As a Fitness Editor who loves working out, I often dismiss rest days. Exercise makes me feel good, so why would I intentionally avoid it? Reader, I know exactly why. I’ve spoken to more than enough experts in my time to know that rest days are essential for muscle recovery, and I’ve learnt the hard way several times. Back in the day, I spent more on physio than I did on socialising, and while I’ve since forced myself to take more recovery time than before, there’s still the odd occasion that I go ahead and exercise when I know I shouldn’t.
In a nutshell, science shows that rest days are needed for your muscles to sew themselves back together after little tears are created during workouts – a process known as hypertrophy. These muscles grow back stronger, which is why avoiding rest days could hinder any progress.
There’s a lot more to it than that, though, as fitness coach Fiona Simpson found out.
‘A lot of my clients come to me originally saying that they never take rest days,’ she writes on Instagram. ‘This leads to a few different things, but I want to talk about how more is definitely not more with exercise!’
After experiencing the effects of not taking rest days first-hand, here’s everything she wants you to know.
1.Too few rest days can lead to exercise guilt
‘If you don’t take any rest days, when your body gets to the inevitable point where there’s a day you can’t go, or your body just can’t do it, it can lead to a lot of guilt – thinking that your day is ruined, or even developing the all or nothing mindset and ending up emotional eating,’ Simpson says.
Rest days may seem counterintuitive, but if the need to exercise starts to take a toll emotionally and you no longer feel like you ‘want’ to exercise, more that you ‘need’ to, take this as your sign to take some time off. Remember that fitness is an important component of your overall health, but not the only component.
2. A lack of rest days can lead to burnout
‘If you keep going and going with zero rest, you are eventually going to get too tired to continue. Think of a phone, it needs to be recharged to work again at its full potential. If it doesn’t have time charging, it won’t work at all!’ Simpson says.
There is nothing, and we mean nothing, to gain from pushing through a workout with sore, aching muscles and a tired brain, and a big old burnout to risk. Just one rest day could be all you need to avoid weeks of burnout.
Read our guide on the signs of burnout to look out for.
3. Avoiding rest days will cancel out the workouts you do
‘You are likely to have fewer effective workouts if you have no rest. Mentally, you are not getting excited for it and physically your body cannot give 100% without charging up,’ Simpson explains.
She’s not wrong. Granted, we all have days where workouts might feel a bit harder, but if that malaise starts to permeate workout after workout, there’s no point doing them at all. Think of it this way: doing fewer workouts at 100% of your capacity, both physically and mentally, will benefit you more than struggling through daily workouts as a shell of your true self.
Ask yourself: what is my body telling me? Soreness or fatigue are signs you need a rest.
4. Avoiding rest days will prevent any progress
‘If your body is under too much stress, it won’t perform well in any aspect of your life. Stress impacts fat loss because it raises your cortisol levels which promotes body fat and makes it harder to lose weight,’ says Simpson.
A good way to track this is via your resting heart rate on any fitness watch. If you notice that it’s 5+bpm higher than usual, you’re probably feeling particularly stressed, and would therefore lap up some solid rest. Physical stress can transfer mentally, too; I know first-hand that overexercising can make my 9-5 feel particularly arduous.
There’s a lot of conflicting evidence around how often to exercise out there, and the purpose of this article isn’t to add to this minefield, it’s to remind you to listen to your body. Not taking rest days can do your body – and your mind – more harm than good.
Simpson advises: ‘I would personally recommend at least two days off workouts per week so that your body can perform at its optimum!! This will vary if you are in recovery and need more rest, or if your lifestyle is super active.’ Take what suits you, but do take something.