Okay. My dad told me, too. Today I wanted to talk about the science behind rest days and also giving into your cravings. I’ve talked about it before but I have a tendency to dive head first into things, start to drown, and then never go back to that pool. But my dad’s right about the best approach and I have the science to not only back it up, but tell you the best way to do rest days.
In researching this post I found a great summary by Jonathan N. Mike, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. with the University of New Mexico. Their article compiles a bunch of questions and answers about rest and recovery days, some of which I want to highlight here. There’s a few different kinds of recovery and while they focus on all of them, I’d like to actually talk about training recovery, which is what a lot of people are talking about when they think of rest days.
Basically, the amount of rest days really depends on the size of the workout. It’s absolutely logical. If you do a huge, full body workout, you may actually need up to two full rest days. However, if you’re primarily doing low impact, low cardio exercises like a yoga workout, you may not even need a full day off in between workouts. This is in part because of what happens during your workout. The Huff Post has an interesting article that talks about that here but to summarize, as you workout, your muscles are forming tears along the side. I had always heard that as a kid but I thought they meant the muscles are tearing in half or breaking when really, it’s more along the lines of how your skin forms stretch marks. It’s these tears that are causing your pain. Additionally, as you’re working out you’re changing the chemical composition inside those muscle groups. Your body converts oxygen to create the chemical ATP which gives your muscles the energy they need for your workout. In your recovery, you’re allowing your chemical balance to even out and improve oxygen levels.
Whew. That was a lot of science. What does it mean for your workout schedule? A lot. Basically, the more steady and manageable your workout is, the fewer rest days you’ll have to have. But even if it’s super low-impact, low-cardio workouts, you’ll still want to have a few of them a week to help your muscles work efficiently. If you’re really stubborn, you can rest one set of muscle groups and focus on a different set that day. But again, you still want full, actual rest days. Skipping your rest days can lead to fatigue and actually plateaus your progress.
The next thing I wanted to talk about was food cravings. In an interview with Glamour, dietitian Jesse Cording talks about how allowing ourselves to indulge in small amounts of our cravings every once in a while helps us to not feel like we’re being left out of our favorite foods. It’s easier to stick to a long term healthy diet if you’re not totally cutting out certain foods. While you definitely need to control portions, allowing yourself to have a donut once in a while means that you won’t want to quit your diet altogether AND, when you do give in, your body will be able to handle it a bit better as opposed to feeling like you’re trying to digest a rock.