Add Rest Days to Your Workout Routine

June 2, 2020

Henry Ford Health System

Whether you're new to exercise or a seasoned enthusiast, it's tempting to adopt an all-go, no-quit attitude. This is especially common when you're are trying to achieve a fitness goal. Maybe you want to run a 5K, or maybe you have 10 pounds you want to shed before going on vacation.

"Whatever the driver, it's important to remember that scheduling time for rest and rejuvenation is a critical component of any workout regimen," says James Moeller, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System.

Building in Rest Days

From high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and spin to barre and Zumba, popular workouts increasingly push exercisers to go faster, longer, stronger. This prolonged physical stress can lead to overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, muscle strains and joint pain. Excessive exercise can also lead to hormonal changes, disrupted sleep patterns, decreased immunity and mood swings.

“Working out, especially resistance training, breaks tissues down, causing microscopic damage,” Dr. Moeller says. "Rest days allow your muscles time to rebuild."

So how much rest do you really need? There isn't a one-size-fits-all prescription. Factors like your age, fitness level, the intensity of your workout and the amount of training you do weekly will impact the amount of recovery time you need. But there are some basic guidelines for rest days:

1. Go easy: Rest is a relative term. "It's not just sitting on the couch with an iced tea," says Dr. Moeller. "You may still be exercising on 'rest' days, but at a lower intensity." Maybe you go for a brisk walk or ride your bike to work. Take a yoga class or do some dynamic stretching. The key is to make sure you're not overworking the same body parts.

2. Get sufficient sleep: Sleep is a key component of muscle repair and rebuilding. During sleep, your body’s production of growth hormone increases. Not getting quality shuteye thwarts your body's production of growth hormone and can impact your performance.

3. Give overtaxed muscles a break: You don't need to skip the gym on specific days each week, but you do need to rotate which body parts you're working. The general rule is to give muscles 48 hours to recover after a workout. So it's a good idea to take two to three days off before working the same muscle groups again.

4. Stay hydrated: Make sure to restore lost fluids before, during and after a workout. Dehydration can lead to overheating, headaches and muscle fatigue, among other ailments. You don’t need a sports drink; water is best. "Sports drinks aren't required unless you're getting into very high intensity activity, or exercising for more than one hour at a time," Dr. Moeller says.

5. Pay attention to your body: A lot of people try to work out through pain and fatigue. If there's a heaviness to your movements, or if you feel like your muscles are not responding appropriately to the stress you're providing, take a time out. "It's really about learning to read your body's signals," says Dr. Moeller.

Health authorities and news headlines widely publicize the health benefits of exercise — and the consequences of inactivity. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, plus strength training two or three days per week. Less discussed are the negative effects of not allowing your body sufficient time to rest.

Getting sufficient rest between workouts is just as important as participating in regular exercise. "Both are part of the total process required to build strength, endurance and muscle mass," Dr. Moeller says.

Want to learn more? Henry Ford Health System sports medicine experts are treating the whole athlete, in a whole new way. From nutrition to neurology, and from injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, they can give your athlete a unique game plan.

Visit or call (313) 972-4216 for an appointment within 24 business hours.

Coach's Guide to Nutrition: Hydration

Stay hydrated during exercise. Encourage athletes to take at least 2-3 sips (2-3 ounces) of water every 15 minutes.

Milk Means More logoExercising for more than an hour? Sports drinks can help replace fluid, carbs and electrolytes.

Some athletes do not feel thirsty while they are active, so regular water breaks are important. As always, if they feel thirsty, let them grab a drink. If they feel dizzy, confused or nauseated, they should STOP and tell a coach or teammate. This may indicate they are dangerously dehydrated. Access to water should NEVER be used as a punishment.

Athletes should also look for these symptoms in teammates and remind them to hydrate when necessary. For a more individualized recommendation or for athletes with a cramping history, refer them to a Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN).

Dehydration Warning Signs:

  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Information above is excerpted from UDIM’s A Coach’s Guide to Nutrition.