Rest and relaxation belong among the most pleasant activities in everyone’s life. Who doesn’t like sleeping in on rainy Sunday, spending a sunny day slacking in a park, picnicking and playing around, or just a simple moment with cup of tea and a good book. We all love it, we all want to do more of R&R, but very often many of us have the feeling that we do not deserve it. There is always something else to do. A task to accomplish, dishes to wash, laundry to do… or a workout to kill. And that’s exactly why I decided to place this post into the “Move” category – I would like to aim this directly at those of us who fall into the last mentioned group – chronic sports addicts, who freak out on their rest days.
Many people treat R&R as mind empowering concept. In today’s world of sedentary office jobs, it’s usually our head that is tired and we need holidays to unwind, get disconnected from work and get more mental power rather than physical strength before hitting the office hard again. Physical rest is saved for sick days. But if you keep yourself quite active, exercise in gym or follow any kind of regular training then physical active rest is essential to achieve your fitness goals. It took me a while to realize.
Whether your goal is fat loss or muscle gain, recovery after training works for both cases. It also work against us, if we do not devote sufficient attention and time to it. There are two very logical things that helped me to understand how recovery influences both fat loss and muscle growth, and allowed me not to feel guilty and nervous about those days when I do not workout.
First of all, muscles do not grow, when we workout. They grow afterwards, when we rest. How come? Simply put, during exercise, muscles get hurt and micro-wounds appear. It is during the recovery period, when the muscle grow by sealing the wounds with new flesh. Imagine bunch of tiny guys filling your “injured” muscles with new material that is stronger to avoid further injuries. So yes, basically we need to tear our muscles through exercise to make them grow bigger and stronger during recovery period (more science here).
That doesn’t mean that injuries are good! Not providing enough time for recovery causes that the micro-wounds (that can be considered healthy) are not “sealed” and a real injury happens that will tie us down to bed or at least away from sports for quite some time. Not fun at all. So every time you take a break after having a few training days in row, appreciate and feel your muscles grow.
As for fat-loss I had a funny a-ha moment last winter, when I started paying attention to how much I sleep, set-up alarm to go to bed and aimed at 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night (read more on sleep here). My goal was endless energy throughout the day, because I was extremely busy at work and still wanted to have some time for myself and exercise. Bad night would have ruined the whole day, and so sleep became my priority. Without changing my diet or exercise routine, all of a sudden I felt lighter and realized that I lost some fat, particularly my little muffin top. How was that possible? Stress is responsible for fat storage, particularly in waist area. You can be the best role model in fitness and nutrition in the world, but as long as you are stressed, you will always have little bit of “something” on your belly. Exercise is practically stress for your body and thus over-training without sufficient recovery period actually works against our goals – it makes us fattier and injured. If you train properly and give yourself time to recover, you will grow muscles and get rid of excess fat in your body. No wonder it is called “beauty sleep”.
In the fitness and well-being world you often hear about “active rest day”. What exactly does it mean? Although spending a day on a couch with your book is an amazing thing to do, and I highly recommend incorporating it in your schedule here and there, active rest elevates life to a whole new level. It is also easier way for those of us, who simply cannot imagine spending a day doing nothing.
Muscle recovery and fat loss speeds up through “moderate-motion” activities. Activities that are natural for our bodies, keep us moving, but do not stress the body like harsh HIIT, heavy weightlifting or a long distance bike race. What are they exactly?
- Walking: yes, just get out and walk. Everywhere, anywhere. Ditch bus or metro on your rest days and walk to work. Walk your dog, your children, your partner, your grandma. Go for a light hike, enjoy the sunshine, soak up some green in the woods. Walking can be functional, if you need to get from A to B, run errands or clean the house (that can be quite a workout!). And it can be treated as fun. Simply move around, it does magic! I love the added benefits of walking – get dose of vitamin D, enjoy nature, and the best thing is that even less sporty family members can join! What is awesome? Shopping counts as well! Indeed, grab a friend and treat yourself a shopping spree.
- Moderate activities: anything from easy bike ride, through relaxed roller-skating trip to playing in a park works (slack line is so popular these days!) in favor of muscle recovery, contributes to your social life, and delivers the dose of outdoors and sunshine that we need to thrive.
- Yoga and stretching: Yoga is no. 1 or my list of recovery activities. It soothes mind, relaxes body and at the same time make me feel like I actually did something sporty (the addict talks). It helps to stretch and tone muscles, calms you down and get you more connected with your body. I find it a great complement to the exercise routine, because it also develops new skills and be more aware of your body, poses, posture and micro-moves. If you are not much of a “zen person”, you can always skip “the mind part” and derive the physical aspect of yoga and breathing.Personally, I incorporate yoga poses in my stretching routine, and often at the end of my workout I choose a balancing strength position that I practice without all the “zen”. On rest days I take time and spend 30-60 minutes on a full session (great source is My Yoga Online). As I am an impatient, sometimes too lively girl, yoga also works on my patience and calm.
Next time you feel guilty about skipping a workout, don’t. Come up with an activity that will boost your life and at the same time will enhance your training and contribute better to your overall goals. Make sure that your fitness plan is complete with time for recovery. Last but not least, take advantage of this time to live life loud!
Thanks for reading, everyone. Do not hesitate to leave thoughts and opinions in the comment section.