Standard principles of recovery and periodization of exercise typically dictate we should have some recovery days with no training structured in our program. However, I was recently asked by someone if that was absolutely necessary. He felt taking a day off exercise broke his rhythm and made it harder to restart.
There are a number of considerations when deciding when or if you should take a rest day or just keep going every day.
(Most of Us) Are Not Athletes
Personally, like most of my clients, I am not an athlete. I don’t train with nearly the same volume now as when I was. For this reason I rarely take a day completely off. I also train in such a way which can best enable this frequency. As an anti-aging measure, I believe daily training helps offset the daily onslaught of inflammatory cytokines which we face in an ever-increasing amount after the age of 30. The acute inflammation from training results in a biochemical hormetic response (and ultimately a training effect if the conditions are right). This principle is talked about in an easy-to-understand way in the book Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Ledger, MD. In it, they talk about how our body was meant to move every day and this is our biggest defense against the symptoms of aging.
Change is As Good As A Rest
Typically, my workouts are one of two types – very high intensity and very short OR very low intensity and long. If I ever have a workout which is both intense and longer, a day off will be in my near future. I wish I could remember the source, but an online fitness authority I follow recently talked about people stuck in a moderated type of training too often. Never sprinting or lifting heavy things (safely) and never doing a nice long low-intensity effort (hopefully outside). More often than not, folks spend their valuable training time in the middle of those spectrums often focusing on body parts in the gym rather than movements (yes, I had to go there).
The great thing about these two more extreme types of training is you can work on one while you recover from the other.
Another way you can structure your training to enable recovery from previous workouts is quite simple: change the movement pattern from the previous day. If you ran one day, do a simple strength workout the next, then maybe a bike or rowing workout, then another simple strength workout with different movements than the first, then you could go back to running the next day,… you get the idea. You can also adjust the work/rest interval duration and intensity from one day to the next. Finally, you can change movement tempo (duration of movement through the range of motion) and explosiveness (plyos/jumping or power-oriented strength training) to add variation and allow recovery from previous days.
This doesn’t need to be complicated. The bottom line is MIX IT UP. Don’t get stuck doing the same one or two workouts or types of workouts day in and day out. That is how overuse injuries and overtraining take hold.
Caveat 1 – ORP (Optimal Recovery Protocol)
Designing an ORP for our private clients is one of the most important things we do at Fitness Science. If we see a client unable to maintain optimal conditions outside of the workouts, we definitely structure more time off. It is impossible to recover even if you are mixing up your training (cross training) appropriately without adequate sleep, nutrition, hydration, and stress management. If you don’t have a coach, it is important to recognize when things are not in place for you to be training every day.
Caveat 2 – Endurance Event Training
If you are training for an endurance event, the nature of the beast dictates specificity. That means A LOT of the same type of training and the same movement patterns being used. This is true whether you’re an elite or recreational athlete. The cross training principal I talked about will be impossible to apply even if you are a multi-sport athlete like a duathlete or triathlete. Not only will you need to build weekly days off into your program, you will also want to structure recovery weeks every 3-4 weeks with lower volume to get the most from your program.
Monitor and Listen to Your Body
If you are training every day (assuming your ORP is in place and you are not training for an endurance event), you still need to monitor and listen to your body for signs of needing a break. Your performance during workouts is an obvious indicator. If you just don’t have the same power output (work rate) as usual or cannot get through the same workout as you normally can with the same relative effort, you’re overtraining. If your morning resting heart rate is consistently higher than normal for a few days in a row, time for a break. If you don’t track these things and you train every day, START.
Again, you could get a coach to help you monitor all of this, but there is also technology available. Fitness Science Personal Trainer, Susanna Makela, recently posted a live video on how she is using a device to let her know her training readiness. Newer devices on the market can measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This is the variation in intervals between heart beats. For example, if you have a heart rate of 60 beats per minute, it may not necessarily mean your heart is beating every second on the second. The interval may be 1.3 seconds then 0.7 seconds and so on. This variability represents the push and pull between the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of your autonomic nervous system. As it turns out, the more variability, the better off you are – that is, the fitter your autonomic nervous system is. It has multiple uses including being able to determine anaerobic threshold and VO2 max, helping determine sleep stages, and monitoring stress levels. These devices use a combination of these factors plus the strain of your previous workout to help determine when you are ready to train hard. It is only available on newer Garmin models (which we use). The newest Forerunner 745 has the most current hardware and software, but the software will be available for download to some of the other new models which already have the HRV technology soon. Please let us know if you need any more detailed information (we sell these watches in the Gear section of our shop).
Message us if you are interested in individualized programming to motivate yourself to workout, recover, eat and perform at your best!