By Naomi Rabon, NW Fitness Team Trainer
We’ve all heard the phrase “work hard, play hard.” And I’m sure we can all agree that to maintain our sanity, we need to balance our hard work (jobs, careers, or other similar tasks) with enjoying life, or having our “play time.”
Playing hard, or enjoying the pleasures of life, such as taking vacations, relaxing on the weekends, is a big reason we work hard in the first place. We work hard so that we can live the lifestyle we want to live and be able to enjoy the things we’d like to enjoy. And if you’re lucky, you enjoy your job, too. But when it comes down to it, you still work hard even if your job is your passion (believe me, I know).
But we also play hard so that we can recharge and reboot in order to be productive with work, right? Haven’t you ever said “Ugh, I need a vacation!” You need to recharge your batteries or else you may find yourself getting burned out, unproductive and just downright bitter. Raise your hand if you know what I’m taking about.
WORKING HARD IN THE GYM
Take the above scenario and apply it to your hard work in the gym. For many of us, dare I say most of us, the gym can be our sanctuary. The gym and our precious workouts are a big part of our “play time” which can be a huge stress-reliever, our hour or two of “me time,” and our way of unwinding. For this reason it makes it so difficult for us to even consider taking a rest day or (heaven forbid) two rest days a week.
But we have to remember that while our minds feel like we need to work out every day, we have to step back and realize exactly what our bodies may be going through with daily workouts and no breaks.
When we lift weights daily for 45-60 min or more, this is what we are doing to our bodies:
• Creating intense load
• Causing physical stress
• Inducing small muscle tears
• Increasing cortisol (stress hormone) levels
• Increasing blood flow and overall cardiorespiratory output
• And demanding other intense stresses on the body
All of this is good and it is what we hope to achieve from a workout. BUT it is only good in relation to the quality of your recovery. By the quality of your recovery, I mean giving your body a recovery period that is matched to, or even exceeds the intensity demands of the workout.
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY
Not giving your body quality recovery from a workout, or from working out intensely 6-7 days per week, would be the equivalent of working really hard, long, intense hours without having very many breaks throughout the day.
Here’s an example: you work a 65-70 hour work week without much “you time” on the weekends, get minimal sleep, and go right back to work on Monday for another 65-70 hour week. You might not even feel recovered from the previous week, and will most likely not be functioning at optimal levels. How many of you have taken a vacation but at the end of the vacation felt like you still weren’t fully recharged and ready to get back to work?
This is exactly what your body goes through when you decide to skip your rest day. It’s a little trickier with workouts, though, because our minds, for the most part, seem to be conditioned to think if we take a rest day or two that we’re being lazy. There is a huge difference between taking adequate rest for optimal recovery and being lazy.
WHAT RECOVERY CAN DO FOR YOU
1. Prevent Burnout You may not feel it coming, but burnout will sneak up on you when you least expect it. If you are working out too much, too long, too frequently or too hard all the time, it’s just a matter of time before you will feel burned out and need a break. We can’t all be in beast mode 100% of the time for the rest of our lives. And why do we feel we should be? Pace yourself, and take 2-3 days off if you start feeling a burn out coming on.
2. Prevent Overtraining/Injury If you don’t take adequate rest days every week, and you don’t let burn out get to you, then most likely fatigue or injury from overtraining will force you into a longer rest period than you wanted. Believe me, you don’t want overtraining or injury to be what ends up causing much needed rest and recovery because you don’t have control over how long this type of rest and recovery will be. It’s better to be in control of your one or two (or sometimes three or four) rest days per week than be forced into weeks or months of recovery.
3. Allow Optimal Growth Growth doesn’t happen in the weight room. That’s where the breaking down and tearing down of muscle tissue happens. It’s ironic, we think muscle building happens in the gym. We see it all the time in social media hashtag gym pictures: #gainstrain, #musclebuilding, #bulkingseason. We also tend to see our muscles pump up 3-4x’s their normal size during a workout, so it’s easy to equate weight room workouts with actual muscle building. But physiologically speaking, our muscles don’t actually build in the gym. They break down in the gym. Muscle building can only happen with rest, recovery, and proper nutrition. It’s kind of backwards from what we think it is.
4. Allow Optimal Performance You can only perform at your best if you are recovered. I don’t think this statement can be argued. If you are lacking in sleep, you cannot perform at your best, or have a really intense workout. If you aren’t nourishing properly, you cannot perform at your best. If you have not given your muscles and mind a break, or adequate rest/recovery, you cannot perform at your best. If you want to have great workouts, great athletic events, achieve PRs, increase your strength, stamina, endurance or any other goal, you can only do this if you consistently set aside rest and recovery days on a weekly basis.
5. More Enjoyment & Motivation If you are having a hard time feeling motivated or enjoying your workouts, you may need to schedule more weekly rest and recovery days. While we aren’t always going to be motivated, you may get more excited about going to the gym if you haven’t been in two or three days. It may just be the thing that helps you start looking forward to and enjoying your workouts more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
If you feel like taking a rest day or two each week is torture, maybe you need to develop a new association with rest. Don’t think of it as you being lazy or fear that you’re getting out of your fitness routine. Schedule your rest days in your weekly fitness program on purpose knowing that the work you do in the weight room is only half of the equation. Allow the other half of the equation – the rest and recovery – to happen in order to finish the muscle building process. You can even call it your “muscle building” day instead of a rest day if it helps.
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.