Balancing Exercise and Recovery for Non-Professional Athletes

Sports Medicine, Workout Injuries, Physical Therapy


Is taking a rest from exercise bad for you? Not at all. In fact, it’s a vital part of your workout program.

For non-professional athletes, the thought of taking time away from your exercise routine seems counterintuitive and even a bit scary. After all, working out is good for your body, so why stop? You may also feel guilty about resting when you should be exercising. But you shouldn’t! Even professional athletes recognize the importance of balancing exercise and recovery with planned rest days.

Instead of feeling guilty about missing your workout, learn the benefits of rest days. Taking a brief “vacation” from exercise can build your strength and improve your performance.

When to take a rest day

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends anyone who participates in intense workouts should schedule a rest every seven to 10 days. Depending on the intensity of your exercise and fitness level, you may require more frequent breaks.

When to schedule a rest day? Your body will tell you when it’s time, but there are definite red flags you should look for according to the ACE:

  • You’re always tired. If you are so fatigued you can’t muster enough energy to exercise or do anything else, your body is telling you to take a time out for a bit.
  • You’re always sore. Some soreness after a workout session is normal. But if your muscles and joints feel sore all the time, you need to take a rest.
  • Your mood changes. Too much exercise increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which also elevates the serotonin levels. This imbalance can lead to depression, irritability, and insomnia.
  • You’re overeating. To combat your fatigue and fuel your energy, you crave caffeinated drinks and carbohydrates. Not only do those foods pack on calories, they are only a temporary fix for your sluggishness.

Three benefits of rest days

As hard as it may be to believe, rest days are integral to your exercise regimen. If you need more reasons to take a break, read over the benefits you’ll get from scheduling time off from the gym or running track.

Build strength. During exercise, the muscle fibers break down. When you rest, the muscles repair themselves, ultimately making them stronger. Similarly, working out too much depletes your glycogen or energy stores. Rest gives your body time to replenish the glycogen and give you an energy boost.

Prevent injury. Exercise enthusiasts work out so often they sometimes fall into what is called “overtraining syndrome.” Doing repetitive motions with no break leaves you tired and can injure the muscles and joints. Further, overtraining puts you at risk of dehydration, another factor in injuries.

Improve your mood. Exercise can be a mood-booster. But so can rest. Taking a break gives you extra hours for other important things in your life, like spending time with family and friends, or pursuing other hobbies and interests. In short, you need to simply relax from time to time.

What a rest day looks like

Now that you know the importance of rest days, what does that period look like for you? It could mean a complete off day of no exercise. But, if you can’t stand the idea of ever skipping your exercise sessions, you can do what is known as active recovery.

During your active recovery period, you can take a brisk walk, swim, or ride a bike. Stretching exercises and yoga are other good examples of active recovery workouts. These exercises stimulate blood flow to heal your muscles, but aren’t so strenuous that they sap your body of strength and energy. Giving yourself time off will only make your workouts more beneficial in the long run.

Let us help you reach peak performance

At All Sports Physical Therapy, we help athletes and non-professional athletes alike overcome injuries and achieve peak performance. If you’re feeling tired or have persistent pain, see one of our physical therapists. We’ll diagnose the problem and propose treatments to get you back into doing what you love. Contact us today for a consultation.

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