle and strength, a gentle flow class is a perfect way to keep your body in a restful state without losing any of the progress you’ve made so far.
Practice Tai Chi
Tai chi isn’t just for senior citizens at the park! Like yoga, it combines gentle, flowing movements to keep the body engaged while maintaining a low intensity. Tai chi is the perfect rest day activity because it keeps the blood flowing and engages the muscles in your entire body without putting a ton of stress on the muscles and joints. Bonus points if it gets you outside!
Soak in the Hot Tub
A good, long soak in the hot tub. Is there anything more indulgent? When you’re recovering from a particularly strenuous week of working out, spending a little time in some hot H2O can do wonders for the muscles. Hot tubs cause the blood vessels to dilate, which allows them to deliver vital nutrients to the tissues and muscles that need them the most in post-workout recovery.
Get a Massage
Massages are truly one of the most holistic recovery options out there, providing full-body support and mental wellness in a single session. When you get a massage, the tightness and stiffness in the muscles are manually released, allowing them to heal faster so you can get back in the saddle sooner. On top of that, massage helps improve flexibility. Just make sure to pack your glass water bottle and drink plenty of water to help reduce soreness post-massage.
The truth is, you should be working meditation into your daily routine, whether it’s a rest day or not. Though it’s typically touted as a cure-all for a variety of psychological and mood-related concerns, meditation is actually a pretty powerful tool for physical fitness, too. In fact, it may actually help lower blood pressure, ease chronic pain and reduce tension headaches.
Go for a Long Walk
Hitting the hiking trail or walking path brings a myriad of amazing benefits, including getting your heart rate up to an ideal level for active recovery, stretching the legs and gently building strength. What’s more, going for a walk can help connect you with nature and pump the body with essential vitamin D, which can lead to a better mood and mental clarity.
Hit the Trampoline Gym
Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. At those times, we must go to the trampoline gym. And can we just say, these places are way underrated for fitness purposes? The key here is to keep it fun and not try to turn it into a workout. Simply jumping for the thrill of it will keep your entire body engaged and your heart rate high without you even thinking about it. The best part is, there’s no need to track or obsess over it—just have fun!
Golf is the perfect low-intensity activity for active recovery days because it keeps the body active, gets you outside and brings a little fun to the table. The key is to skip the cart and walk at least part of the course so you can log some extra steps and burn some calories while you’re out there.
Go for a Swim
Swimming is the original low-intensity activity, and it still comes out on top with regard to active recovery. Going for a swim can help you maintain the muscles you’ve worked so hard to build without adding any stress that might require its own separate recovery period. Don’t push yourself too hard in the pool, though. The key is to ease the muscles and let them heal.
Don’t forget to pay close attention to your nutritional goals on your days off. Work in plenty of nutritious recovery foods to help heal muscles fast, such as leafy greens, berries, green tea, bananas, and oatmeal. Make sure you’re drinking enough water on your active recovery days to help keep the nutrients flowing to the parts of your body where they’re needed the most.
Resting is Self-Care
No matter if you spend your days sweating it out or resting for hours, consider it self-care. You need activity and rest for good balance, so just make sure you’re doing things that feed the mind, body, and soul.