by Jessica Schneible
We’ve heard it from our coaches over and over again that rest is as important to muscle recovery as proper nutrition is to training. The issue is that 9/10 times that statement goes in one ear and out the other. Friends, I get it! As someone who was once against rest days and proper nutrition I would know! I’ve been there, so here it is again but this time in writing. Rest is as important to muscle recovery as proper nutrition is to training. Now let’s get you to a point where proper rest feels easy!
First things first, erase everything you have ever learned about “more is better from your brain.” When it comes to training and recovery, that information isn’t actually very helpful. More is not better. At least, not necessarily. If you’re training 4-5 days a week and you have 2-3 rest days you are probably seeing gains even years into your fitness lifestyle.
Resting is probably the easiest thing that you can do and that’s because you literally do not have to do anything, no effort needed! CrossFit.com has a resting module that you can use to start; it is a 3-on-1-off program, which means 3 days of doing the workouts and taking the fourth day to rest. Most athletes training at high intensity need at least 1 day of complete rest in order to allow muscle tissues to repair themselves and grow larger. (One whole day off a week and I’ll get bigger muscles?? Count me in!) There are many different ways you can spin your days-on-to-days-off, you just have to play around with it to find the right fit for you. I personally like 3 days on, 1 completely off, 2 days on 1 day active rest. That’s what works for me. With that being said active rest is not in anyway a CrossFit workout, a 5k run or 10 miles of biking! Active rest days for me consist of walking my dogs, throwing a ball or a light yoga flow. Active rest days are meant to have a little bit of solid movement but not hit the intensity like you would on a normal training day.
Now let’s hit 2 reasons why rest days are so important. (Listen, I know you love the gym and the community and the feeling in your body after you hit a hard workout and you’re laying on the floor with lactic acid hitting your muscles and that heavy lung burn that you only experience during FRAN. I GET IT.)
#1 Injury is top of the list here. While good movement patterns will aid in fighting injury, you cannot prevent injury when your cells are always breaking down and trying to rebuild without sufficient rest.
#2 Cortisol. Cortisol is our fight-or-flight hormone. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism, creating a surge of energy in the body. This process is essential for survival situations. Cortisol with adequate rest will usually stay within a healthy range. When we have extreme exposure to cortisol it can wreak havoc on our bodies, as the body will never know when to turn cortisol off if we are always in “survival mode” (aka intense training on a daily basis). Too much cortisol also tends to elevate visceral fat (excess fat around the midsection). If you are working hard daily and your progress has stalled or is heading in the opposite direction it may be time to look at your cortisol levels.
If you’ve made it this far, then you want to know about healthy resting! Here are some helpful tips to maximize your resting and training potential: First up balanced meals. It is very important after a hard intense training session to get some balanced meals consisting of carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. Carbs, proteins, and healthy fats help aid in cells restoring themselves fully after a hard workout. Flushing your system after intense training will also aid in recovery. After a hard workout you may think that just leaving the gym with stiff muscles is totally fine, which it is, but if you want to maximize your recovery I would highly recommend some accessory work or light jogging or rowing after a hard workout to flush your system of the metabolic byproducts that have built up. Now let’s talk about tissues: light foam rolling or convincing your partner to give you a soft tissue massage after a hard workout is very effective in aiding recovery. Add in some mobility and stretching to maximize results! Last but not least, take adequate good quality rest and get some sleep. Studies show that taking a quick power nap (45 minutes or so) after a workout helps our muscles repair and grow faster. Add in some meditation or chillout time here and you have a recipe for success!
So now that you have some helpful information about rest and recovery, let’s get to work! This is the easiest work you will do thus far. And remember: choose rest before rest chooses you!