How To Do “Nothing” When There’s Nothing To Do:
The Importance of Rest Days
By Coach Casey
With all of this extra time on our hands, we’ve been burdened with the task to “fill the voids”… and many of us (myself included) often turn to our daily workout to keep ourselves going. We set aside our one hour a day (or for some of us, more than one) to shut out the rest of the world and push our bodies to their limits. Equipment or not, we’ve learned that at-home fitness is truly achievable, and more importantly, effective. But is there such a thing as too much at-home fitness?
During a time where we are clinging on to fitness as our life raft, we struggle to remember the importance of rest days. When we are at the gym, we find a comfortable spot in our schedules for these rest days. We are engaging in all of these high intensity workouts with all of this fancy equipment, our bodies deserve a rest day so we can recover, repair, and regain our intensity! Believe it or not, the same thing applies now. But we manage to find one million reasons why we feel we don’t need one! These are stressful times– this is how we relieve our stress! How else am I going to fill up my time? I’m doing mostly bodyweight workouts… I’m not really going that hard…
Hear me out… we are so thrilled and proud that you’re sticking with us and working so hard during this unprecedented time…
However, rest days are still extremely important! Equipment or not, the high intensity workouts we’re engaging in on a daily basis initiate a stress response in our bodies that, in the long term, can actually have relatively counterproductive effects.
To put things in a nutshell—
◊ Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone. When you exercise, your body releases cortisol.
◊ Increased cortisol levels = increased blood glucose levels (from breakdown of protein in muscles): ensuring our brains, muscles, and tissues have enough energy to function.
◊ Short Term Benefits of Cortisol: regulation of glucose metabolism, breakdown of fat, reduction of inflammation and regulation of blood pressure.
In order to fully benefit from the effects of Cortisol in our bodies, we need to give our bodies enough time to return to our “baseline” levels (by taking rest/recovery days).
The long term effects of elevated Cortisol levels are less desirable and even counterproductive to most of our goals:
◊ Fat gain
◊ High Blood Pressure
◊ Higher susceptibility to infection (due to suppressed immune system)
◊ Excessive breakdown of muscle tissue
In the CrossFit Level 1 Guide, the suggested templates for working out always include rest days– the two templates we see outlined are a “3 days on, 1 day off” pattern and a “5 days on, 2 days off” pattern that better reflects the average person’s work schedule. Now that our work schedules are likely abnormal, these may seem less relevant…
However the CF-L1 Guide suggests that “athletes can work at or near the highest intensities possible for three straight days, but by the fourth day, both neuromuscular function and anatomy are hammered to the point where continued work becomes noticeably less effective and impossible without reducing intensity.” Intensity is what yields our desired results, therefore we must do what we can to maintain intensity. In this case, it’s incorporating things like “Active Recovery Days” and “Rest Days.”
What’s the difference?
Active recovery days incorporate low intensity movement in order to increase blood flow enough to clear out any enzymes that are responsible for muscle damage and fatigue, which can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness, or “DOMS.” On these days, we’re looking for an easy, restorative, comfortable pace.
Rest days are when we do just that– rest! Though not as exciting, we need days where our body (and our mind) is under little to no stress. This does not mean you stay in bed all day and quite literally do nothing. It means we direct our focus toward accomplishing goals and tasks throughout the day that do not revolve around fitness. We should not feel guilty for taking days like these!
You will not undo all of your hard work with a day of rest!
What are some things we can do on active recovery days?
Here are some suggestions:
•Walk the dog
•Yoga, stretching, mobilization, ROMWOD
•Play a sport (what a great time to try out NEW sports)
•Row, Canoe, Kayak
How do we crush a rest day?
Try these on for size:
•Get adequate sleep
•Eat well (and enough!)
•Stretch, mobilize, foam roll
•Make a to-do list for the day to stay on task
•Set some short-term goals for the next few days
These lists are not all-inclusive… They go on and on. Each and every one of us is different, so be sure to listen to your body. Eat well, sleep more, hydrate, wash your hands, and most importantly, remember you’re doing the best you can.