The term “Active Rest” sounds contradictory but it simply means that you don’t do your hard workout. You rest from that and stay moderately active. When we work out really hard, it’s more work than fun but on Active Rest days, we can do fun things just to keep moving and get in a little light cardio. I am a lifter so on my Active Rest days I hike, walk or find an outdoor activity that is physical by nature. I recently took a day to go on a zipline adventure. It was great. I had tons of fun that was a workout but still much less intense than my weight lifting sessions. In these times, our bodies can build muscle.
When we work out hard, we actually tear muscle fibers and cause inflammation in those muscles. On active rest days our bodies repair this damage by sending specialized cells to the area that form a “bandage” to repair the injured area. These cells remain as new muscle. Without these days “off”, our muscles will never have a chance to build because we are constantly tearing it down with hard workouts.
Sometimes when we get all gung-ho about working out, we may think that we don’t want to take those off days. When I first began to lift heavy I went through a short lived phase of not wanting to take rest days. My Trainer gave me just enough rope to hang myself. He said, “Try it.” He had already told me what I should do and he’s not one to be ignored. It has always been understood that I would do as he advises because he wants me to make maximum progress without injury. Rest days are critical to both. Without rest, I would never develop my maximum potential and would greatly increase my risk of injury. Sure enough, my progress halted and I began to regress. The Overhead Press was the first to suffer but very shortly, my Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press were following suit. When I acknowledged this to my Trainer, I pretty much got a “I told you so.” That whole experiment lasted about three weeks. It was a disaster. I’ve always been zealous for progress in my numbers and in my appearance. This was not the way to achieve either. He told me that he gave me enough rope to hang myself so that I would learn and to listen to him. Lesson learned. Now I so look forward to my off days. I find fun things that I really want to do and go for it. My progress is steady. I began my program with a 135 pound standard barbell set in February of 2018. In March of this year, 2019, I bought a 300 pound Olympic set and a power rack. I’m closing in on a 200 pound deadlift. I’m not there yet, but it’s coming. That will be about 1 1/2 times my body weight. After that, who knows? I do know that this would never have happened without rest days. At 62, I’m proud.
No matter how dedicated we are to our fitness program, if we are working really hard, there is a part of our brain that sees our workout as just that, work. Guess what? All work and no play really does make Jack a dull boy. I refer to this old saying frequently because you may not have read the other articles where I mention it and it summarizes burnout. Heavy lifting is the best thing that ever happened to me for so many reasons. It has changed much more than my body. It has taught me that I can do anything. If I can stand up from a heavy Squat, I can certainly pull myself up that incline at the end of the Burma bridge on the zipline course. If I can break that heavy deadlift off the floor, I can certainly take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ from anyone who wants to dish it out. At the bottom of a heavy squat, I have to get in touch with my Super Hero and just rise, Baby, rise. I love it. It makes me a bonafide Badass, but let me tell you, it’s work. There are days that facing that barbell seems like anything except pleasure. That’s why I need days off. I can escape the hard work of dedication to a hard thing and be a child again. I can play. Days off from our workouts are as necessary as days off from work. You’ll go slap crazy without them and most likely quit. Take your rest days. Don’t even try to work out hard every day. I’ve already done that. It won’t work. Take your rest days and enjoy without guilting yourself all day. Stress relief is a part of the process and guilting yourself will hinder you.
Working out is supposed to enrich our lives. I’ve noticed that some people seem to adhere to the “No pain, No gain.” ideology in everything like it’s a curse to enjoy life. Please. That’s just illogical. Why in this world would you say that you’re trying to have a better life and yet think that you have to miserable all the time? Without off days we will be sore and achy all the time because our bodies can never repair the self-inflicted damage that is necessary to building muscle. We will grow weary with our well-doing and seriously desire to quit at some point. Our minds will never have any time to reset with creative play. Work out and work out hard, as long as your doctor approves, but take those active rest days and benefit in body and mind. Enjoy exploring your playful, childlike side again with active adventures and days of curious joy as you rediscover the relish of playful activity. Remember what you enjoyed as a child and pursue it on these days or do things that you’ve always wanted to do and never thought that you had the time. Make time. Your health depends on it. I always wanted to be a ballerina…Anybody got a pink tutu?