Rest and recovery – in my opinion, one of the most often overlooked components of fitness. When your body is at rest, you might feel like you aren’t doing anything, but in reality your body is using that time to repair itself and recover energy stores. So in effect, it’s when you’re resting that your body gets stronger.
While this is particularly important for athletes, it’s beneficial for anyone doing muscular strength or endurance training, and even those doing regular strenuous cardio workouts.
In the fitness world, we used to think we could get around this by working only limited parts of your body each day. You’d have leg day, followed by arm day; the thought being that the leg muscles could get their rest while the arm muscles work. We now know better though – the body as a whole is a system and the processes of recovery don’t work in such an isolated fashion.
What can be done though is differentiating your workout types. So if you have a higher intensity muscular strength workout, you could follow that the next day with something like yoga that was working flexibility and muscular endurance, or even a gentle cardio workout.
How much rest should you be getting? Generally speaking, the more intense your workout was, the greater amount of rest you should have. If you’re doing a high-intensity interval style workout where you are pushing yourself to your absolute max – near the point of failure – taking a full day off afterwards would be recommended, anywhere from 24-48 hours before repeating that type of workout. The same goes for an intense muscular endurance class – like a barre workout. Even a really intense cardio session would qualify for the full next day off approach. At a minimum you wouldn’t want to do the same type of workout the following day.
If you’re doing workouts that are more along the line of “breaking a decent sweat but not leaving you feeling drained or really sore the next day” – having a full day once a week where nothing more strenuous than a walk or gentle hike or restorative yoga class was done would be a great solution. Rest doesn’t necessarily equate to lying about and doing nothing! It’s not an excuse to sit on your couch all day.
Another component to rest is what we can do for recovery. This could mean fueling your body with the healthiest meals possible, and staying well hydrated, but it can also mean investing in regular massages. Foam rolling is an excellent substitute if you can’t afford a weekly or monthly trip to a spa. I believe in the benefits of regular foam rolling so much that I offer a class every Saturday morning at 9:55am.
Part of getting adequate rest is making sure you’re getting enough sleep, too. As a fairly frequent sufferer of insomnia, I’ve put together a list of tips to help your sleep be the best it can be.
- Protect your sleep, and make it a priority. Set a bedtime alarm just like a wake up alarm.
- Darken your room. Invest in blackout curtains if needed, and make sure your alarm clock isn’t too bright. Or find a comfy eye mask that doesn’t put pressure on your eyes (which can disrupt REM).
- Turn off electrical devices at least an hour before bed. Yup, that means no TV, no computer, no tablet or phone. Shifting your deice into “night mode” is at least a partial solution, but probably not as good as having the devices entirely off. True e-readers (not tablets) that don’t shine their light directly into your eyes, again, seem to at least be “better than” but not as good as not using them at all.
- If you do read before bed, consider lighter reading – no page turners that keep you up past your bedtime.
- A quiet room is great, but not too quiet where any little bump in the night will wake you. A fan or white-noise machine might be a solution for you, or invest in a window air conditioner, because…
- Temperature is important. Studies repeatedly show that having a cool room (between 60-67 degrees) helps you stay asleep and achieve a higher quality of sleep.
- Somewhat counter-intuitively, at least one study has shown that having warm hands and feet will help you fall asleep faster, so perhaps slip on a pair of extra cozy socks.
- Alcohol and large meals will both impede your ability to sleep well, so don’t eat too much too late, and save the booze for special occasions, or imbibe in smaller quantities. Caffeine after about 2pm can really mess with your sleep too.
- Exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime, as you’ll often feel energized for at least a few hours after a good workout.
- If you have pets, consider keeping them out of your bed at night more often than not.
- Get the best mattress you can afford, and take the time to find one that’s right for your needs. You’re going to spend a lot of time on it – it’ll be worth it. The same goes for your pillow.
- If you share the bed with someone else and you steal each others covers or have different desires in bedding, just get separate twin sized top sheets and blankets! You can always cover it all with one large comforter during the day if looks concern you.
- Naps and the snooze button — if you don’t sleep well at night but you find yourself napping regularly, the naps might be interfering with your sleep at night. Try doing away with the naps and see if your nighttime sleep improves. If you fall back asleep after the hitting the snooze button, you may end up feeling more groggy if it’s waking you in the wrong part of your sleep cycle. If you’re a regular snooze button hitter, consider just setting your alarm later and being better about getting out of bed right when it goes off.
- Keeping consistent sleep/wake times, even during the weekend, might not sound like fun, but if you let your sleep/wake times shift during the weekend, you’re effectively dealing with the equivalent to jet-lag every single Monday.
- A hot bath before bedtime, aromatherapy, meditation, or deep-breathing all have calming effects and can be used to help you unwind and relax before bedtime.
- What if you find you just can’t sleep? You’ve got two choices. If you can calmly lay in bed, even though you’re awake, your body will still reap some rest benefits (though not nearly as good as sleep). But if you start to stress about not sleeping (“if I fall asleep now I can get 4 hours; now I can get 3 hours and 45 minutes; etc”), then just get out of bed. Do something relaxing, not involving bright light, and try again when you think you’re ready.
If you don’t allow your body adequate recovery, there is a condition called over-training syndrome. While most common in competitive athletes, anyone can suffer from this condition, the symptoms of which can include: persistent muscle soreness and fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, increased susceptibility to infections and injury, irritability and even depression.