The Importance of Rest


Rest is one component of a good workout plan that is often overlooked. Many people simply do not realize just how imperative rest is and the role it plays in moving you forward. Let’s go over some of the main reasons why rest is essential, along with the different types of rest that must be included in your workout routine.

Rest Assists with Recovery

Rest assists with the recovery process. Remember, you break your muscles down when you’re in the gym and it’s when you’re out of the gym that those muscles will actually grow stronger. Those who fail to get enough rest during the week will go into the gym and continuously break their muscle tissues down further and further, impacting the strength gains they’re able to make. If you ever notice that the amount of weight you’re able to lift in the gym drops, insufficient rest is often the cause.

Improve Motivation

Rest is also critical to maintaining your motivation levels. Time away from the gym refreshes your mind and brings back that internal drive to give 100%. Strength training, in particular, is a very taxing form of exercise on the mind; without some down time added into the week, you’re going to burn out quickly. Most people think that rest only provides physical benefits, but don’t forget about the psychological benefits. With sufficient rest throughout the week, you can come back to each workout session feeling refreshed and re-energized.

Prevent Injuries

Finally, rest is critical to preventing injuries. With each workout you do, you place stress on the joints, ligaments, and tendons. Over time, this can begin to wear these tissues down and put you at a high risk of overuse injuries. While cross training can help to relieve some of this burden, since you’ll do different exercises throughout the week, in some situations that’s still not enough. Complete rest is required.

Active Versus Passive Rest

Now that you know why rest is so critical to success, what are the different types of rest that you should utilize?

Passive Rest

The first type of rest is passive rest. Passive rest is as the name suggests; you relax and don’t put any stress on the body. Watch a movie, read a book, or take a bath. All of these activities are passive rest.

Each week you should aim to have at least one passive rest day added to the mix where you don’t do anything that requires physical exertion. Everyday activities are fine, but nothing that stresses your muscles should be done.

Here are the benefits of passive rest:

Active Rest

Active rest, on the other hand, is rest that gets you up and moving around but still doesn’t tax the body in any way. Think about taking a light walk around your neighborhood or a casual bike ride through the park. These are both varieties of active rest that can help improve recovery without causing you to end up overtrained.

The benefit to active rest periods is that they will enhance circulation to the muscle cells, which means more nutrients and oxygen will be delivered to assist with the recovery and repair process. This makes you feel recovered sooner, allowing you to hit the gym quicker for your next workout. The only caveat is that the intensity must be kept very low or these benefits will not be present.

Many people find that as soon as they start any form of activity, their competitive drive tends to make them push harder. If that’s you, you are better off avoiding active rest entirely and focusing on passive rest instead.

How Rest Relates to Overtraining

Without sufficient rest, overtraining is virtually guaranteed. Overtraining is what happens when a period of excess stress is placed on the body, and the body is not able to counteract the stress through proper recovery processes. Basically, if you have a balance scale of stress and recovery, it’s tilting far towards the stress direction with no recovery to keep it balanced. Over time, this leads you to become overtrained.

Many people don’t realize that with overtraining, it’s not always your muscles that are overtrained; it could be your central nervous system. Overtraining is often systematic rather than muscular. People believe that as long as they are not working the same muscle group more than two days in a row, they won’t ever become overtrained. This isn’t the case. It’s still quite possible for your central nervous system to become overtrained. This is the system responsible for generating any form of force in the body. If you overtrain, all of your workouts will suffer regardless of what muscle you are targeting.

Start thinking of rest as a time to gain growth and strength. If you think of it like this rather than time away from the gym when you supposedly aren’t making progress, you’ll start to realize just how important rest really is. Here’s why. Gym time is going to make you weaker. Rest time, when taken at appropriate intervals, is when you grow stronger. The more you can drill this fact into your head, the more likely you will be to give your body the rest it needs for success.

As you design your workout program, make sure that you include enough rest time. Don’t let yourself fall in the trap of thinking that more exercise is better. More working out, when not recovered, is only going to hinder your progress. Rest, in addition to exercising safely (which we’ll discuss next), is often the missing element from many workout programs, preventing people from achieving their fitness goal.

Shannon Clark, CPT

Shannon Clark is a certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience in the industry. Her passion for fitness began with figure skating as a child, leading to the Western Canadian Championships as a teenager. After retiring from skating, Shannon earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and began her career as a fitness trainer and writer. Her professional advice has been published in numerous magazines and websites.