Nowadays there is a huge mentality seen in the bodybuilding and lifting community of “always on the grind” and “no days off”. There seems to be a common thought that the longer and more often you are in the gym, the better. When rest days come to mind, often people think of them as missed opportunities for growth. This could not be further from the truth! What you do outside of the gym is a key component to reaching your goals. Rest days should be thought of as growth days and are essential to muscle building.
Lifting Weights? You Might Be Causing Tiny Little Tears
When you lift weights, you actually are causing tiny little tears in your muscles. The way you repair those tears is through proper recovery and proper nutrition. You can’t properly recover if you just keep breaking down those muscles! Even if you lift every day, but alternate what muscle groups you hit, you still aren’t putting your body in an optimal position to recover. Lifting is a stressor we place on our body and with every stressor, our body goes through a process called General Adaption Syndrome (GAS). There are three stages in GAS: alarm, resistance, exhaustion, and fatigue.
The alarm stage is the initial response our body has to stress. Our sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) kicks in and increases our heart rate, cortisol (stress hormone), and our adrenaline. Cortisol is catabolic, meaning it breaks down complex molecules like protein; this includes muscle proteins, so we obviously don’t want to be secreting cortisol for an extended amount of time! After the alarm stage, our body goes into resistance. The body is getting used to the stress, so it doesn’t secrete as much cortisol and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.
If not given time to recover from the stress it then goes into the exhaustion phase which causes fatigue, decreases the immune system, burnout, and irritability. Usually, our bodies are able to recover from stressors before reaching exhaustion, however, with overtraining which often occurs with not taking rest days, our bodies aren’t able to recover! For more information on symptoms of overtraining check out this article by the American Council of Exercise.
So… Do We Take Rest Days?
Now that we know that not taking rest days causes stress and we know what that does to our body, how does this apply to your goals of gaining muscle? As mentioned earlier, cortisol is catabolic and if cortisol levels are always elevated, that is not good news for your muscles! Also, if constantly fatigued, the intensity of your workouts will be subpar and you won’t be getting as much out of them as you would if you had one or two rest days a week!
If you’re used to hitting the gym every day you might be thinking to yourself, “What do I do now that I have an extra two hours to myself on these rest days?” Use them to promote recovery and growth! Buy yourself a foam roller and roll out those tight muscles.
You should also use this time to stretch them out and promote flexible work. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. You don’t need to be sedentary the whole day, you can and should still get those steps in. Also, Promote recovery with proper nutrition! Use your extra time to meal prep so you aren’t tempted by fast food that doesn’t support your health goals when you are busy. Take a look at these for some inspiration for your high protein meal prepping.
It can be hard to take rest days when you are super committed to your goals of gaining muscle, but they are essential for optimal health and will actually help you grow! Start thinking of your rest days as growth days and as the gym as where you go just to stimulate the muscle.
If you enjoyed reading the above article and would like to continue reading, please check out our article on Why 1200 Calories a Day is Not Enough (Despite What Fitness Magazines Say)