Fit Chic NYC’s Blog

When a Good Workout Goes Bad (The Importance of Rest)

Tuesday after work I went to the gym and did a quick 30 cardio circuit of the elliptical, Stairmaster and spinning before hitting the weight room where I jumped right into overhead barbell squats. Despite using pretty low weight, my quads were done after two sets of 12 reps. It hurt to climb the stairs to use the ab mat area, and walking to work the next morning was miserable.

After going to the gym for decently intense workouts for a week and half straight my body just gave up on me – it needed rest. (And two days later it could still use some extra recovery.) I admit that although I know rest days are an integral part of any exercise program, I’m horrible at taking them. I find great excuses not to. Plus, I feel guilty on days when I purposely miss a workout and I get cranky.

However I have to start practicing what I preach and take a rest day.

There’s a lot of theories floating around about what’s the best on/off schedule or workout periodization program, but it really comes down to what works best for your schedule. One of the best arguments I’ve seen for a recovery schedule is CrossFit’s 3 days on/1 day off cycle.

Pulled from the CrossFit Journal:

“We see a three-day-on, one-day-off pattern. We’ve found that this allows for a relatively higher volume of high-intensity work than the many others that we’ve experimented with. With this format the athlete can work at or near the highest intensities possible for three straight days, but by the forth day both neuromuscular function and anatomy are hammered to the point where continued work becomes noticeably less effective and impossible without reducing intensity… the three-on, one-off pattern was devised to increase both the intensity and recovery of the workouts.”

The science behind this theory is to prevent overtraining (hello aching quads of mine!) but it also establishes the concept of intensity – you can’t maintain a high level of intensity without recovery. My cardio circuit on Tuesday was no where near as intense (aka effective) as it was four days prior. Without intensity in your workout program you’re just going through the movements and you’re not receiving the benefit of working out. (Okay it’s better than nothing, but why not make the most of your time and effort?) Think about it, who would you guess is in better shape: the girl who barely breaks a sweat while hitting the elliptical for an hour at a moderate pace daily, or the girl who is giving it her all – full-out effort – on the treadmill/elliptical for 30 minutes every few days?

Yet the article goes on to mention that convenience, attitude, exercise selection and pacing ultimately serve as the prevailing factors in creating a workout schedule. For example if the gym is close to where you work (and not were you live) the 5 days on/2 days off cycle is more convenient, therefore a cycle you’re more likely to stick with.

Bottom line, rest days are important. Besides having your workouts suffer if you don’t take them (didn’t we learn quality over quantity back in middle school?) you also place yourself at a higher risk of injury. And while there is no magic formula the underlying factor is that each equation includes a rest day!


2 Comments so far
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i fall into the 5/2 because the gym i belong to is at work, but the days i rest usually involve some activity though not specific training, such as surfing, hiking, jiujitsu, etc… Sometimes my five days on will actually be 3/1 but the rest day will be a rest from crossfit WODs but i’ll still get in some jiujitsu…but my body will let me know when it needs a full day(s) off! I’ll be very tired, sore, lethargic, unmotivated, and generally just know i’m not going to be able to get any intensity in my workout…

lesson: look for the signs your body is telling you to rest and take the rest day and be that much more ready to attack your next workout (and as always make sure you’re fueling yourself properly to get the most from your recovery days just as you would any other day!!)


Comment by paleozone

@paleozone Great advice! Listening to your body is key so that you can attack all your workouts with intensity. I used “actively recover” on my days off but I’ve found that I just do better if I do absolutely nothing! 🙂

Comment by FitChicNYC

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