Did you know that you get stronger on your rest days?

by Katie Beck on March 26, 2014

I seem to be on a run of giving you information on the opposite of exercising. So far I’ve talked about rest during exercise sessions, burnout, and now…. rest days. But hear me out, this might be the most important one of all.

You don’t get stronger at the gym, you get stronger on your rest days.

Read that sentence again, and say it out loud if need be. I want you to remember this. On a strength training day, you are creating micro tears in your muscle. The pain or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) that you feel the day after, is thought to be a result of the micro-tears and resultant inflammation in the muscle. The repair of this tissue is what increases the size and strength of your muscle.

This repair can take some time, so it is important to allow it to do so. So, how long is long enough? That really depends. Just with resting between sets, it depends on a variety of factors. To what extent you muscle needs to repair, what muscle groups are in question (small take less time than large), your own bodies ability to repair damage, and what your end goal is. Recommendations range from one to four days rest.  Overall there are some things to consider:
1) If you’ve had a hard or novel workout (i.e.: doing exercises you haven’t before or using much heavier weights) you are likely to need at least a days’ rest. Use muscle soreness as a guide. As you get use to the exercise, you’ll be less sore and it will take a higher weight or intensity to make you sore again (or to create those micro-tears). But this takes time, so if you’re finding something difficult, listen to your body.
2) Recognize that resting doesn’t mean sitting on the couch with a bag of chips. You can still exercise, but try to vary the muscle groups and type. For example, if you’ve done lots of upper body strength training one day, wait a few days until you do it again. In between you can do some cardio, or flexibility training. You can also take the time to work on preparing healthy meals and getting enough sleep and water, which are very important.
3) There isn’t necessarily a “danger” to working muscles back-to-back without a rest day. Realize though that if you’re still really sore from a previous workout, you may end up compensating in your form and risk injury.
In conclusion, if you’re feeling strong and ready to go, great! But if you’re feeling sore, and tired, perhaps going for a walk with your dog might be more beneficial than heading to the gym. 
Remember: you get stronger on your rest days.
McArdle, W.D., Kathc, F.I., & Katch, V.L. (2007). Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human     Performance (6th Ed.). Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins: Philadelphia, USA.

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