Today, I’m going to try and do the topic of rest days, restriction & recovery justice. However, it’s a BIG task, and I know I won’t be able to cover everything. I want to explore the challenges people face in taking rest days, restrictive eating patterns and how to recover from this. Again, I’m no expert nor am I qualified, I simply speak from personal experience.
N.B. Potentially triggering content – please only read if you feel you are in a good place mentally.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of rest days, but I’m going to reiterate because it is so important. We are taught to believe slogans such as “No pain, no gain” & “Just do it”, and while they hold a certain element of truth, they often obscure another reality: that rest is just as important as the training itself. If not more! They give your body a chance to recover after an intense week of work & training. The muscles can regenerate, the mind can relax, the body can recuperate. Trust me, incorporating rest days (and I’m not talking about “active rest days”, but total rest) will revolutionise your routine. You will have more energy to smash those sessions, gain more out of them and ultimately be a better athlete.
The mental block
A lot of people will be nodding along to this, perhaps agreeing that rest days sound good in theory – but find it impossible to stick to in practice. I have spoken to countless people who express feelings of “laziness”, “lethargy”, “boredom”, “anxiety” and “pointlessness”. They believe that taking this weekly rest day will undo all their training, as they are reducing. But, in reality, sometimes less is more! It will seemingly get “worse” before it gets better; you might find, without the adrenaline from sport, that you feel achey & exhausted. And that’s probably because your body is frantically using this extra energy to kick start other bodily functions (e.g. digestion/ hormones etc).
Taking rest days
There are two ways to go about doing it; the first one would be to “ease” into it by gradually reducing the exercise on that day. Or swapping to low intensity sport like yoga, before transitioning to rest. The other is to go cold turkey, per se, and just go for it. The former might be easier for you mentally, but remember that both ultimately lead to the same thing, and you are essentially just delaying this. I have found in the past that it’s best to commit COMPLETELY, and to simply go all in. You will reap the rewards sooner, and be stronger both mentally and physically for it. However, it’s important to do what is best for you.
This leads me onto my next sub-topic: restriction. You’ve now taken the plunge and are having a rest day; no exercise means less food, right? Wrong, my friends. Again, I’m no nutritionist, but rest days are a chance to replenish depleted energy & glycogen stores in the body. Restricting energy intake will essentially undo the benefits of taking a rest day, as you’ll deplete your energy stores and reap no rewards. Listen to your body’s cravings and honour them: sometimes, it will be as hungry as on training days, or even hungrier, or maybe slightly less. I say this cautiously, as this is not a cue to restrict; tune into your body’s demands for nourishment and self care. The only thing I really change is not having my post-workout protein shake, since I’m not working out. I still snack twice and eat three hearty meals. Sometimes, I do still struggle, but it’s a work in progress and we have got this together!
Recovering from an eating disorder
Before concluding this post, I wanted to briefly address the issue of recovering from an eating disorder. During my “official” recovery journey (because I would say it is still ongoing!), I was completely off sport. I do believe this is essential, as it allowed me to stop depending on exercise to deal with my depression. To stop using it as a way of punishing myself and controlling my weight. If you believe that you might suffer from exercise addiction/ over-exercising, then I think that taking a break is crucial. I know that probably seems unfathomable right now, but I PROMISE you, you can do it. Exercise should come from a place of self-love, not self-loathing. To make you stronger, rather than weaker. To let you thrive rather than struggle and sink. Unhook yourself from this dependency, and see how much freedom and space you will gain.
Rest day activities
Finally, I thought I’d write a little list of things you may want to do to pass the time on rest days. Suddenly, you may find yourself with lots of extra time on your hands that you’d usually spend exercising. To take your mind off this, here are some suggestions – but remember, you don’t HAVE to do anything. You are enough as you are.
- Go for a stroll alone/ with friends/ family/ dog (please note, I say “stroll”, because this should not be a way of compensating for no exercise – slow it down and tune into your surroundings)
- Draw/ paint/ colour in
- Make a friendship bracelet! My latest addiction hehe
- Catch up on school/ uni work
- Driving lessons (if you’re learning, that is)
- Meet up with friends & hang out
- Cinema/ netflix/ movie
- Bath with a muscle soaking treatment
- Stretch & foam roll
- GENTLE yoga (to stretch sore/ tight muscles)
- Bake something
- Sunbathe (in summer)
- Go to the sauna
- Write – poetry/ prose/ journal/ blog
- Read – for pleasure!
- Facetime a friend you haven’t seen in a while
- Treat yourself to a massage!
- Bullet journal for the coming week
- Meal-prep/ batch cook
I hope that has given you some inspo, and feel free to send me more! This list is by no means exhaustive; do what feels right for YOU!
Thank you for taking the time to read this; hopefully it was useful to you, and please do share it with anyone you think this could help! As always, my DMs are open for a chat.