How many rest days should I take?

When you’re working out consistently or about to start doing so, you may wonder to yourself, “how many rest days should I take?” You could be asking yourself this because you’re worried about resting too much, not resting enough, or you could be reeeeally looking forward to those rest days. Trust me, I’ve been there.

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First, let’s talk about a balanced exercise regiment. There are three areas of physical fitness: cardio, strength, and flexibility. All three of these areas should be addressed in your workout regiment. There are two types of cardio that you should work to fit in: high intensity interval training (HIIT) and low intensity steady state (LISS). HIIT has become very popular over the last few years, so I feel like most people have a good sense of what it is, but it is basically intervals of explosive moves that get your heart rate up and active rest periods. A picture perfect example is running sprints on a track with active rest periods of either very slow running or walking at a normal pace.

Here’s a detailed example:

  • walk / slowly run 100 meters
  • sprint 100 meters
  • walk/ slowly run 100 meters
  • sprint 100 meters
  • Do 6-8 rounds, totaling at 6-8 laps (1.5 – 2 miles)

LISS cardio isn’t as well known as HIIT, but it is just as important. LISS is steady cardio; the duration of exercise is longer (40-60 minutes), the intensity is low, and your effort is consistent. A picture perfect example of LISS is a moderately slow run (a pace where you can hold a conversation) or power walking. LISS does take longer to complete, but it can be very relaxing and is excellent for weight loss as your body will be burning fat for energy as opposed to glucose. Both versions of cardio are important and should be worked into your routine.

Strength training is widely understood and can be done either with weights of some kind or body weight. To get the most out of your strength training, make sure you are exhausting your muscles. I do Kayla Itsines’ BBG program, so all of my strength training comes from her 12 week guide. Flexibility is also widely understood and most often done through static stretching, yoga, and even foam rolling. If you can work stretching and foam rolling into your routine, that’s amazing. If you must pick one, foam rolling is the way to go. Kayla Itsines recommends stretching after every workout and doing a foam rolling session once a week (this can be done on a rest day).

One big reason why all of these aspects are so important is because they come together and create balance. Your exercise routine should be balanced with HIIT, LISS, strength training, stretching, and rest. It sounds like a lot, but the trick is to build a good regiment and kill two birds with one stone a few times a week — do strength training and HIIT in the same workout/on the same day or do LISS followed by some HIIT. This is how you build a smart, balanced regiment and fit in your much needed rest days. My entire fitness routine is Kayla Itsines’ BBG program. It’s basically all I do because she covers everything — this includes my days of walking, hiking, and running. You do your LISS and some HIIT however you choose.

This balance is key to losing weight, improving strength, becoming more physically fit, and improving your health. 

So, how many rest days should I take? Ideally, it’s best to aim for 1-2 rest days a week. This is where I firmly believe you need to listen to your body. If restorative yoga or a long walk outside is your exercise one day, you should be fine with one formal rest day. If your walk is an inclined power walk with hand weights, you may benefit from two formal rest days – and one of which can be dedicated to a foam rolling session. See how it varies? Take it week by week or develop a schedule, but don’t be afraid to mix it up. Gentle exercises like restorative yoga and long walks outdoors are rejuvenating to the body and help enhance your energy, while your tougher workouts expend energy.

I know if my routine is too demanding, I will get burnt out. Like, really burnt out where my immune system suffers and I am more susceptible to getting sick. It’s happened before and was awful. Through trial and error, I’ve learned what works best for me. I take things week by week – sometimes taking one rest day and other times taking two. But please don’t overlook rest days. They are so important and needed for your body to recover.

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