Now we couldn’t have a favorite day without having a least favorite day. That day that you skip over or keep pushing back until one day you feel motivated enough to do it. For a lot of us this is leg day, thus the copious amount of skipping leg day meme’s. It just takes so much energy to have a successful leg day, and after that it hurts for almost a week. Who wants to be in pain for a week? Especially a muscle group where you use them ever day just to walk, or sit on a toilet seat. But there is one more day that I am horribly bad at skipping. I always plan to do it, but when the time comes to commit, I find a way to rationalize why I shouldn’t. Physically this is the easiest day of the week hands down, but mentally it can one of the most difficult days. That day is called, rest day.
If you are relatively new to training or bodybuilding this probably wont be the case for you or really most normal people. So how is rest day, the hardest day of the week? There’s a simple answer to this, I just enjoy going to the gym. I get excited for my work day to finish so I can go lift things after work. I enjoy working towards a goal and doing all I can do to push my body to reach that goal. Its motivating seeing the changes your body makes and once you get on a roll it’s hard to stop. I feel more energetic and am usually in a better mood on days I go to the gym from the increase of endorphin’s. So as you can see, it’s hard for me to always take those rest days, but sadly, not taking them is detrimental to my fitness and health.
A great deal of bodybuilders don’t know how important rest days really are when it comes to building more muscle and strength. We all know that it takes hard work and training to build muscle right? I mean the guru’s tell us that all the time so it must be true. Well kind of true, but not completely. In reality it is the eating and rest which actually builds the muscle and strength that we crave. Training is what breaks down the muscle and stresses it to the point where it needs to grow so it can cope with that stress next time. So yes, training is a large part of the process to building more muscle, but the actual building happens while you are resting.
So if it’s rest which makes us grow, then clearly we all need to spend more time in bed! (If only it were that easy.) So what is it that makes sleep and rest so important? Well lets say you crushed it at the gym today, and you can barely walk your butt out the door. Sounds like a pretty successful leg day to me and you have created enough stress to break the muscle down. You go home and eat a nice big nutritious dinner, giving your body the energy it needs to re-build the broken down muscles. The evening continues to fade away as you prep for the next day to come. Finally it’s here, time to drift off to dream land and catch some much needed zzz’s. This is where something magical happens. While you are faded away in dream land, playing in a field full of puppies, your Gh (growth hormone) has peaked at it’s highest level all day. That’s right, you get to enjoy dreamland and get gains at the same time! And they say us men can’t multitask. As the name implies, growth hormone will make you grow but only in the right conditions, while you are resting.
Weight lifting obviously puts strain on the body, that is kind of the whole concept behind it. So lifters are the only ones who need these rest days, right? Nope that is not true, anyone who is doing intense training in any form needs to incorporate rest days. While most intense workouts will break down your muscles, they will also strain your cardiovascular system. While you are resting the efficiency of your heart, capillaries, and glycogen stores are also increasing. Glycogen stores in the muscle are the difference between getting a pump and looking full or being flat and over trained. Just from getting your heart rate up, through intense activity, you can benefit from a rest day and help build a better cardiovascular system. No matter what kind of training you do, it is mandatory to incorporate rest days to ensure you are working at peak performance. If you don’t give your body the time it needs to recover, how will it ever get better?
Over the last year I have been working on becoming more in-tune with my body and listening to what it is telling me, instead of forcing it to do what I feel it should be capable of. I feel like this has really become a useful tool, that I have been able to use to my advantage. Learning when I should push myself and when I should hold back and take a day off. A large part of using a rest day to grow, is being able to listen to your body and let it tell when you need a rest. Not just following a workout plan and taking the day off because it told you to. I find I will start feeling fatigued all day long, sluggish, weak, sore, unmotivated or just not recovering as quick. When I start to see and feel these symptoms, I know it is probably time to take a rest day.
What happens to your body that makes over training so detrimental to your physique? Many clinical studies have shown us that over training increases the levels of cortisol in our body while decreasing dehyroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Which probably means something to some of us and nothing to the rest, so let me quickly explain. Cortisol is a stress hormone which is catabolic to our bodies, or in other words it takes our gains away and the body will start to eat it’s own muscle mass. DHEA is the antagonizing stress hormone which is anabolic, or in other words, it makes us improve and grow. Through proper rest your body will reduce the amount of cortisol it makes and the levels of DHEA will start to increase. The opposite will happen when you are not getting sufficient rest and your body becomes catabolic, literally eating itself. There is literally nothing worse then putting all that hard work into the gym and having it start to eat itself, so take a rest day!
The most important part of bodybuilding that we strive for, (the building part) requires you to get enough rest for the magic to happen. You can train all you want but without giving your body time to actually make that muscle, its all for not. Without adequate rest you are setting your body up for injury or even worse, being over trained and becoming catabolic. Going to the gym almost becomes like a drug, it releases endorphin’s which make you feel happy, so no wonder it can be hard to take a day off. Your body will thank you in the end of the day and if you want to keep progressing, it is mandatory, regardless of how bad you want to train. Listen to your body! If you start seeing or feeling the warning signs of over training, take a day off. If you keep your protein high you will not lose any muscle from a day off, but if you push yourself too hard that might just happen.