Fitness experts tout the need to work out at least three days a week, but what should you do on rest days? Should you do anything at all? Isn’t rest supposed to be for — well — resting?
When you hit the gym for a full-body workout, you break down your muscles through push-ups, squats and deadlifts. In the next day or so, your muscles rebuild themselves a tad stronger, like an ant carrying a bigger crumb up an impassible hill. Your muscles need that time to spring back, and I found practicing yoga on rest days provided a helpful recovery period, while improving my stamina, flexibility and stress levels.
Avoid Cheat Days
Rest days easily turn into cheat days without a strong will. You lie in bed, power through snooze-fests and binge-watch Netflix while chowing down on less-than-healthy snacks — hello, tub of triple chocolate chip ice cream! I was so guilty of this, and I lost momentum toward my physical health goals and established fitness routine.
Staying on track with a routine means filling rest days with useful activities, even when you only work out every other day. So, fill your off days with a few asanas and breathing exercises. Stretch those worn muscles for relief, and avoid cheat days.
Prescribe Yourself a Mindfulness Plan During Rest Days
That time you put into working out only makes up a small percentage of your holistic health and fitness path. Your daily habits, including eating, affect how well you stay on track and achieve your goals, too.
That means you need to plan for how you spend your off days, and one thing to try is prescribing yourself a mindfulness plan. I found focusing on mindfulness through yoga and other activities helped me feel more confident in achieving my health goals, and become more stress-free and happier overall.
I start my rest days with mindful breathing exercises and a few asanas before having a tall glass of lemon-infused water. Around sunset, a few hours before bed, I concentrate on moving through various yoga poses. Your body gets tired of doing the same old activities all the time, so it’s best to switch up the poses — especially when it comes to what parts of the body you exercise when you work out.
Yoga is the perfect form of active rest for me — active rest days complement fitness days. You need lighter days to feel like you’re not setting yourself up for failure, only to burn out when you push too hard. Many types of yoga exist for various personalities, needs and physical levels, but a gentle yoga is best for rest days. Hatha yoga gets you started on the basics, while restorative yoga focuses solely on relaxation. Kundalini yoga helps improve the spine and is excellent for those with back issues or who want to improve their balance.
Playing with my munchkins and using my imagination to grow wings and breathe fire as a dragon also counts as a mindfulness exercise, as does coloring and cleaning. Yes, chores are acts of mindfulness. When dishes pile up over the weekend, those repetitive hand motions keep my arms busy, and the smell of the lemon soap and feel of the water calm my mind and body — one study showed washing dishes reduces nervousness by 27 percent. Washing dishes creates a space for mindfulness, too. Who knew?
Many think of fitness routines as chores, but that’s far from the truth. With a shift in perception, you feel more confident and empowered in your health goals — and that expands into every other corner of your life.
Yoga Focuses on Flexibility and Momentum
Applying yourself to your goals every day matters. Taking time to deliberately plan out your rest days only reinforces the mindset that you narrate your life’s story and cultivate change in the present. By doing yoga on my rest days, I feel more connected to my whole health and life. Plus, I keep up my physical fitness momentum and don’t fall behind.
What’s the point of strength if your body remains uncoordinated and unhealthy to support it? People wear stress like ragged overcoats, and that weighs you down — just like unfurling your spine from its coach potato shape after a long rest period makes your back spasm.
For those reasons, the best solution remains working on your flexibility and mood on your rest days. Having a whole-health fitness plan in place keeps your momentum going. Yoga also keeps you stretching, which helps prevent injuries when you focus on intense exercise. Many athletes practice yoga to decrease the likelihood of injury — for example, pigeon pose helps alleviate hip pain and the risk of knee injuries, while plow pose prevents hamstring pulls.
You can also use gentle yoga as a form of warm-up or cool down to complement intense exercise. Actively rest your body and mind on your off days with gentle yoga. When you integrate yoga into your whole-health plan, you’re more likely to stay on track with your fitness goals and improve your stress levels, too.