Do you remember how hard you slept and, at times, how vivid your dreams were when you were a kid?
Your ability to sleep hard and experience dreams as if they were really happening were directly related to your young, fast metabolism, balanced hormones and growing body. Your body needed the rest and recovery obtained from good, quality and proper duration of sleep in order to grow all of the tissue of a maturing adolescent body and to function optimally the next day.
As we get older and take on more responsibility and stress, our quality of sleep and the hours spent at rest seem to slip away. Overall sleep quality aside, take into consideration that many of you – yes YOU – shudder at the thought of taking one, let alone two, full rest days per week. As if REST is a four letter word! 😉
This can cause more problems in all areas of our lives than you might think, including stalling or even halting our fitness progress.
Your workout is actually not finished until you’ve had a good night’s sleep and adequate rest day(s). You need to let your body finish on the inside what you started on the outside.
The big picture is – most likely – an overall goal of building more muscle and losing more body fat. Each and every part of the muscle building/fat loss process is crucial to the outcome: improving your physique in some way. There is the “active” part – the workout itself – during which you are essentially putting your body through a weight-lifting session by challenging, stressing and ultimately tearing down your muscles.
After a workout, your body repairs the torn muscle fibers through a cellular process, where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands. The repaired muscle strands increase the thickness of the muscle to create muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth.
The part you play in this process is to administer the workouts necessary for muscle building, which happens when you force your muscles to adapt by creating stress that is different from the previous threshold your body has already adapted to (lifting heavier, changing workout structure, exercises, etc.). But after that, you need to leave the rest up to your body and allow it to “finish the job.” Some argue (myself included) that when you rest, this is where the true magic of muscle-building happens! After the workout is completed, one of the most important parts begins, which is getting adequate rest and providing nutritious fuel to your muscles so they can regenerate and grow.
MORE HARM THAN GOOD
Experts recommend getting an average of roughly 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. If you frequently don’t get a good night’s sleep, take adequate rest days or properly fuel your body with good nutrition, you can actually reverse the anabolic (muscle-building) process and put your body into a catabolic or destructive state.
When your body is in a frequent catabolic state, which is also a stressed state, your adrenal glands kick in and activate the “fight or flight” response which raises cortisol and blood glucose levels. So not only are you not allowing your body to transition into “rest and digest” mode (also known as a parasympathetic state), you are wreaking havoc on your adrenal glands, your metabolism, and not allowing your muscles to fully recover. This will eventually take a huge toll on your body, your health and your fitness goals.
“GROWTH” DAYS, NOT REST DAYS
Your rest days should be just as much of a priority as your training days. And as much intensity, drive, passion and hard work as you put into your workout days days per week, you should match that level with your rest days – at least one day a week if not two.
What does that mean? That means I want you to KILL your rest days … and your sleeping sessions! I want you to be able to enjoy every single second of your rest day(s) and do as little as possible while your body does some very important internal work. I want you to sleep so hard that you can wake up and say “Yeah, I TOTALLY KILLED that sleep session!” ?
Here are steps you can take to help you (and your body) make full use of your rest days get a good night’s sleep:
1. Plan Your Sleep Sessions
Just as you plan your workouts, plan your sleep sessions. Decide what time you are going to be in bed by and what time you plan to wake up.
2. Wind Down
It’s not enough to just lay in bed and shut your eyes. You should plan on getting in bed about 15-20 minutes before want to fall asleep, so that you can have some time to “wind down” your body, kind of like down shifting in a car. Do some activities that you know will make you start feeling sleepy, such as reading or listening to soft music. Do something that will completely relax you, your mind and your body.
3. Put Yourself To Sleep
Just like your mom or dad tucked you in at night when you were a kid, practice tucking yourself in. It may help put you in a deeper sleep than if you simply just shut your eyes and hoped for sleep to come! I have recently been teaching this to my 9-year-old son, Gryphon. I tell him to close his eyes and tuck his heart in by telling it that it did a great job today but now it’s time to slow down, that it can rest from all the hard work it’s done today, and the same thing with his lungs (breathing) and finally his brain. I do this with myself, also, when I remember. It may sound silly or childish, but it makes me feel good, like I’m telling my body it did a really good job and I appreciate all the hard work it does when I ask it to Additionally, I really do feel like I sleep longer, harder and deeper when I tuck my body in.
4. Take True Rest Days
That old saying “Work Hard, Play Hard,” is missing a third element: Rest Hard! I really want you to think about how much you put your body through both with workouts and with life, all the stresses and chaos. If you are additionally not getting a good night’s sleep most of the time and then find it really hard to take a day off from anything, how do you think your body will feel going through all of that, and poor sleep and it never gets a break! Try taking one or two (depending on your current fitness program) full days of rest per week. That means no weight lifting, no cardio, no high-intensity activities of any kind. Ideally you should not do anything too physical, but I will take an occasional leisurely (not face-paced or speed walk, just a stroll) walk outside. Some yoga classes are ok as long as you aren’t holding a pose/contraction for long periods of time which will get your heart rate up and put some stress on the body.
On “rest days,” your body is working hard to repair and grow from all of the workouts and other stressors from the week. You might want to start calling them “growth days” or “repair days” instead of “rest days” as a reminder that you are not really resting, but instead taking time to allow your body to complete the full cycle of muscle growth.
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ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.