So What’s a Rest Day Anyways?

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June 2019 Fitness & Wellness Corner
By Maegen C. Stoner, Director, Fitness & Wellness

Eat, sleep, train, repeat. We are creatures of habit and nowadays, we rarely afford ourselves the opportunity to recharge. We may recognize the need for recovery, especially after exercise, but are we aware of what it takes to properly recover? How do we know if we’ve achieved that state (Comana, 2017)?

Proper recovery is an important component of an overall training program. It is essential for optimal performance and improvement (Mike & Kravitz). There are numerous strategies that make claims to be the correct way to train and recover. However, there is never a one size fits all approach that will work for everyone. There are also personal factors that affect an individual’s recovery process; training status (trained vs. untrained), factors of fatigue, and one’s ability to deal with physical, emotional, and psychological stressors (Mike & Kravitz).

Shall we define “rest”?

For many of us, we associate rest with absolute stillness (aka Netflix and chill!). A period of stillness is great for resetting the mind and body, but should not last an entire day. I know, I know. Probably not what you wanted to hear, but keep reading! One of the most important factors for recovery is tissue regeneration and nutrient delivery (Ross, 2013). When we exercise, we create the physical stimulus to challenge ourselves to improve and that can only happen when there is proper blood flow throughout the body. Our circulation brings the nutrients we need to our tissues. These nutrients provide the energy to facilitate growth and circulation is enhanced by movement (Ross, 2013).

So a rest day IS characterized by the need for some movement, not a full day of couch surfing. On most days of the week, we should make time for movement, and some days should contain a more challenging workout. Remember, movement is a part of daily life. A rest day is really any non-training day. A day where you remove the challenge of moderate or vigorous exercise. So a rest day can include some exercise-type of activity (think leisure activity), where physical demand is significantly less than a typical training day (Ross, 2013).

When do I know I need rest?

For those of you who are consistent exercisers, your body is actually really good at letting you know when you need rest. However, we often miss the cue or choose to ignore our brain telling us that we need it. I will say that if you are new to exercise, it will take time for your mind and body to become accustomed to the routine of regular exercise. You will have to really listen to those signals and determine when some of your old habits of your less active self are simply resisting exercise and when your brain is actually signaling that you need a genuine break from the stress of exercise. A general rule of thumb for most people is to incorporate a lighter workout at least every 3-5 days, when you’ve allowed for variability in different workouts for several consecutive days (Ross, 2013).

So how much rest do I need?

Good question. There are several individual factors that impact this answer. An individual’s current physical abilities, sleep habits, dietary habits, stress levels, and lifestyle outside of exercise all play a role (Ross, 2013). A proper workout elicits mild soreness. One can feel that they (read muscles) were challenged. It’s NOT a workout that brings debilitating and painful soreness that lasts for several days. There is a misconception that every workout has to be so hard that you feel intense soreness for several days. This is actually a poorly designed workout regimen and one should re-evaluate this approach (Ross, 2013).

So how much is enough? When the soreness has left 🙂 A workout that is so hard that it results in intense, painful soreness, requires waiting until that soreness is gone to exercise at a moderate or vigorous intensity again. So let me put it this way- if your soreness lasts for three days, then you should have three days before working out HARD again. “Better fitness is not achieved by long gaps between training days.” (Ross, 2013) This also helps us understand why we ease our way into beginning a workout regimen! A well-designed and challenging workout generally requires 1-2 recovery days. Also another great reason to mix it up! Refrain from doing the same thing every day.

So what about overtraining?

Recap- an intense, acute bout of physiological stress (exercise) followed by adequate rest, which enables adaptation, is generally considered healthy (Mike & Kravitz). When we continue to introduce physiological stress without proper rest, it can overtime compromise immune function, increase our probability of injury, illness, and overtraining (Mike & Kravitz).

There are a multitude of factors that signal overtraining. The two easiest to identify are (Mike & Kravitz):

  • Elevated resting heart rate (RHR)
  • Decreased exercise performance over 7-10 days

Symptoms of overtraining include (Mike & Kravitz):

  • Decreased performance over 7–10 day period
  • Increased resting heart rate and/or blood pressure
  • Decreased body weight
  • Reduced appetite or loss of appetite and possibly some nausea
  • Disturbed sleep patterns and inability to attain restful sleep
  • Muscle soreness and general irritability
  • Reduced motivation/adherence

If you are experiencing symptoms of overtraining, you may want to consider reducing how often and how hard you train, discontinue training temporarily, or change the type of exercise you are doing for a brief period of time until symptoms subside (Mike & Kravitz).

Rest and Reset

Your recovery begins at the end of one workout and before the start of the next. Don’t forget that your rest includes sleep, time for mental and physical stillness, and activities that promote mental and/or physical rejuvenation (Ross, 2013). These can be leisure activities like playing with your dog, a nature walk, canoeing, hitting some golf balls, etc.. Remember that rest can include movement as long as it’s not a challenging workout. Leisure activity can be helpful in improving circulation, which aids in the recovery process (Ross, 2013).


Comana, F. (2017). Exploring the Science of Recovery. Retrieved May 16, 2019, from

Mike, J. N., & Kravitz, L. (n.d.). Recovery in Training: The Essential Ingredient. Retrieved May 16, 2019, from folder/recoveryUNM.html.

Ross, J. (2013, October 23). Exercise and Rest: How Much Rest You Actually Need. Retrieved May 17, 2019, from

This blog post was written to provide educational information only. This article should not be used as a substitute or a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions or concerns about your personal health, you should always consult with your physician. It is recommended that you consult with your physician or health care professional before beginning any fitness regimen to determine if it is suitable for your needs. The use of any information provided by this article is solely at your risk.