Why You Could Benefit From Working Out on Rest Days
Rest day workouts—sound like a contradiction? Learn how these low-impact workouts are the key to coming back stronger.
WHY WORKOUT ON A REST DAY?
Right when we thought rest days gave us the green light to chill, in slides the humble “rest day workout”. Turns out, as much as total R&R and binging the latest show can do for our soul, incorporating a routine of movement throughout each day will treat it even better.
Just like we chalk up indulging in an afternoon cookie (or three) as “balance” to our morning run, active rest days even out the scales for a holistic healthy lifestyle. Rest days sprinkled between sweat-drenched workouts are important, but as Dave Conor, Performance Manager at EXOS puts it, we want to avoid falling into what’s known as “active couch potato syndrome”. In other words, Conor’s advice is to spend more days moving than less.
“I think we put all of our eggs into one basket, saying ‘I work out for an hour a day and then don’t do anything the rest of the day’,” said Conor. People with sedentary desk jobs frequently fall into this category, and are often surprised even though they exercise. “I want to encourage people to move more,” said Conor. “I really don’t think there’s much of a reason to ever just sit on the couch all day. I still think you should be aiming for 10,000 steps a day—which on its own could be considered active recovery.” Of course, this comes with a caveat; if you’re injured, you may need complete rest and recovery, so consult your physician if this is a concern.
NASAL BREATHING: THE KEY TO KEEPING IT LOW-INTENSITY
On active recovery days, low-impact activities are the target. Higher impact workouts like running, plyometrics or team sports increase your heart rate and induce stress on your joints and muscles, which is beneficial during a workout, but the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve on a rest day. During recovery workouts, Conor advises focusing on your nasal breathing. “If you’re doing a recovery day, your mouth shouldn’t be open. Because if it is, you’re probably working too hard for it to be considered easy or recovery. That’s a really good way to regulate intensity,” said Conor. The result will be soothing movement that de-stresses and increases blood flow to your working muscles—a testament to why when your legs are sore, you often hear you’ll feel better by moving them.
LOW-IMPACT WORKOUTS FOR YOUR REST DAY
Make it a lunchtime walk, a walking date to catch up with a friend, walking during a meeting, or walking the dog. The possibilities are endless, and it’s one of the easiest low-impact workouts you can do. With walking, you can amp up the intensity by walking uphill or at a faster pace, but the great thing is that it remains low impact, and you’ll be able to maintain nasal breathing while increasing your blood flow.
Cycling, or other low-impact machines like the elliptical or rowing, are also great ways to get in an active rest workout. These machines take the load off your body so you can move for recovery without inducing the stress of a more intense workout. That said, these machines can be used for a full workout, so remember to keep the speed in a range that you can breathe through your nose.
With the water supporting your weight, swimming is extremely low impact. “If you have access to a pool, it could be the perfect recovery workout,” said Conor. Swimming is great for mobility work with all the different strokes you can do, or even standing in the pool practicing simple plyometric moves is good too.
Your Workout: Lite
Just like warming up can be a rehearsal of the moves ahead of your workout, your rest day workouts can be similar. “If you're a weightlifter, maybe lifting really, really light weights is your recovery day,” said Conor. “Maybe if you're a runner and you're running five-minute miles, maybe running a 10-minute mile is your recovery day, because you are moving the body differently. Or maybe as a runner, your recovery day is walking uphill because it's different.” Rest day workouts don’t always have to be the opposite to your normal workout, but what should be opposite is the intensity or the impact so that you’re able to maintain nasal breathing.
REST DAY ADD-ONS
All too often, stretching gets skipped for the sake of time, but we all need more of this. Whether it’s standing up from your desk periodically to stretch out those hip flexors, or breathing through a restorative yoga flow filled with long, juicy pose holds, your body will thank you when you devote even a couple of minutes to some muscular TLC.
Ah yes, the other recovery activity people love to push aside. Especially if you’re sore from yesterday’s workout, foam rolling will release your fascia, and when paired with the movement of a low-impact workout, you’ll feel more limber after it’s done.
FINDING YOUR FLOW
Whichever workout you choose, listen to your body and let it determine what kind of recovery workout you need. Where your typical workout schedule might be more rigid, your active rest days can be a chance to try something different for the sake of movement. Conor recommends taking it easy, moving for 10 to 30 minutes. By the end, you might feel the sweat, but you shouldn’t feel out of breath at any point. Have fun and create your own flow—you could pair 10 minutes of low-intensity biking with 10 minutes of stretching and 5 minutes of soft tissue work on the foam roller, and there you have a well-rounded recovery routine to promote a healthy body.
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