Rest is a fundamental part of training, which is frequently overlooked.
There are those who are new to working out- the combination of limited experience and an ardent enthusiasm to do as much as possible, ultimately working to their detriment. And there are those determinedly working towards a fat loss or muscle gain goal, who understand the theory of rest, but choose simply to ignore it, incorrectly perceiving it as a hindrance.
Both parties are suffering from the dangerous misconception that more is more.
Well here’s the thing: more is NOT more. Your rest is just as important as your training. Not only is a lack of rest going to render your training far less effective, but eventually, it may well prevent you from training altogether. Repeatedly failing to recover is going to utterly batter your poor central nervous system, leading to injury, illness, and chronic fatigue, amidst many other assorted delights.
If you are overtraining, and this hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me, it’s only a matter of time.
Rest and recovery can be applied in a few different ways, throughout your programme- namely via rest days, rest weeks and deload training (aka active recovery).
Rest days should be incorporated into your weekly training plan. You should have at least one day per week with absolutely no scheduled training- resistance, cardio or otherwise. Then, depending on the nature of your workout intensity, the number of muscle groups worked per session, and your overall training volume, you may need more rest days in addition to that. Personally, I aim to have at least two complete rest days each week.
The aim of a rest day is to enable muscular repair and/or growth, and recovery of the central nervous system, which isn’t to say that your rest days should be completely inactive. Enjoyable, low-intensity activities, such as a walk or a leisurely cycle a perfectly acceptable, and I’d encourage them! Of course, if you need a day to veg on the sofa, that’s fine too.
If you’re not going to be performing deload, or active recovery sessions, then a full rest week should be taken every 10-12 weeks. This is necessary for the full recovery of your central nervous system.
During this rest week, there should be no scheduled training at all, although, as with rest days, leisurely, low-intensity activity is encouraged. In terms of diet, I’d recommend that you eat at maintenance (see my calorie counting article if you’re unsure of what your ‘maintenance’ is)- this applies both whether you have been eating in a surplus to gain muscle, or in a deficit to lose fat.
If you’ve never taken a rest week before, it can be a little nerve-wracking. It’s a common fear that all our hard work will be undone in seven days, and that we’ll be taking a huge step backwards in our progress. Please let me reassure you that this is far from the case- once you return to working out, your training will be on fire, and you’ll realise just how much your intensity had dropped off in the couple of weeks prior to your rest week, as by comparison. And if you’d been dieting, a week of eating maintenance calories will have got your metabolism revving along nicely!
Once you’ve taken you’re first rest week, you’ll wonder why the hell you didn’t take one sooner, and you shouldn’t have any hang-ups about taking a week off, from then on in. This was certainly the case with me!
An alternative to taking a full rest week, is instead, to perform a deload week. This should be done around about every four weeks. With a deload, you take the training programme you’ve been doing, and significantly notch down the intensity.
One way of doing this is to reduce volume. For example if you’ve been been doing 3 x 10 reps of an exercise at 20kg, you would instead do 2 x 5 reps at 20kg. Another option is to reduce the load, so you’d stick with 3 x 10 reps, but you would lower the weight to 10kg.
Really, as long as everything is sub-maximal, and you well clear of muscular failure, it’s acceptable. This is not a workout that you should be ‘feeling’ afterwards!
If you’re doing cardio, it should be kept to a low intensity, and techniques such as interval training should be avoided.
I’d still suggest taking a full rest week from time to time, but if you’re doing regular deloads, one rest week every 16-20 weeks would be sufficient.
Let’s not be forgetting the most important fundamental of recovery- adequate sleep! The recommend amount of shut-eye for the average adult is a good 6-8 hours. Depending on various genetic and lifestyle factors, you may be able to get away with a little less, but as a ball-park figure, 6-8 hours is what you should be aiming for. This is as important for optimal mental function, as well as physical recovery.
You can see now why training hard and eating well needs to be complimented by adequate rest, in order to be effective. You may have heard the phrase “Train, eat, sleep, repeat.” Most of us will have to add work or school in there too, but the philosophy still applies!
So think about when the last time was that you took a break? If it was longer than three months ago, then bite the bullet and take next week off. It’ll do your body, your training, and your goals the world of good!