Depending on where you are in your fitness journey, you could be in the gym anywhere between 2 and 6 days per week. As long as your gym frequency coincides with your personal goals, then there is no right or wrong number of days in the gym. What I want to focus on in this post is how we approach our “Off Days.” Rest is extremely important. Overtraining is certainly a real phenomenon, which occurs when your body doesn’t experience the proper amount of recovery between workouts. However, the notion of rest and a day off from the gym, has become distorted and extremely misinterpreted. Never should you actively program in days to your week that involve staying in your PJs and binge watching Netflix all day. While occasionally having days like this is important mainly for your psyche, they cannot be considered proper off days where you’re working towards your fitness goals. Your days away from the gym need to be considered “Active Rest” days rather than full off days.
The Value of Recovery
The science behind exercise and weight training in particular, is that when you lift weights you are breaking down muscle fibers (regardless of whether your goal is overall strength, muscle growth or muscle toning). When these fibers are broken down, it is imperative that they are given the proper time to repair. This is aided by ingesting a protein filled meal with complex carbohydrates shortly after a workout or supplemented with a post-workout protein shake. Relatively smaller muscles, like those in your arms or shoulders need more recovery time than prime movers such as your glutes, quads, pectorals or lats. Depending on how much money you want to invest in your recovery, the following methods of passive recovery are relatively common: foam rolling, cupping, massages, ice baths and cryotherapy- all designed to lengthen out the muscle fascia, with varying levels of success depending on the individual. While these options will certainly aide in your recovery and leave you feeling rejuvenated after, average Janes or Joes usually don’t have the time or money to spend on recovery that most of the above list would require. Therefore, I want to focus this blog on a recovery method that is realistic to consistently implement week in and week out- active recovery.
First, Change Your Mindset About Rest!
Muscles such as the calves and the deep abdominals are prime examples of muscles that are damn near always activated in every day life. Anytime we walk we’re firing the muscles in the calves and anytime we stand or sit unsupported and upright, our abs are engaged. So consider this- even on days you train your abs or your lower body, your recovery still is involving firing the muscles you’ve just trained. You can get good results by coming to the gym and working out like a beast for 45-90 minutes several times a week- but if your off days are spent in front of the tv rotating between chairs as your activity, you’re putting a ceiling on your results. You can get to that next level, if you reevaluate how you’re spending your “rest time” outside of the gym.
Active Rest Parameters
Whichever activity you choose on your active rest days, should generally stay within the following guidelines:
- Generally sub-maximal intensity–remember this is still an off day
- Between 20 and 60 minutes in duration
- Make sure it’s something that you’re not doing on your “normal gym days”
- Low Impact- the end goal is still recovery so you shouldn’t be beating your joints up with tons of exercises like box jumps or burpees
- Be creative! Get outside your comfort zone and do something you wouldn’t normally do. Moving differently is a good thing and could spark a metabolic change in your body
Active Rest Options
#1 Get Outside
Not everyone lives in areas that are conducive for daily wilderness walks, but find a local spot- be it a park, nice neighborhood, the boardwalk- and carve into your schedule a 20-40 minute brisk walk on a day you’re not planning on getting in the gym. Depending on your fitness goals, this can even be escalated to a light jog as well. Remember, this walk or jog should be sub-maximal, but the idea is you’re not submitting to doing “nothing.” The other positive to getting outside is the good it does for your soul. Take in your surroundings, disconnect from technology and appreciate what nature has to offer. If you have this mindset, you will return from your walk not only feeling physically refreshed but mentally as well.
#2 Play Like a Kid
Find a sport that interests you and see if your area has a pick up league. Preferably this would be something that has a bit of a cardio aspect to it such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, flag football, ultimate frisbee or dodgeball. The benefit to exercising through a pick up sport is that you’re able to get in great activity while most importantly having fun- it’s okay to unleash the inner child in you every once in a while and make exercise enjoyable. I’ve never really met anyone that looked forward to running on a treadmill, and that’s where playing a pick up sport comes in. You’re able to get a great cardio session in, move differently than you normally do, and it’s all disguised under the pretense of friendly competition.
#3 Invest In a Speed Ladder
There will be a lengthy blog coming up soon that dives completely into the benefit of speed ladders. In the mean time though, as all of my clients can attest, I love them- even more so for non-athletes. The biggest benefit to a speed ladder is the fact that it works you cardiovascularly while simultaneously forcing you to move differently than normal. This is the perfect recipe for an active rest day- moderately challenging cardio output, but most importantly a speed ladder connects your mind and body in a way that no piece of cardio equipment can. Youtube some basic speed ladder moves to start and spend 20-25 minutes running through them several times each and I guarantee you’ll get a great workout in- that stays within the active rest day parameters. There is much more to come on the speed ladder and how to fully implement it into a daily warm-up routine, but for now I’d advise making the investment to give yourself a great new option for your days away from the gym.
#4 Bodyweight Home Workouts
So much emphasis is placed on being in the gym to get a workout in. While your best resources are most likely at the gym, you shouldn’t view that as your only option to have a good workout. Doing a bodyweight workout at home is especially valuable if you’re exclusively lifting weights when you’re in the gym. While the metabolic effect of a bodyweight workout isn’t as good as resistance training, the low impact on your body is what is conducive for it being an active rest day workout. I would recommend picking 8 body weight exercises that are challenging but not impossible and organize them in a circuit fashion (remember to limit the “impact” exercises- with recovery still as the overarching goal). I’m a fan of Tabata style training (20 s. ON/ 10 s. OFF) for this type of workout- if you perform 4 rounds with a minute rest in between, you’ve just reached your 20 minutes of required activity for the day.
Sample Body Weight Circuit: (“BW”= Body Weight)
- BW Squats
- Push-Up Position Plank
- BW Alternating Front Lunges
- Push-Up Position Opposite Shoulder Taps
- BW Alternating Reverse Lunges
- Push-Up Position Arm to Side
- BW Alternating Lateral Lunge
- Reverse Crunches
** TIP: If you get easily bored- to keep it fresh perform the the 2nd and 4th rounds in reverse order
This is just a sample, where each exercise can be easily regressed or progressed based on your needs. For example, if you wanted more of a cardio component, add in moves such Ice Skaters or Squat Jumps. If you can’t hold a push-up position for 20 seconds, either hit it from an incline position or do exercises such as Bird Dogs or Dead Bugs
***Under this category would also be the option of Yoga- getting an extended stretch in on your active rest days is a great way to actively lengthen your muscles out and get yourself prepped for your next weight room session. Youtube has an innumerable amount of videos to follow along with for all different skill levels. The more you mobility and flexibility you add away from the gym, the better your big compound lifts will feel.
#5 See Last Week‘s Blog—Mini-Bands!
Mini-bands serve as a perfect active rest day option as well- especially, if you’re not using them regularly either in your warm ups or a part of your workouts. Again, mini-bands provide a low impact option that will get your heart rate moderately elevated, but is not going to break down your muscles like traditional resistance training does. Check out last week’s blog for further details about how to create a workout with them.
The easiest way to get burnt out with exercise both physically and emotionally is to do the same thing day in and day out. This fact highlights why recovery is important, but also why active rest strategies are imperative to implement. The strategies listed above are more than likely different physical options than what most people are performing on a daily basis. We’ve got to lose the “gym or nothing” mentality regarding fitness and realize we cannot afford to take 2, 3 or 4 days completely off from any type of activity- and still reach our goals. So this next week I challenge you to go out and employ one of these strategies on your “off day” from the gym. Get up and move a little bit and don’t succumb to the allure of doing nothing to recover.