Whatever your fitness goals — completing the Peak Performance program, mastering a challenging yoga pose, or adding load to your Kettlebell squat — effort and consistency count. But sometimes...okay, a lot of times...we overdo it, pushing ourselves too hard in pursuit of our goals. We assume that if working out is good, then working out more must be better. But that is definitely not the case. Giving your muscles downtime to rest and repair is one of the most important parts of a fitness regimen.
Why? We forget, or we don’t realize, that it’s not the training itself that strengthens our muscles and boosts our endurance. It’s the adaptations our bodies make in response to that training—repairing the tissues that have broken down—which happens during the recovery period between workouts.
Wait, I build strength when I’m not working out?!
During a workout you’re challenging your muscles to handle higher levels of resistance or weight than they normally do, which breaks down the muscle tissue, causing microscopic tears.
Rest days are when the muscle tissue rebuilds. “It’s during this recovery period that the muscles, bones, fascia and connective tissue repair themselves, and we get stronger,” says MYX Coach Donna Scro Samori. The healing process is what makes them—and you— come back stronger.
“Not taking time to rest and recover between workouts can lead to overtraining, and injury,” Donna says. Skipping recovery time can also, in some cases, cause, decreased immunity, inflammation, and disturbed sleep.
“Without rest, our workouts and our performance suffers. Training too much can cause workout burnout and overuse injuries that will put you flat on your back for weeks, or even months.” (All that sweaty hard work with nothing to show for it!)
Adding in recovery time to your training schedule is not being lazy or unproductive. It’s being smart. “Don’t feel guilty when you’re taking a day for yourself,” Donna says. “Know that it’s just as important as your workout days.”
How long should I rest between workouts?
When it comes to recovery days, there’s no one size fits all. The amount of time you need depends on the intensity of your training, the type of exercise you’re doing — and you.
For HIIT workouts and weight training...
“If you opt for a high-intensity interval training session (HIIT), you’ll probably want to skip a day in between workouts, since you're really challenging all the major muscle groups,” says MYX Coach Justin Flexen.
“If you’re doing a full-body weight workout, 24 to 48 hours is recommended. If you split your training sessions between your upper and lower body, you can probably do those on back to back days, and then take a rest day before repeating the process. That should give the muscle groups enough recovery time between workouts.”
For cardio and crossover workouts
“Doing light-to-moderate cardio (think Zones 1 and 2) every day is usually fine, as your cardiovascular system doesn't need the same type of recovery time as your muscles do (and as long as you’re not feeling wiped out),” Justin says. “However, a 45+ minute biking session will likely tire out your legs, so plan on allowing more recovery time than if you’d just gone for a light jog.
“For crossover workouts—for instance, a Ride and Tone—give yourself 24 to 48 hours to rest before hitting any of the same muscle groups. That time frame is, in fact, a good rule of thumb if you’re not sure how much time off to take.” And keep in mind that recovery time can vary, depending on how well you slept, what you’ve eaten, and any other contributing stress factors.
What should I do on my day off?
There are two types of recovery, passive and active, and ideally you’ll want to include both in your training.
Passive recovery means a total rest day — couch potato mode, Netflix binge, zilch, nada. It’s non-negotiable when you're sick or injured, or you’re dealing with serious muscle soreness. A true rest day can help stave off burnout or overtraining injuries and is a good idea right after an intense workout or the following day.
How to know if you need it? If your body feels beat up, your resting heart rate is higher than normal, or you didn’t sleep well the previous night.
An active rest day is a great way to cut your body some slack without being a layabout. “Think of it as light or low-impact physical activity that increases circulation without introducing muscular challenge,” Justin says.
For an active recovery day workout you could go for a brisk walk or hike with friends, kick a ball around with your kids, or take a gentle yoga class. You might hop on your MYX bike at a slow pace, or when the pandemic abates, take yourself to the pool. (Swimming is a great low-impact option. It’s easy on the joints, plus the water pressure helps improve circulation in the muscles, blood vessels, and heart.) “Exercising at a lower intensity than you normally would — no more than 30 to 60% of your maximum effort — keeps your body flexible and prevents muscle stiffness. It also flushes out waste products that can build up during exercise,” Justin says.
What else is considered active rest? “Stretching to improve the range of motion of your joints. Massage, either from a therapist, or using a foam roller for self-myofascial release (SMR), are great ways to loosen up tight spots.” Muscles and joints love circulation. And they really love it when they need more of it. And they need more of it when they are recovering from a challenging workout.
What is true for everyone is that we need to get better at listening to our bodies and learning from the signals. If you’re feeling lethargic, a little depressed, or finding your workouts unusually tough, those may be signs that you’re overtraining and you need to take your foot off the gas.
Think of it this way: You can plan a couple of recovery days per week when you’re healthy, or ...an extended stay on the couch if you get injured.