When you’re in the habit of exercising regularly, it feels like you’re on fire.
You’re feeling sore but stronger; perpetually sweaty but ready for more. You see the results start to show, and you want to up the ante.
You managed to work out six days this week? Next week, let’s go for seven.
But hold on. Slow down there, partner.
We understand your enthusiasm and are stoked you’re feeling so good. Exercise really does make a difference in your energy level and it. Feels. Awesome.
… Which is exactly why you need to take a break. Not for just an hour or five; a whole day.
Bear with us as we explain why it’s absolutely crucial you allow your body a Sunday to chill, stretch, and reset—and what you can do to maximize your recovery.
Your Muscles Need Rest
You must have heard this as the #1 reason you should allow yourself a no-exercise day… But never heard it explained why.
When you exercise, you’re obviously fatiguing the body. Ultimately, this stress is benefitial as it strengthens you; but it strengthens you precisely because your immune system recognizes that.
If your immune system could talk, it would say something like: “Hey! You’ve been doing a lot of cardio and heavy lifting, and your body wasn’t quite strong enough to do that today. So let us make some tweaks here and there and you’ll be in better shape to do those things in no time!”
Those “tweaks” are obviously stronger muscle definition, and— like all good things— take time. Think about it: your body is literally taking your weakened muscles and repairing them into something stronger. If you keep exercising and straining those muscles, chances are: your body won’t have much of a chance in mending them completely.
Is the human body amazing? Absolutely. Does it need a day off, just to work on repairing your body? 100%.
What to Do on Recovery Day
Now that we’ve discussed just how important taking a day off from working out is, you may be wondering, “So does that mean I just do… Nothing that day?”
Sure. If that’s what you want.
But for those of you that crave at least a game plan that will maximize your recovery, here’s a few ways you can do just that.
Think getting a good stretch before and after your workout serves its own recovery? Think again.
Recent studies show that doing longer static stretches (the kind where you stretch to a point of almost-discomfort, and then hold) before a workout actually decreases your workout’s performance. This is most likely because static stretching relaxes the muscles, which when relaxed… Isn’t exactly synonymous with “strength,” is it?
Love your long stretching sessions, though? Us too.
Luckily, this is all the more reason to take a day off for yourself.
Static stretching does have its place, even when it’s not during the time you thought it was. Jan Schroeder, Ph.D. of California State University Long Beach argues that it helps flexibility, allowing you to move in a fuller range of motion. In which case, it certainly does help your workouts; for example, being able to sink into a deeper squat, or kick higher in a kickboxing class.
So you should practice static stretching, just not before your workout. This leaves it for your day off: where you can unwind, sink deeeep into that body fold, and give yourself that pat on the back (er, stretch of that sore muscle) you’ve been looking for.
2. Light Exercise
While a recent study has shown that light aerobic exercises can reduce muscle soreness, it is important to note that this shouldn’t be nearly as long or as challenging as your regular workouts. You don’t want to push your body further into damaging itself… Remember: your muscles are still trying to heal.
So think along the lines of exercises that are easier on the joints: yoga (remember that stretching business we talked about?), tai chi, and even swimming.
The water’s buoyancy doesn’t put any weight on your body, so it’s an excellent way to flex the joints. Each stroke is considered a stretch in of itself, and hey. We love a good, occasional workout where we don’t have to sweat. Don’t you?
3. Munch On Protein Packed Meals
Diet and exercise go hand in hand, and you can’t fully thrive if you’re not giving enough attention to one or the other.
While you may have been eating plenty of complex carbohydrates to give you the energy for your workouts, those will quickly turn into sugar if you don’t burn them up.
Instead, let this be the day that you focus on protein and plenty of hydration.
Lean protein is the obvious choice for recovery meals, as it is a key player in rebuilding that weakened muscle tissue you worked out at the gym.
And while you may be on top of your game in drinking water on your gym days, getting hydration on your off day is no less important. In one study, dehydration has been proven to increase the effects of Delayed-onset muscle soreness. Even when you’re resting, you might as well make sure you’re drinking enough water to prevent further pain, right?
If you’re bored of plain old water, reach for coconut water, watermelon (hey, summer!), or even coffee to get the job done.
4. Have A Spa Day
Here’s a study showing that getting a regular massage can significantly help with muscle soreness after a workout.
Need any more convincing? We didn’t think so. You’re welcome.
5. Get Some Sleep. Really.
Maybe this is an excuse to take that 3 hour nap, or maybe it’s just proof that you really need that recommended 8 hours of sleep every day.
We’ve talked a lot about having a “rest day,” but no rest impacts your weakened muscles quite like sleep. Sleep produces a growth hormone, which will in turn build muscle and bones.
Moreover, Stanford did a study where they asked athletes to get more sleep. After increasing their sleep time to ten hours, their rest resulted in better athletic performance, including: better run times, hitting accuracy, and longer endurance.
Talk about the power of a good night’s sleep!
Don’t get us wrong. We still believe that the harder you work, the faster you see results.
As athletic women, we live by this rule. Progress is never made by passive action, and besides… We love getting a good sweat into our day. We love feeling stronger after a good sprint, and tougher as we reach a new weight lifting goal.
With that said, it’s important to note that it really is okay to take a break in your week and let yourself simply recover. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s necessary. Your body deserves it.
And so do you.
Has a passion for two things, community and sisterhood. Notorious for calling complete strangers “Babe,” Becky created The Babe Copywriter, where she works with female-owned businesses to share their story and combine her two passions into her work. She graduated from San Francisco State university in 2015.