Why it’s important to take rest days—even in January

TI signed up on January 2. His strength training program recommends workouts three times per week. Meanwhile, I like to run at least twice a week and I do a workout with my trainer friend on our regular date on Tuesdays.

That left me only one day to rest. How am I supposed to squeeze it all in? As someone who preaches the importance of listening to your body and restoring it, I need to take my own advice seriously this month. Even when a new year’s structure and motivation say “go, go, go” — or, especially when those are the messages I’m getting internally and externally — it’s important to slow down, and alternate intense workouts with rest days.

Tonal coach Christina Centenary says, “Especially at the beginning of the new year when motivation is high and there’s a culture of rushing around, rest days are integral to reducing burnout or general loss of interest after that New Year’s rush.

But the mental aspect of rest isn’t the only reason we pump the brakes to keep us motivated. Rest is actually important to achieving the fitness goals you set your sights on.

“Most people think of rest days as separate from training,” says Centenary. “But if we think of our bodies as a system, rest days are integral per Maintaining the effectiveness of your training and your system as a whole.”

“If you’re not resting, you’re not training properly.” —Tonal Coach Christina Centenary

When we put ourselves through the “controlled stress” that is building the muscles, what we are actually doing is creating tears in the muscle fibers. To get stronger over time, those tears need to be repaired—or, as Centenary says, “return to baseline.” Centenary cautions against “stressing your system faster than it can repair” because it can cause pain or injury and undermine your goals of allowing those muscles to grow stronger.

Your nervous system also needs a break. “Exercise puts you in a sympathetic state, where your nervous system is fired and in that ‘fight or flight’ mode,” Centenary says. “It is useful for training purposes. However, if you don’t allow for periods of rest, your cortisol levels will rise and your nervous system will struggle to find its parasympathetic (aka relaxed) state. It can throw off your hormones, affect your sleep, change your mood, disrupt your digestion—all of which are detrimental to your entire system.”

Have you ever tried challenging workouts when you’re tired, in a bad mood or have a stomach ache? This is not a recipe for a great result!

What rest looks like can vary from person to person. But overall it involves time off from exercise while focusing on sleep, mobility and nutrition.

I understand that feeling at the end of a day when I haven’t gotten a vigorous workout in, and the guilt creeps in. But it’s time to let it go, especially at the beginning of the year when we’re trying to establish good habits.

“If you’re not resting, you’re not training properly,” says Centenary. “If you don’t train properly, you can’t set yourself up for long-term success. Respect the rest.”

Need some rest? Try this mobility workout to oil up those joints while giving your muscles and your nervous system a break from your grueling workout.

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