When you get into an exercise groove, it can be tempting to work out every single day in an effort to keep the momentum going. This is especially true once you start to reach a few goals, like finally being able to run a whole mile. And yet, however motivated you might be to keep the streak, it’s really important to take rest days to give your body a chance to recover.
If you tend to skip rest days, it might help to remind yourself that they’re one of the most important aspects of a workout routine — and are just as important as all the running, squatting, and lifting you’re doing. “Rest days can actually enhance your progress and performance,” says Lany Herman, a trainer and head coach at Title Boxing Club. “No matter your workout routine or fitness level, it’s important to take rest days for both your body and your mind.”
Whether you’re just getting started or are deep into a training routine, Herman recommends resting one to two rest days a week. On those days, you stop doing your usual exercise and switch to “passive rest” instead. According to Meltem Sonmez Burr, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Barreitude, passive rest can include stretching, foam rolling, sports massage, hydrotherapy — or simply doing nothing at all.
There’s also the option to do active rest or recovery on your days off, which is basically a less intense workout, like a slow walk, swim, light jog, or restorative yoga, Burr says. As long as you aren’t doing your go-to long run, workout class, HIIT routine, or strength training regimen, you’ll be resting effectively. With that in mind, here’s what can happen when if you don’t take rest days, according to trainers.
What Happens If You Don’t Take A Rest Day
Even though exercise is associated with physical exertion, there’s also a big mental component involved. That’s why going hard every single day without a break often leads to exercise burnout, Herman says. Fatigue, low motivation, and boredom are all signs you need a mental break just as much as a physical one, Burr adds. By adding regular rest days to your fitness routine, you’re more likely to stay refreshed, invigorated — and maybe even excited for your next workout.
Of course, rest days are also important so that your muscles have time to recover. “During your workouts, you create microscopic tears to your muscle tissue,” Herman says. “Your rest days allow your muscles to start to heal and grow back stronger.” In fact, without breaks, you won’t see as much progress as you’d like from all your lunges, bicep curls, and time spent on the treadmill, she says, and you might even hit a plateau.
Rest days are also key for injury prevention. (Hey, knee pain!) The repetitive nature of daily workouts can lead to wear and tear on your joints, Burr says, particularly if your routine involves a lot of jumping, landing, kicking, or quick stops and starts — think running, boxing, or playing soccer.
It’s also easier to get hurt when you’re overtraining. A tired body might struggle to maintain good form during weight training, Herman says, and that can increase your risk of injury even more. Getting adequate rest — as well as mixing up your workout routine, Burr says — are all good ways to come back strong and keep your body healthy.
Lewis, PB. (2012). Muscle soreness and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Clin Sports Med. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2011.09.009.