Ah, rest day. No getting up at the crack of dawn to sweat in spandex. Instead you can sleep in and wake when you want, be lazy all day, and feel no regret for not being at the gym.
Sure, this is one way to approach your days off in between workouts, but there are better things you could be doing for your body that still help to give your muscles some respite.
Yes, your muscles need a break. When you work out at a level that is intense for you, you create micro-tears in the muscle fibers and connective tissues. As your body goes into repair mode–which also leads to your muscles getting stronger–you experience low-grade pain. Or, if you overexerted yourself, you’re gingerly crawling up stairs and groaning as you try to lower yourself to a seated position. It’s what the experts called DOMS, or “delayed onset muscle soreness.”
When DOMS sets in, it’s best to give your body a bit of a break. But that doesn’t mean you need to go comatose. In fact, being completely sedentary can actually cause your muscles to stiffen up, and thus elevate the level of pain you’re feeling. Trying some of the following, instead, can help to alleviate the pain, while still allowing your muscles–and you–to recover.
Do Yoga: On your off days, try a yoga practice style that is slower in style. Yin, restorative, or even beginners classes are good ways to return your muscles back to fighting shape. When you’re really sore, look for these classes practiced in heated rooms. The heat can help your muscles loosen more and stretch more efficiently.
Walk: Take a scenic stroll, a light hike, or walk into town to get your muscles in motion. The goal is not to get your heart pumping, but instead to ease your muscles into movement, so tread lightly.
Stretch: Tight muscles can lead to injury. Use your active rest days to work on making your body more limber. Spend 20 minutes or so focused on mobility exercises. If you’ve noticed that tight muscles are holding you back in some exercise, focus your energy on opening up those body parts.
Stand: If you work at a computer for most of the day, switch from a seated to a standing position. Sitting all day can actually cause your pelvis and hips to tighten over time, while standing will leave you more limber. Standing also acts as a good reminder to move more, which is just what your muscles need.
Play: Return to childlike times when exercise was all about having fun. Gather up a few friends to shoot hoops in the driveway, toss the Frisbee to the dog, or play catch with the kids.
Do Chores: While not very exciting, cleaning your home, raking the yard, or shoveling the driveway is an easy way to stay active. In the end, your muscles will benefit, and you’ll have one less thing on your to-do list.
Your body needs a break, but before your check out completely, remember that you can benefit from moving a bit more on your off days. Respond to how you feel, and recover accordingly.
What do you do on your rest days? Share with us in the comments.