The way you go about your off days can make or break your entire training program. Many people just don't know what to do on their rest days and they either transform them into cheat days or skip them altogether. If you are guilty of this, it's time to reconsider how you handle your rest days and start making smart decisions. If you don't rest on your off days, your ability to build muscle and become stronger decreases, and you expose yourself to injuries. It's hard to take a day off when you are a dedicated lifter because it can make you feel like you're slacking off.
Yet, if you want to be successful, you must look at your off days as essential for muscle growth because that the time when your muscles actually grow and repair after the muscle trauma inflicted on them during your training sessions. Once you understand this, you will see how you need up to 3 or 4 rest days per week, with one day in between your intense training session. So, in order to reach the right mentality for muscle growth, you need to think "stimulation days" instead of "training days", and "growth days" instead of "rest days".
Growth Days Gains
You need your growth day to replenish glycogen stores and repair your muscles. During your growth day, your nervous system gets back to its optimal levels, and this also contributes to accelerated muscle growth. But most importantly, this prepares you for your next training session and enables you to start using progressive overload so that you come out stronger and bigger from each session.
During your off days, your body has limited resources, so you need to invest more in growth and repair. This will help you rest better and get ready for a higher level performance. If your goal is to build more muscle and strength, then it's important to consume good quality protein and carbs to give your body the resources it needs for growth and repair. But don't overdo it, just make sure that you don't lower your calorie intake unless your goal is weight-loss.
Remember to take just one day off in between your workouts and avoid getting two off days in a row, because that could hinder your athletic performance. Use your off days to prepare for your next workout. Perform at the highest level possible with each workout in order to stimulate growth, and then make the most out of your rest days to let your muscles grow. This is how you accelerate your gains and you'll be able to notice the results sooner than you expect.
In order not to transform your rest day into a cheat day, make sure that you are active. If you lift weights during your training days, do something else during your rest days, such as mobility training, flexibility training, or even spend time prepping your meals for the following days. Perform light activities that don't stress your muscles, but that positively contribute to your overall well-being and good health. Your off day is a great opportunity to work on your mobility and flexibility with some dynamic stretches or basic mobility movements. For example, you could do 10 hip mobility leg swings on each leg, or do a simple warm-up routine with some gentle stretching exercise.
Engage in a fun activity that keeps you moving (moving isn't training!) and use this opportunity to recreate, have some fun and relax. Just make sure that your idea of a 'fun time' doesn't involve overeating and going out to eat junk food. Remember to keep your calorie intake in check, but continue to eat your carbs and protein if you're training for growth. If you're training for weight-loss, then a calorie deficit with a lower carb intake will help you reach your goal. Now that we've established that, here are some cool ideas of what you can do during your active recovery:
- ride your bike
- play games with your kids
- go swimming
- do some gardening
- take long walks
- try martial arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Kung Fu
- take a dance class or go out dancing
If you're trying to lose weight and burn some extra calories during your off days, then long walks, sprinting, or an interval training (such as switching between walking and jogging during your walk), will help you burn some extra calories without hindering your muscle growth process. But do not overdo it! You can also take a yoga class to burn more calories while increasing your flexibility.
Whether your goal is to lose weight or build more muscle and strength, you need to take a day off in between your training sessions. This way, you avoid injury, overtraining, and you avoid being under-recovered, which is essential for your health and well-being. Keep in mind that during your rest days you need enough resources to help you properly recover. Use your rest day to grow your muscles and prepare for the next training session.
Handle your recovery with an active approach to keep you moving and prevent you from transforming your rest day into a cheat day. Otherwise, your efforts will be in vain, regardless your goals. Make sure you perform light activities that keep you engaged, but rested.
Whatever you choose to do as an activity on your rest day, remember that you need to recover from your previous session. Never return to the gym under-recovered, because this accumulates over time and you expose yourself to injuries and decrease your ability to build muscle and strength. As long as you eat right and rest hard, you'll reap the benefits of your training sessions. Just listen to your body, have fun and relax during your off days. Do you have a favorite activity for your rest days? Tell us in the comments below!