How To Approach Rest Days Without Feeling Guilty (+Tips For Workout Recovery)

If you suffer from rest day guilt or avoid them completely, you are not alone. It’s common to feel guilty about taking a day off from your normal workout routine, but rest days are a vital necessity to any successful program . Giving your body time to rest may feel like you’re slacking off, but it’s exactly what it needs in order to see progress. 

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about rest days, including:
  • How to overcome rest day guilt 
  • Benefits of rest days 
  • What to do on rest days

How To Overcome Rest Day Guilt

1. Understand that rest is part of the process

In the fitness community there seems to be a circulated idea that doing more is better, but this isn’t always the case. If you struggle with beating yourself up over taking a rest day, trust us you are not alone. We found this to be a common affliction for many dedicated members of our Grown Strong Fitness program and is especially prevalent among lifelong fitness enthusiasts and athletes. 

Part of having a successful fitness routine is being able to balance effort and rest. In other words, it’s not only okay to take a rest day, but it’s actually encouraged! When you are used to giving 100% effort, 100% of the time, it can be challenging to slow down and give your body the recovery time it needs. 

2. Practice mental health check-ins

Giving your body time to rest may feel like you’re slacking off, but it’s exactly what it needs in order to see progress.  Feeling guilty about taking a rest day can often result in negative self-talk. Having negative thoughts and critiques about yourself is not only bad for your self-esteem, but can also impact your ability to be successful in the areas that you want to succeed. 

Next time any of the following negative thoughts creep into your mind, "I am a slacker", "I will gain weight", or "I will lose my strength gains", take a step back and ask yourself if it's REALLY true. Probably not. It’s important to avoid equating your worth based on how frequently you hit the gym or by the intensity of your workouts. That mindset can be equally destructive to your mental health and long-term fitness goals. To reshape your relationship with rest days, start to view them as part of your overall health plan. 

Here are some positive affirmations to repeat if you find yourself in a cycle of negative self-talk:

  • I am strong and resting will only make me stronger
  • I am doing what’s best for my body
  • I will get back on track tomorrow 

3. Work rest days into your schedule 

Adding a rest day into your workout schedule is a great way to relieve some guilt. Think about it: by telling yourself that your recovery is part of your program, you’ll be more likely to follow through without feeling guilty. But this begs the question, how many rest days should you be taking? Short answer—it’s different for everyone. Long answer, keep reading...

How many rest days should you be taking? 

Rest days vary from person to person, but it’s common for people to take anywhere from 1-2 rest days per week. When it comes to picking the correct number of rest days for you, consider how strenuous your workouts are. If your workouts tend to be high-intensity or involve a lot of strength training, you’ll benefit more from taking 2 rest days per week. If your workouts are low-intensity or don’t involve a lot of strenuous weightlifting, 1day per week will suffice.

Benefits Of Rest Days 

As mentioned before, there are many benefits to taking rest days in between workouts. Here are some of the top reasons to give your body some down time. 

1. Aids muscle development 

Exercise creates two types of stress on your muscles: metabolic stress and mechanical stress. Metabolic stress is when the muscle cells are depleted of energy. Mechanical stress is created when physical damage is caused to the protein structures of muscle cells. During rest, the body repairs the damaged muscle proteins and replenishes the cells with glycogen used to fuel your last workout. 

Your body needs sufficient time to repair and refuel, especially between high-intensity workouts. This isn’t to say that you can’t exercise daily, but it’s important to be mindful of where you take your rest days. In our Grown Strong Fitness program, we follow a 3 on 1 off, 2 on 1 off approach every week so you never need to question when to take a rest day. We realize that not everyone has the same schedule though so some might enjoy the 5 on 2 off approach where they train during the week and spend the weekend resting and relaxing with the family. Understand everyone is different and what works for you might not work for someone else.  

Giving your body adequate rest and spacing out higher-intensity workouts will not only help you feel more energized during your workouts, but also give you the endurance you need to finish every workout strong! 

2. Improves performance

Taking proper rest days also improves your overall performance. Fatigued muscles can make it difficult to maintain proper form during workouts, which increases your risk of injury. In the grand scheme of things, it would be more practical to take a day off than injure yourself and endure an indefinite healing period. In addition, getting sufficient sleep improves muscle coordination. Together, muscle repair and memory recall cemented during sleep allow for overall improved gym performance.[1] 

3. Prevents burnout  

Hard workouts are, well, hard. If your schedule is packed full of intense workouts, eventually you are going to experience fatigue. Pushing too hard for too long causes even the most experienced athletes to experience burnout. If you are experiencing perpetual muscle soreness, sleepless nights, or plateauing, this may be your body signaling that it needs a rest day.  

4. Boosts fat loss

Exercise has been shown to reduce the amount of the fat-storing hormone, cortisol. Here is the tricky part. The body reacts to stress in a similar way when it reacts to exercise— therefore, when you perform high-intensity workouts on a regular basis without proper rest, your body starts to produce too much cortisol. For example, intense HIIT or endurance style workouts will stress the body and cause your cortisol levels to spike. Without allocating enough time for your cortisol levels to decrease and your body to return to a state of homeostasis, your cortisol levels will stay elevated. This prolonged state of stress can cause you to hang on to stubborn fat! Yikes.[2] 

What To Do On Rest Days

Wondering what to do on a rest day, especially if you have a hard time taking them in the first place, is one of the things that contributes to rest day guilt. If you’re wondering what to do on a rest day, or how you can still work towards your goals, here are some tips:

1. Incorporate low-impact movement 

Just because it’s your rest day doesn't mean you have to be completely sedentary. If you are looking to work in a little movement on your rest day, try doing a low-impact activity like walking or taking a yoga class. Even doing a stretching sequence is a great way to keep your body moving without added stress.  

2. Eat nutritious meals 

Again, taking a rest day doesn't mean you should fall completely off the wagon, and it’s certainly no excuse for eating a bunch of junk food. Instead, take this extra time to make a nutritious, home-cooked meal, or get a head start on your meal prep for the week. Think of your rest day like any other day from your workout routine!  

3. Get outdoors

Sometimes the best way to distract yourself is to get outside and do something fun! Go for a hike, take a bike ride, or hit the beach for some fun in the sun! Not only will you get some fresh air and some vitamin D, but you’ll likely get some movement and burn some calories without even realizing it!  

The Bottom Line On Rest Days 

Maintaining a healthy and balanced workout routine means giving your body and brain the time it needs to recover. Rest is an essential component to the progression of your fitness goals and will make your experience in the gym much more enjoyable. Tough workouts are challenging enough, let’s not add over exhaustion! Most importantly, listen to your body’s needs without judgement. Trust me, one day off isn't going to negatively impact your gains. If anything, it will help you perform better. And don’t forget to have fun with your day off. Spend time with your loved ones, entertain a new hobby, or simply surrender and “Netflix and chill”.