Man and woman walking home from the gym

The Importance of Rest Days

Bryan Loewen / Jun 23, 2017

After entering beast mode but the end of our workout, your body usually asks you nicely to stop pounding it into the ground. However, we’ve all got that athlete inside of us that tells us to keep pushing; it’s how we improve.Unfortunately, that same little athlete inside of us telling us to push through the last mile of a marathon is the same thing that can push us to injury. It’s time we start to understand the importance of rest days.

Knowing the difference between building your body and breaking it down is something even career athletes have difficulty with. The importance of rest days applies to athletes of all levels – so important that professionals like physiotherapists have devoted their careers to it. We’ve even devoted an entire category of our products to those moments when athletes like you need to rest and recover, but we’ll save you the sales pitch.

Man appreciating the importance of rest days: sitting on the beach

“Someone that doesn’t have enough rest and recovery in their program will eventually experience an overuse injury,” says NYC-based physical therapist and Iron Man athlete, Chad Woodard. As the principal director of Symbio Physical Therapy, Woodard treats athletes of varying disciplines who don’t understand the importance of rest days and often think an injury won’t happen to them. And as humans, we all tend to think the same way.

Chad says, “A lot of us have an ‘I’m sure I’ll be ok’ attitude,” lamenting that many people just don’t know what their bodies really are—or aren’t—capable of.

So how do we avoid injury and keep the body in tip-top shape to keep crushing our fitness goals?

“It takes the body anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to recover from whatever it is you just did to it,” Woodard says. “You want to give your body enough time to repair itself and come back stronger than it was previously. This takes time.”

Woman resting on one knee wearing an RYU bag

Whether we know what it is or not, any of us who have participated in some form of intense exercise have probably experienced delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. This oft-debated phenomenon was once thought to be the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, but that theory has since been disproven.

– Chad Woodward, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, CMPT, CSCS

“DOMS is [your body recognizing] micro tears in the muscle. The pain receptors in the muscle will recognize this [as an] injury and nerves will sense that you have micro-trauma. This causes swelling which is actually a good thing.”

Woodard explains that this accumulation of fluid and subsequent swelling in the muscles is actually responsible for the repairing of muscle tissue.

“Nerve endings pick up the presence of this new fluid and they become stretched; your body interprets that as pain. But that fluid starts a process that has a lot of chemicals involved. These chemicals launch a sequence of events that then repair the muscle tissue.”

Unsurprisingly, simply resting is the best thing to cure DOMS. Any strenuous activity or exercise should be followed up by workout recovery days. That length of rest depends on the individual and your current level of fitness, but a day or two should usually do the trick. Some people find that after a bout of delayed onset muscle soreness, they need rest but also a good workout to get rid of the soreness. But how can the exact cause of your soreness get rid of it? Well, Woodard suggests this is because the exercise causes your body to flush out the remaining fluid that caused the soreness in the first place.

Man going up an elevator in the mall

“Movement is medicine,” says Woodard who recommends a lighter intensity workout to get things functioning at optimal capacity once again.

Now, workout recovery days are great; the couch never feels better than it does the day after a tough workout. But like any beautiful machine, your body can also benefit from preventative maintenance. How do athletes perform preventative maintenance?

“It takes time and persistence, but athletes that incorporate a consistent stretching routine will reap the benefits of a wider range of motion, enhanced recovery, and reduced risk of injury in subsequent training sessions.” Says Connor Mahannah, our resident Personal Trainer and Brand Connector.

“Spending 10 minutes once a week unfortunately won’t ever get you there,” Connor says, recommending that daily stretching is the best way to counter your risk for injury. So grab your foam roller or yoga mat, throw on some Barry White, and get your stretch on.

Woman walking on the street with RYU backpack

Stretching is often avoided because people find it boring. But as true as that may be, there are ways to make at least a little more enjoyable. Watching TV or listening to music while you stretch can help. If you’re the type who lives for a routine, incorporating it into your morning or evening rituals can help too. However you choose to add it in, just remember that even 15 minutes of stretching a day can keep you in the game longer.

And for those of us who have trouble remembering the importance of rest days, here’s a thought: a rest day only lasts 24 hours; injuries can take months to heal. Which would you rather?

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