It can be exhilarating to push your body to its limits with your workouts, but you know that you'll hit those limits at some point. If you try to push hard all the time, fitness pros have one request: take even more rest days than you think you should.
"Being gentle with yourself allows your body to rest and heal itself," says Ali Duncan, a yoga instructor and the founder of Urban Sanctuary, the first women-run, Black-owned yoga studio in Denver, Colorado. "When the body is pushed without any rest, both physically and mentally, something will eventually have to give."
Hustle culture leaks into the gym to tell you to constantly grind, but four fitness pros explain how you can revamp your workout routines to feature more rest, community care, and self-love.
Why People Don't Take Enough Rest Days
A lot of people never realize that they feel like they have to "earn" rest. From sticking with soccer practice because "winners never quit" to working through unpaid parental leave, people are taught to always be working harder — AKA, constantly grinding, as we say in the gym.
"We have been taught to go, go, go," says Emma Middlebrook, a personal trainer and the owner of REP Movement, a workout space in Portland, Oregon that emphasizes body affirmation, anti-racism, and queerness. Getting three hours of sleep might be a badge of honor around the office, but you don't have to work every weekend or drag yourself out of bed every day at 3 a.m. to hit up the gym in order to "earn" that four-hour session of Animal Crossing or that chocolate fudge cake.
"Hustle culture is a result of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy being deeply ingrained in our cultural outlook," says Helen Phelan, a Pilates instructor who specializes in body neutrality and mindfulness. "Choosing rest and deciding not to let wellness marketing guilt you into going 'harder' when it's not right in that moment is what self-care actually is," Phelan says. You don't deserve to constantly run on fumes, she explains.
Make Self And Community Care The Center Of Your Fitness Routine
"The terms self-care and self-love are fairly new, which in itself is wild," Middlebrook tells Bustle. "We had to create a term to help us stop and take care of ourselves, but this is something we should have all been allowed to do without having to create a hashtag." She invites her clients into self-love practices by encouraging folks to do gentle stretch routines instead of intense workouts when energy levels just aren't there. This creates a community that puts members' emotional and physical needs ahead of ideas about what their workouts and lives "should" look like.
The more people, especially those from marginalized communities, surround themselves with affirmation and care for their community, the less pressure there is to work constantly to earn crumbs of relaxation. "I was tired of being the only Black person practicing yoga in all of the studios I practiced [at]," Duncan tells Bustle. "When you put your needs first, not comparing yourself to what others are doing and how others look, you will find a comfortable place with how you interact with your body." Creating this kind of community can help you feel more at ease allowing yourself to feel peaceful and cared for.
Rest Is Also About Just Being Yourself
Bianca Russo, a personal trainer and founder of virtual fitness service Body Positive Bootcamp, tells Bustle that it can be hard to let yourself take rest days if you feel like you constantly have something to prove. "Going full force in the gym is cool and all," she says, "but it all comes down to balance." Asking yourself what works for you should always be your priority.
Figuring out how to truly relax isn't just about not working out on Thursdays, Middlebrook says. When asked how she learned to rest, Middlebrook tells Bustle, "I gave up on achieving mainstream fitness standards years ago. I’m more of a masculine-presenting woman and often found myself feminizing my image to fit in, which was hard to do when I had a mohawk and tattoos. Now I dress how I want and how I feel comfortable." A large part of that journey, Middlebrook says, was cultivating a community with similar experiences and feelings. When you can be yourself, you can release the heavy load of trying to please people and fulfill expectations that don't make you happy — putting down that burden is definitely a way to rest well.
How Can You Take A Rest Day?
Rest days aren't just about taking it easy physically, or swapping out crunches for gentle stretches, Russo says. It's about making changes to your life as a whole. "The weekend is blocked out on my calendar," she tells Bustle. "I take no work appointments and I don’t check my emails." Rest is also about channeling the radical potential of your imagination. "I practice seeing myself happy," she explains. "A gentle reminder to do this really makes a difference and when I picture these visualizations in my mind, it only encourages me to manifest them in my reality." And at its core, fitness really is about visualizing and manifesting the healthiest and happiest version of you.
Expectations of toxic productivity can translate into feeling like your workouts have to be daily and super intense. But Duncan says that you can get a lot of comfort from talking to yourself with love. "I pat myself on the back for simple things that I get done as a way of encouragement to keep moving forward," she explains. "No matter how small the task is, I engage in positive self-talk. I tell myself, 'good job Ali, you are rocking it.'" Being proud of yourself and those in your community for resting rather than always producing can go a long way toward letting yourself just be.
Ali Duncan, yoga instructor, founder of Urban Sanctuary
Helen Phelan, Pilates instructor, founder of Helen Phelan Studio
Emma Middlebrook, personal trainer, owner of REP Movement
Bianca Russo, certified personal trainer, founder of Body Positive Bootcamp