The biggest mistake you can make when starting your fitness journey is going all out. And the number one piece of advice fitness influencers are getting asked is how they stay motivated to workout everyday. But what if we flipped the script?
What if instead of finding ways to “go hard or go home” every single day, we found ways to make working out part of our lifestyle? Because as living, feeling, and conscious beings, it’s inevitable that we will need time to rest and unwind.
See, the truth is, if you push your mind and body to constantly perform without giving yourself a chance to sit back and relax, you will burnout. And trust me when I say, burnout is no joke.
I remember when I experienced my first (and thankfully only) burnout. I had been crushing it at the gym, at work, with family and friends, for WEEKS. And then, it hit me. It was the most defeated I have ever felt.
I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed, or think properly, or create passionately, or workout, or ANYTHING.
All I could do was lay in bed and dwell on the fact that I had lost all my sparkle. I lost my creativity. I lost all the progress I had made at the gym. I lost relationships. But most importantly, I was starting to lose hope. Like there was no way out. And that I was stuck at the bottom of this pit.
I was stuck in this (what seemed like) never ending chapter of my life for weeks, almost months. I honestly did not believe that I would be able to get back to where I was.
But, I made it out. I was more motivated to go to the gym than ever. I was more creative than ever. I had stronger relationships than ever. I was more ready to kill it than ever.
I had gotten my life back, after months of despair, all because of one piece of advice I had failed to take seriously. I never wanted to accept the simple fact that my mind and body and soul needed to rest.
For months I had pushed myself to the absolute limit, every single day of every single week leading up to my burnout. But when I finally learned the importance of resting, everything changed.
What I’m about to share with you guys is something that I learned during my fitness journey (during the second time around) that helped me not only get to where I wanted to be physically, but mentally, spiritually, and socially as well.
What is ‘Active Rest’?
When most people think of resting, they think of throwing on their favorite jammies, cuddling up in bed, maybe throwing on their favorite show, and resting. But that’s actually not the type of rest we’re going to be talking about.
See, what I just described to you is what we call ‘passive rest’ and it can sometimes do more harm than good (if it’s the only type of rest we practice).
What I came to learn is that there are two types of rest: ‘passive rest’, which we just went over, and ‘active rest’, which is what we’re here to talk about today.
Active rest is a form of resting that consists of movement and exercise (both physically and mentally speaking) that requires less intensity than your usual standard. Something that keeps the juices flowing but that doesn’t take much effort.
For instance, say you’re a runner. Active rest may look like going for a nice long walk. While this doesn’t put nearly the same amount of stress on your body, it does keep you moving. It can also help you perform better when you are trying to perform at your maximum capacity.
The same goes for work. Let’s take me for example. I am a writer. My mind is constantly thinking of stories to tell, articles to write, information to share, etc. But if I don’t let my brain rest for a little bit, I won’t be able to do my job at all! So what do I do as my ‘active rest’? I read. I read stories, self-improvement books, I meditate, I switch the focus from the output I’m creating towards the input that helps fuel my creativity. And after a day of active rest, I’m back to writing with a clear mind, and a whole lot of better ideas.
If you were to participate in ‘passive rest’ you could potentially be making yourself stiffer. Whether that means your muscles aren’t given a chance to loosen up or your mind isn’t getting inspired. While ‘passive rest’ has its time and place, it’s not the best when it comes to recovery and can actually set you back in your goals.
Why you should have active rest days
I know the biggest shift for me happened when I finally understood why I should be taking my down time seriously.
When you exercise, you put your muscles under a lot of stress. Your ability to overcome that stress is what helps you grow stronger, bigger and get closer to your goals. But in order to continue improving, you have to give your body a moment to breathe so you can adapt to the challenges you're putting yourself through. This goes for both your body and your mind.
When you spend your rest days doing some light work, be it going for a walk or reading a fun book, you’re allowing yourself to unwind while strengthening your mind and body. As we’ll come to see, active rest helps you not only recover faster, but it also prevents injury and burnout!
1.Helps promote recovery
Keeping the blood flowing after periods of intense exercise helps deliver more fuel and amino acids to your muscles allowing them to recover faster than if you were to passively rest.
See, your blood does more than just carry oxygen- it’s actually full of nutrients and proteins that your muscles need in order to recover from all that taxing work you’ve been putting them through.
And the faster they recover, the faster you can go back to exercising at your full capacity.
The same goes for your mind! Allowing your brain to relax, while still keeping it engaged in some fun, light work, helps you not only relax, but also generate new ideas, form clearer thoughts, and get inspired. And the result? You end up performing at a higher mental level than you did before!
2.Prevents muscle soreness and fatigue
Lactic acid is the number one byproduct of working out. It’s the reason your muscles burn while exercising and why you feel sore for days thereafter. Active rest allows your blood to filter through and remove all that excess lactic acid build up that’s causing your pain and fatigue after working out.
Similarly, when you let your mind wander off onto other things, you’re letting your brain let go of all that stress and anxiety that’s keeping you from uncovering your best ideas.
Often, people find themselves giving up before they even need to due to feeling sore or tired. But with active rest, you can avoid falling short of your potential by always showing up as your best self.
3.Reduces risk of burnout
Burnout is a form of exhaustion that comes from overworking yourself. It can be caused from both mental and/or physical work and can anywhere from weeks to months to recovery from.
Working active rest into your regimen allows your mind and body to take a break from working so hard without having to completely put a pause on the things that you love.
If running is your thing, active rest can look like going for a nice walk every two days, giving your muscles a well deserved “break” and a chance to recover, while still keeping the body moving. Same thing goes for taking mental breaks during mentally taxing projects as well. Overdoing it as work can lead to your own downfall. You’re not a machine, let yourself rest when you need to.
How often should you have an active rest day?
It’s recommended that you take an active rest day every 3 to 5 days. However, depending on your schedule and intensity at which you operate, you might want to make that every 2 days.
Ultimately, you want to make sure that whatever you end up choosing, fits your lifestyle best and makes most sense to you.
If you’re new to this and are feeling a little lost, here’s our recommended workout split that includes both active and passive rest days:
- Monday: Quads and glutes
- Tuesday: Push day (Chest, shoulders, and triceps)
- Wednesday: Active rest day
- Thursday: Hamstrings and glutes
- Friday: Pull day (Back and biceps)
- Saturday: Active rest day 2
- Sunday: Passive rest day
10 Active Rest Day Activities:
When it comes to your active rest days, you can have a little fun with it! As long as you engage in a low intensity activity that you enjoy, you're set!
Here's a list of 10 activities you can choose from for your next rest day that will help you rest, recover, and reset:
Please keep in mind that the list is virtually endless. These are mere suggestions for those of you who, just like myself, didn't know where to start or what counts as active rest.
The most important thing to remember is that the goal is to make your workout routine part of your lifestyle and something you look forward to. If you feel like you’re dragging your feet to the gym or are having a hard time getting out of bed, this might be a sign that you’re overdoing it.
Don’t take this as a sign of failure, though. Listen to your body and take this opportunity to give your body what it needs so that it can serve you better in the long run. Because the last thing you want is to push yourself to a point of total exhaustion that will set you back for weeks from reaching your goals.