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Rest and Recovery Actually Help

I don’t consider myself an athlete and never have, but sports and fitness have both been significant parts of most of my life. I’m open to trying most activities once. If they become part of my exercise routine, great, but if not, at least I know if I enjoyed them. Growing up, I played a few sports, including soccer, T-ball, and tennis. I even took a few dance classes (shoutout to Karen, the best dance teacher ever), but tennis is the only one I still do as an adult.

I’ve tried to force myself to become a runner for much of my life, but after hating it more often than enjoying it, I realized that I can’t stand running and don’t need it in my routine to be healthy. I came to the same conclusion about Zumba; although I loved my dance classes growing up, I am definitely not a dancer (sorry, Karen). But I tried skiing for the first time ever in my twenties. Although it’s challenging and humbling (probably one of the hardest things I have ever done), I enjoy it so much that it’s now a massive part of my winter fitness regimen, along with snowshoeing, home workouts, and lifting weights. Skiing also helped me realize, for the first time ever, that rest days are super important to a healthy and strong fitness routine.

In high school, I joined a gym and started working out too often for the wrong reasons, rarely giving myself a rest day and feeling guilty whenever I did. I seriously thought I needed to work out seven days a week to achieve my goals. I’ve learned since then that I was incredibly wrong. Taking a rest day (or two) when you need to is the key to healthy recovery. There are a lot of reasons for this:

  • Resting between workout days can help prevent injuries, promote muscle growth, and boost recovery. If you work out too often, your muscles will be sore, and you won’t have time to take care of the soreness before your next workout. This means your form will suffer, which could lead to injuries.
  • Working out causes microscopic tears in your muscles. When you rest between workouts, your body repairs and strengthens these tears. This is how your muscles get stronger and grow. But if you’re not getting enough rest between workouts, your body won’t be able to repair the tears, which will stunt your results.
  • Overtraining can cause some concerning symptoms, including higher body fat, a higher risk of dehydration (something you especially don’t want in dry Colorado), and mood disturbances. It can also have negative effects on your performance.

Read more here and here.

Resting and recovery don’t always translate to “doing nothing,” though. There are two types of recovery: short-term (active) and long-term. Active recovery means doing something different than your intense workout. So, if I lift weights in the morning, I’ll go for a walk later that day for my active recovery. Or if I go for a long hike, I’ll do some yoga or stretching later that day. And since proper nutrition is also a big part of active recovery, I always make sure to eat a snack or meal with a good balance of protein and carbohydrates after my workout so I can refuel my body.

Long-term recovery is more about taking a full, proper rest day. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has a general recommendation to take a complete rest day from “demanding physical activity” every seven to 10 days, but this may not apply to everyone all the time. I generally follow this guideline but always listen to my body’s changing needs. If I’m sick, super stressed out, or just tired from pushing myself too hard on the mountain or in my home workouts, I’ll take two rest days.

So, on National Fitness Recovery Day this year, listen to your body, too. Take some time to rest and recover, or at least plan how to take care of your body to help achieve your fitness and health goals!