Active Recovery Days May Be More Effective Than Simple Rest Days On Your Fitness Journey

After you've finally got the hang of your new workout routine, it always feels a little bit weird taking a rest day, especially in the beginning. You're feeling super strong, confident, and ambitious, so it can feel like you're slacking or hindering your progress by taking one or two days off. Your body does, however, unquestionably require a break now and then to heal itself. Hitting the gym every day might be doing you more harm than good, actually. 

While moving your body on a regular basis is a must, daily hardcore workouts with no rest in between can have a major impact on your energy levels, sleep quality, and your overall health. As it turns out, you can exercise too much. If taking a simple rest day is anxiety-inducing, or you simply don't enjoy not doing any exercise whatsoever, incorporating active recovery days into your fitness regime could be your new secret weapon.

Recovery after training should be intentional

Everyone knows the importance of rest days; so much so that some even recommend taking a workout hiatus every once in a while in order to give your body a well-deserved break. Vicky Adie, an experienced physiotherapist and Pilates instructor, highlighted the value of resting in an interview with Marathon Handbook. "Rest days are an important part of building fitness. Your body needs time to recover and is as important as your activities," she stated. 

Adie also added that the length of your break is directly correlated to the amount of exercise you do, and the strenuousness of it. The more intense your workouts are, the more you should rest. However, that doesn't necessarily mean you should just lounge around if you're taking a day off. Emily Capodilupo, senior vice president of data science and research at WHOOP, clarified that recovery after training should always be intentional. 

"If the goal of your rest day is to boost recovery, then you actually have to take actions towards that, it's not merely the inaction of not going to the gym," she shared in a WHOOP podcast episode about recovery. While you definitely should be taking breaks from intense gym visits, light exercise can be incredibly beneficial during rest days because it still gets your blood pumping and muscles moving.

Moving your body without exhausting it

What constitutes light exercise depends on your lifestyle and existing fitness regime. If you're an athlete, weight lifting could be a lighter form of moving your body. However, for the average fitness junkie, it's most likely going to be something like cycling or taking a brisk walk, according to Nicole Belkin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon.

"If you're feeling fatigued from strength training, engage in a lower intensity cardiovascular bike ride or walk, which enables your body to circulate waste products caused by the rigorous activity," she advised Everyday Health. Conversely, if you usually do more aerobic exercise like running, Vicky Adie recommends doing Pilates and yoga, as those will target core muscles and help with building strength. Still, don't forget to take at least one proper rest day. 

Cory Reese, an author and ultramarathon runner, pointed out to Marathon Handbook that, "A day of complete rest each week helps reduce the risk of injuries, and helps to avoid the mental burnout that can result from overtraining." Overall, making the effort to intentionally move your body on certain rest days can make a big impact on your fitness journey and general health, but remember that truly resting is also crucial.