Rest Days are an important part of a good fitness program. The body needs time to recover from training so we do not fatigue and burn out. The most important reason for Rest Days is so we are training at our best. The greatest adaptations of fitness happens when we are training at high level of Intensity. Now Intensity is a whole other topic, but we need to understand to have adaptation in fitness our training needs to be at high levels of intensity. To maintain Intensity the body needs to recover and an easy way to recover is to add in a Rest Day.
Key thought here is, Rest Days are a tool for recovery.
HOW OFFEN SHOULD I TAKE REST DAYS?
The CrossFit program follows 3 days of training followed by 1 day of rest. This ratio fits terribly into a 5 day working week and would have your rest days falling on a different day of the week each week. For that reason I program a 5 on 2 off ratio. The 3 on 1 off ratio was developed by the CrossFit founder Coach Glassman. He found that if an athlete trained on the 4th day the athletes Intensity would have diminished and fitness adaptation slowed. By keeping the 3:1 ratio athletes maintained Intensity and seen greater results from the program. So you could look at it as, in a 7 day week you need to have 2 days as Rest Days.
Now there are other ways to recover from training and Games athletes have found ways to recover quicker and take less Rest Days. You can definitely train 6 days a week and some days twice a day, but you need to be putting in the effort to your recovery. Rest Days are an easy way to recover but if you want to be training more often and taking less Rest Days you also need to place more effort on recovery.
First consider the following.
WHY DO YOU TRAIN?
For me this is a big factor when considering what our ratio of Work:Rest should be and how much effort on extra recovery you put in. Consider, what are you training for? This can help determine how often you train and how much effort you should place on recovery. Are you training to be a professional athlete? If so active recovery is an important part of your program and you do not want to be losing intensity in your training. Rest days should only be be taken to manage performance and active recovery should be a huge part of your program. If competition is not apart of your why, Intensity in training is less important and the need for active recovery is not as great. Now at first this may seem silly, that someone who has no intensions of being a competitive athlete should put less effort on active recovery. What I mean by this is, if you enjoy coming to the gym every day and it is an outlet for you, what does it matter if you are performing 15% less than what you should be. Who cares if you come to the gym and use a PVC pipe in the WOD just for the enjoyment of being there. We don’t need to slog it out every day and then our need for recovery is less, we can train lighter and enjoy feeling good. In the same thought if you have a busy life and you can only make it to the gym 3 days a week, Intensity is your friend. You have the other 4 days to recover, so go all out and leave nothing in the tank.
IS THERE A KINK IN YOUR CHAIN?
Coach Glassman explained this with the analogy of placing handcuffs on a Basketball player, it does not make them a bad player, but will hinder their performance. If you have a kink in your chain, an old injury, a new injury, not enough sleep, dehydrated, flexibility issue or you have development a posture abnormality this will be like placing handcuffs on a great basketball player. These kinks need to be ironed out or else your fitness and every day life will suffer. It takes time, patients and a little extra work. So if you have a kink in your chain you should think about taking more rest days from hard training and focus your efforts on fixing the problem and removing the hand cuffs. This may be dropping a session once a week to go to a stretch class, mobilise at home or come to class and swop out movements to focus on mobility.
SHOULD I BE DOING ACTIVE RECOVERY?
Active recovery can be extra work on top of your training that aids in recovering of damaged tissue or aids in the adaptation of fitness. This could be a stretching session, a massage, low intensity movement to promote blood flow for healing or it could be a skill session of complex movements of your chosen sport. The answer too, should I be doing any of these things? comes down to; Are you training to be a competitive athlete? Is there a Kink in your chain? if the answer to either of these questions is yes, then I would recommend doing active recovery sessions and seeking help from a health professional.
MY TIPS TO RECOVERY
Our bodies need the right Macro and Micro nutrients to function. A lack of nutrients and the body will suffer. If you want better and faster recovery your first step is to make sure you are getting enough food to support your exercise and the right macronutrients to aid in recovery.
2. REST DAYS
For adaptation your training needs to have intensity, to maintain intensity you need to have rest days. How many rest days and what you do on your rest days, depends on the individual athlete, but you need to rest to recover.
Sleep is not just important for the obvious reason of you don’t want to be tired every day. Sleep is also the time the body repairs itself. You want to be getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night. The more volume and intensity in your training the more sleep you will need. Mat Fraser the fittest man on earth sleeps 12 hours a night when he is in the peak of his training. So if you are thinking of ramping up volume in training ie, less rest days, you better be ramping up sleep hours as well.
The biggest handicaps I see placed on athletes is from lack of mobility. If an athlete has tight hamstrings it will effect performance. If an athlete has tight shoulders, any movement overhead will be degraded. Remove the handcuffs and fix your mobility problems, priorities mobility and your fitness will improve dramatically.