How To Know When You Should Take A "Rest Day" From Your Workout Routine

by Georgina Berbari

You know when you get into an amazing workout groove and find the perfect mix of strength training and cardio?

You feel kind of like the Incredible Hulk, and nothing can stop you.

Then, boom: Out of nowhere, your lower back is killing you, your kneecap seems oddly loose, and it feels like you haven't slept in six days.

Overworking yourself in a new routine, or even in a long-term fitness regimen is easy to do -- and that's when rest days come in to play.

But how do you know when it's time to rest?

If you're one of those gym-goers who goes by the mantra "reps over rest," science says you actually need rest to see any kind of progress.

Why Your Body Needs Rest Days

Physical exercise damages muscle fibers, but during periods of rest, you're allowing your muscles to reconstruct and recover, which makes them stronger.

You know that post-leg day feeling where you literally can't even sit on the toilet without being in pain? That soreness actually has a name; exercise physiologists call it delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it's a side effect of the muscle regeneration process.

Your muscles work super hard during a workout, which is why the gradually intensifying discomfort occurs between 24 and 48 hours after activity.

So if you work out in the morning, and you're already starting to feel sore by nighttime, it's not always necessary to keep pushing yourself the next day.

Contrary to popular belief, overall strength and #gains actually occur outside the gym on your rest days, not in the weight room.

We checked in with Nike trainer, former professional basketball player, and personal trainer, Holly Rilinger, to get her thoughts on when to take rest days, and how to listen to your body in general.

Rilinger tells Elite Daily,

It depends on your activity level and intensity at which you train. There isn't a magic formula. The most important thing is LISTENING to your body. When you feel run-down, mentally drained, constantly sore, or lacking energy, take a day. I personally take one to two rest days per week. 

In her own workout routine, Rillinger loves dedicating Sunday to be her rest day because it allows her to reset and get ready to tackle the week. However, if she's feeling run-down, she'll take other days off.

OK, so all this talk about rest is great and all, but sometimes I can't help but convince myself I'm Wonder Woman (how f*cking good was that movie, BTW?) and tell myself I don't need any days off.

Sleep is for the weak, right?


Rillinger emphasized the many downsides to neglecting rest:

I think it's a mistake not to take a day off. Sooner or later it will catch up to you. Your body will start to break down. You will lose your enthusiasm and focus for your workouts.

If you're really feeling antsy though, there are such thing as active rest days. Fitness expert and celebrity trainer, Rebecca Kennedy, tells Elite Daily,

Rest days aren't always laying down and kicking back, I like to consider them 'low impact days.' These days you [can] still continue to move whether it's A.C.C.E.S.S. (NYC's first active recovery class), yoga, pilates or even a brisk walk.

Alright, so just don't do any intense cardio. That's something I can get down with.

When you decide to take your day off is entirely up to you, but Rillinger advises changing the way you think when it comes to rest.

She says,

Think of that day off as a day where you become stronger not weaker!! Rest is POWERFUL!