There's nothing wrong with staying motivated and consistent with your workouts. After all, consistency is key for any weight-loss and weight-gain plan. But, NASM-certified personal trainer Allison Tibbs told POPSUGAR that we often forget about how we speak to ourselves when it comes to our health and wellness. In her experience working with clients, she explained that many people view rest days negatively; they associate these "off" periods of training with guilt. That's not in any way good, Allison advised.
Sometimes we make fitness an "all-or-nothing" thing, Allison said, where we have to keep going, going, going or else we'll lose our progress. Rest, though, is an important part of the equation because our bodies need to recover from the strain we're putting on them. (It's also beneficial for our mental health.) If you wake up and you haven't gotten ample sleep, you're allowed to skip your workout, Allison noted. "I have some clients I train at 6 a.m., and I tell them, 'This training session's almost a waste of time because you are so exhausted, you didn't get your rest last night, and then you basically took a shot of espresso at 5:45 a.m. and ran into the gym. Your cortisol levels are up. I can't put you under a squat rack.'" (Note: your cortisol levels increase with sleep deprivation, which negatively affects your metabolism.)
"I think we have to be honest and listen to our bodies and be proactive with scheduling rest days," Allison said. Plus, she explained, "slamming" our bodies with stress on a daily basis isn't healthy. "The body's main objective at that point is to try to get us back to homeostasis. It's trying to get the body to be in a healthier state. So, all its focus is going on stress reduction. It really doesn't care about your abs at that point."
We also need to get rid of the misconception that all of our progress will be lost if we take rest days when, in fact, "a lot of our progress and results can be made with proper rest and regeneration, proper sleep habits, and stress reduction." Allison can attest to this from personal experience. She took four weeks off of strength training due to hip issues. She was still active and went to yoga classes three times a week. When she got back into the gym after a month, she PR-ed on her deadlifts, her squats, the bench, and more. "It was the most bizarre thing, but it proved the point to me that fitness is all about variety. Our bodies sometimes need that change to adapt, and the body mechanics need an opportunity to restore," she said.
As reported in a previous interview, you can get more out of your workout after a rest day. NASM-certified personal trainer Guychard Codio, cofounder of New York City Personal Training, compared not taking rest days to tanning post-sunburn. "You can't just go back out into the sun to get a better tan," he said. "You have to let your body heal first." If you're working out hard every single day, you won't be able to physically give 100 percent because your body hasn't healed.
In fact, Alex Harrison, PhD, CSCS, sport performance coach for Renaissance Periodization, told us in a recent post on fitness myths that spending years away from the gym and regaining your progress, where your muscle level was before, is not going to be nearly as hard as you think. Why? Satellite cells. When you were more active and built your muscles to begin with, "satellite cells donated their nuclei into the muscle cells to allow them to grow further. That donation of nuclei into the muscle cells is permanent," he explained. So, "even if you lose all your muscle size, you take 10 years off from training, have a family, all of that, those muscle cells still have those nuclei." And, you'll actually be able to build muscle much faster than someone who never trained before.
Here's what you should do, according to Allison: "Be a bit more intuitive and listen to your body and don't normalize aches and pains." Be proactive about scheduling rest days into your routine and keep nourishing yourself during those days with lots of water and a balanced diet consisting of foods that are good for you. Just like there's intuitive eating, think about this as "intuitive fitness," she said. Take time to foam roll, go for a walk, or do yoga if you need active recovery (these yoga flows for stress relief are a useful place to start). But, if you feel like you can't manage to take an active rest day, take a full rest day. Rest up! Recovery, Allison said, is part of your program, so start treating it as such.