Fitness

Why Rest Days Are Important for Your Workouts—and How to Know When to Take One

You should also back off from exercising if any part of your workout causes significant pain, says Scantlebury. Say, for example, you feel a sharp stabbing sensation in your knee during a round of squats, or your lower back complains as you perform push-ups. Don’t forge ahead through this discomfort; instead, call it quits, and if appropriate, consult a fitness or medical professional before you get back out there.

6. Your workout feels much harder than usual.

We all have days where we just feel “off,” whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. If that malaise permeates your workout—maybe you feel like you’re dragging yourself on a run, or you’re unable to focus during virtual yoga, or you just don’t have the emotional capacity to complete your usual weight lifting routine—that’s probably a sign you need to rest, says Baez.

Before you even start a workout, it can help to take a minute to check in with yourself, she adds. Ask: How am I feeling today? What is my body telling me? Use those answers to determine what is really best for you. “When your body tells you it needs to rest, it’s probably time to rest,” says Baez.

7. You’re struggling with a skill you normally crush.

Say your usual running pace is 10 minutes per mile, but today, you’re struggling to manage a 12-minute pace. Or maybe you typically blow through a set of 10 burpees with ease, but all of a sudden, you can barely manage five. Any notable drop in your baseline set of skills is a sign that your body probably needs to chill.

“The best comparison is yourself,” says Baez. Also, if you can’t maintain proper form while completing a move or skill, then you should either decrease the intensity, or stop altogether, adds Brooks. Continuing to forge ahead with poor form will only increase your risk of injury.

8. You feel like you have to work out.

If you feel compelled to exercise—and become angry or anxious if you can’t—you may be dealing with compulsive exercise, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Other signs and symptoms include continuing to exercise despite injury or other health conditions that make it difficult, exercising that interferes with other important activities, hiding your exercise from others, or using exercise as a way to try to negate calories you eat. If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms, or are concerned about your relationship with exercise, seeking out a qualified mental health professional (many of whom are available for virtual sessions now) can be an important step.

But even if your commitment to fitness doesn’t go as far, a strict workout routine could be causing you to neglect other important areas of your life—like spending quality (safely distanced) time with friends and family, says Fifer. If that’s you, consider taking a day off (or two) as a way to reintroduce balance into your life. Reminder: Fitness is an important component of overall health—but definitely not the only component.

9. Your resting heart rate has risen.

Your resting heart rate (RHR) should be pretty stable, though it may decrease as a result of regular aerobic training, says Brooks. An increased RHR, on the other hand, may be a sign your body is stressed (which can happen for a variety of reasons, including too much exercise). So if you track your RHR on your smart watch (or other device) and notice that it’s 5+ bpm higher than usual over the course of a week, that may be a sign you’re not getting enough rest between workouts. In that case, take it easy until your RHR drops back to normal, advises Brooks. (And if it doesn’t drop with rest, or you suspect excessive exercise was not causing your elevated RHR, definitely check in with your doctor.)

10. You’re dehydrated.

Extreme thirst, dark-colored pee, and low blood pressure are all signs of dehydration, says Brooks. If you’re dehydrated, definitely don’t start or continue a workout since sweating will only worsen the issue, and could potentially lead to more serious complications in severe cases, like kidney failure and even hypovolemic shock, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, call it a day and resume your exercise routine when—and only when—you’ve had a chance to get your fluid levels back to normal levels.

How to know when you’re ready to work out again

Sometimes, all you need is just one rest day. Other times, you may need a couple days off—or more. So how can you determine how much rest is enough? The answer is simple: Listen to your body and your brain. Once you feel like you’ve gotten back to your baseline level of “normal”—that means any severe soreness, pain, or injury has dissipated; you’re feeling hydrated and healthy; and you actually want to work out again—by all means, go for it, says Brooks.

As you resume your typical fitness habits, just remember that rest days should be an integral part of your routine, not a once-in-a-while occurrence. “Rest is undervalued,” says Brooks. “We really need to get the word out that it is an important and useful and helpful component to training.”

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