I’ll never forget my first real-deal, “I’m doing this shit, I’m gonna get fit” workout. My alarm chimed at 6 am, and a baggy-eyed but bushy pony-tailed me hopped out of bed for a 20 minute treadmill session and full body toning video from ToneItUp.com. The post-workout feeling I had that morning is the same one I get today (and no, I’m not just talking about the HIIT hunger). It’s a combination of energetic endorphins, sweaty ambition, and mental clarity, and it keeps me coming back to the squat rack, day after day.
Run, lift, eat, repeat and one workout turned into 21 consecutive heavily active days. I was proud of myself – and hell, I still am! I went from a girl who couldn’t direct you to the nearest gym if she tried (psst… it’s two floors above my cozy apartment) to a girl who had to consciously remind herself to rest.
As tempting as it is to work up a serious sweat seven days a week, rest is key to your progress. It may seem counterintuitive for people who genuinely love to exercise, especially when physical results start to show, but science proves it’s true! Let me break it down for ya. When you’re in the gym, heart rate pumping, lifting heavy things like freaking superwoman, jamming out to Taylor Swift (is this last part just me?) tiny tears are forming in your muscles. This is totally a good thing, because if – and only if – you allow your muscles to repair, they come back bigger and stronger than before. Repair means recovery meals on days you do work out (I’m lookin’ at you Perfect Fit pancakes) and, you guessed it, rest days. On the contrary, a lack of repair caused by overtraining and improper fuel leads to muscle catabolism, a big fancy word that defines the breakdown of muscle tissue – no bueno. (If you speak science, you can read about it here.)
I knew all of this, I’ve heard it and I’ve read it, and still I was finding myself totally active day after day, week after week. I needed a plan. I needed to change “Every Damn Day Just Do It” to “Every Damn Day (except Sunday) Just Do It.” So, as we entered into the new year, I made like any good fit-girl-in-training and set goals for the months ahead. At the top of that list you can find “embrace active rest 1x per week” written in big, bold, can’t-take-it-back Sharpie. You’ll notice that my goal is not “rest more” or “become a couch potato,” that just ain’t me (not to mention, it’s not a SMART goal ;)). Embracing active rest means acknowledging my body’s needs (hint: recovery) to aid my healthy lifestyle, free of imminent fit-girl guilt.
TL;DR: Your body is working for you – pressing and lifting and moving – once a week, do us both a favor and work with your body by embracing an active rest day.
You may be thinking, what is active rest if it’s not melting into your couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and it’s not a 110 degree power-yoga class? Active Rest is defined by light physical activity and mental stimulation that promotes your healthy lifestyle while allowing your body to do its recovery thang. Check out my favorite tips for active rest, and embrace it, baby:
- Plan It Out. Just like leg day on Fridays and LISS on Wednesdays, plan active rest into your schedule. Pick a day that works for you, and be as flexible as you are in yoga, girl. Life could call for a Sunday Savasana day or a Mid-Week Reset depending on your plans. If it’s penciled in as a part of your program, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits.
- Treat, Don’t Cheat! One of the many benefits of early morning exercise is it encourages you to make healthy choices all day long. But don’t forget – even when we aren’t workin’ up a sweat, our bodies still require nutritionally dense (and delish) fuel. You aren’t cheating your body by resting (just the opposite, you’re treating it :)) so don’t cheat your body with a day of greasy, empty meals. Instead, treat yo’self with one of my fave Craving Compromises or Everything But The Kitchen Sink dishes that are equally as good for the belly as they are for the soul.
- Exercise Your Mind. Before you get to thinking, “Girl, exercise?! This is a rest day!” let me be clear – I’m talking about the mind, not the muscles. Active rest days are the perfect opportunity to focus on our mental game while our physical gains recover. Make time to meditate. Grab your journal and jot down reflections, goals, and intentions. Get that brain workin’ by planning out the perfect Week of Eats (that time spent away from the gym is the perfect opportunity to get your Meal Prep + Chill on).
- Light Activity. Emphasis on the light, sweat sister. Here are some examples of activity that keep the blood pumping while allowing for optimal recovery:
- Stretching + Foam Rolling
- Walking (Tip: Make it an experience! Destination: FroYo with the gals or the new salad shop you’ve been day-drooling over.)
- Mobility Practice
- Yoga (Tip: Stay away from power-yoga and embrace the ohm. I love to get down with a few down-dogs and inversions.)
- Cleaning + Organizing your home
- Focus on the Self. Self-care, It’s what active rest day dreams are made of. Nama-stay at home with a bath bomb, a face mask, some tea, and a good book or go-all-out with a fresh mani, hair do, and massage. Whatever it is, do it for you, girl!