“I don’t have time today.”

“I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“I have too much work to do.”

Excuses. Have you ever had one of those thoughts or found another reason to not go to the gym even though deep down you know it’s for the best? If yes, you’re not alone. For some athletes it is easy to make excuses or as I like to say, find “reasons”. Some struggle with these “reasons” more frequently than others and find it a real challenge to get to the gym week upon week, day upon day.

On the other hand, for others it can feel terrifying to miss a workout. Are you one of those athletes who heads into the gym even with a head cold, operating on a terrible night’s sleep or little energy just because you can’t fathom missing a workout? And while you have all the ‘reasons’ in the world you CAN’T miss a workout, a rest or recovery day would be best.

Whether it’s tough to get yourself to the gym or it’s hard for you to miss a day, it’s important to know yourself, when to rest, and when to push. As with most self-care, this is much easier said than done and there is no magic formula (bummer, right?!). In this post, I’ll map out some thoughts on how rest days can help you improve performance and how to honestly evaluate your approach to working out with intention and eliminate the excuses…I mean reasons….

The human body is a machine in motion at all times. When a machine isn’t used, it deteriorates, moves more slowly with greater friction, and may even make unexpected noises (sound familiar?). For extended longevity machines need energy to perform (nutrition), routine care (recovery), and even downtime (rest). In the case of our body, overtraining or not taking the appropriate rest for recovery, can lead to a long list of health problems including but not limited to:

  • Increased blood pressure which puts you at risk for a heart attack or stroke;
  • Decreased immunity which can cause over 80 illnesses (joint aches, patchy hair loss, cold hands, dry eyes…the list goes on EEK)
  • Sleep disturbances (remember my December blog post about how sleep impacts EVERYTHING?)
  • …and more! Trust me when I tell you that the list is long and if I kept going, you wouldn’t make it through to the end of this post.

Instead of harping on the negatives and long list of issues and ailments that can occur with overtraining (because, let’s be honest…you don’t need a new list of “reasons” to skip a workout), lets simply agree that rest is important. And while it may seem like the top performing athletes are always at the gym and never miss a day, the truth is that they are likely taking a rest or recovery day and you just don’t notice. That’s right…a recovery day can count as rest (more on that later).

To keep it simple, working out breaks down muscle that need proper nutrition and rest to recover and reconstruct so that you can continue pushing your limits and hitting PR’s. The BIG Question is…how to know when to rest and when to push? The answer is simple on paper but harder in practice; listen to your body and recognize the difference between pain and soreness – there is a difference. Chronic muscle or joint soreness, or impaired performance are signs that rest is best.

When you find yourself debating whether or not you should hit the gym, be honest with yourself about how your body feels. If you are sore with chronic pain or joint soreness, it seems a rest day would be appropriate. However, if you’re sore from yesterday’s workout and considering taking a day of rest, remember that muscle soreness happens and it’s okay to work through it while working out. Or, perhaps your body feels fine but your list of excuses is getting in the way (kids, work, life…). Consider ALL the ways that you could rearrange your day so that you can workout (remember, there are morning classes and your body can function at that hour or coming to a 6pm class after you have picked the kids up and prepped for dinner). If you dig deep, you can typically find a way and you’ll thank yourself when you hit your goals.

And for all, one of the biggest things to remember is that working out can range on a continuum of effort. This doesn’t mean that I’m hoping you’ll come in and give 10% every day, but it does mean that pushing 100% day after day isn’t sustainable and can make you feel beaten down. Be intentional with your workout and your rest. If you’re stringing more consecutive days together, be intentional about which days are your days to push hard, and which days are recovery. A recovery day (or easier day at the gym) can be considered a rest day. Come into the gym during an open gym and work at low intensity, or join the workout and use lighter weights or a slower pace. Remember when I mentioned earlier in this post that it seems some athletes never take a day off…not true. In fact, it may appear they are ‘working out’ when in reality some athletes come in day after day and sometimes dial back their intensity using light to moderate exercise as a recovery day.

If you’ve squashed excuses for missing the gym and you are seeking additional ways to increase performance without pushing too hard, there are ways to help speed recovery essentially minimizing your down time and increasing your potential. Stretching and foam rolling are two easy to access recovery tools to help your muscles recover more quickly. If it’s an issue to find time (let’s be honest, when isn’t time an issue…) use a few minutes before class, after class, or even while your coach is reviewing the workout. And to further speed recovery, use ice or heat while relaxing on the couch at home, massage, and proper nutrition. If you are intentional with your time, your workout, and your recovery, you may find that you make bigger gains and more PR’s – who wouldn’t want to aim for that!