A rest day is essential to the success of any workout plan. Whether your goal is to lose weight or build muscle, your body needs time to recover — and without it, you might actually see regression rather than muscle gain. Though some people seem to get away with hitting the weights or the track every day, that doesn’t mean everyone should follow their lead.
So, if you know you need to give your body a break, but can’t shake the feeling you need to get in the gym, what can you do? There are plenty of beneficial ways you can spend a rest day. You can even still go to your gym or fitness center if you want.
The key is to lower the intensity of what you’re doing, so you actually give your muscles a break. There’s always something else to lift or another mile to run — that’ll never change. But you can’t overlook the importance of recovery for reaching your fitness goals. What can you do on these days to help you in the long run? Here are six ideas that should keep you busy.
1. Balance and stability training
If you’re not working on building muscle or endurance, you can put in some work on your joints and ligaments. Balance training is still a bit under the radar but is picking up in popularity. You can get your own balance board to do exercises at home, and some places even offer balance training classes. It’s a great way to give your body a break, but make progress toward your goals by improving flexibility.
2. Flexibility training and stretching
Speaking of flexibility, you can spend your rest day stretching in conjunction with, or instead of, balance training. If you had a particularly hard workout or two in the preceding days, using your day off to stretch out can pay dividends in faster recovery times. Get a foam roller, if that helps, and try doing some stretch exercises at the park, in the living room, or — if you simply can’t stay away — at the gym.
3. Meal prep and planning
You probably know what you eat is just as, if not more important, than your workout routine when it comes to losing weight or building muscle. With your day away from the squat rack, you can carve out some time to plan your meals for the coming week, and make them, too. If you’re not following any kind of diet, check out what types of meal plans are out there and find one that works for you and your budget.
Just know going in that it’s probably going to involve preparing a lot of lean proteins like chicken or fish, plus a good amount of vegetables.
4. Get outside
Head to a park and shoot some hoops, play a game of soccer, or even go for a hike. Have dogs? Take them for a nice, long walk. You don’t need to do anything terribly strenuous, but working up a little sweat shouldn’t set back your recovery period. Get out and have fun.
We’ve covered balance and flexibility, and if you’re willing to give yoga a shot, you can incorporate both into a new form of workout. Yoga can be a great way to spend your off-day, and it can even help you with your strength training once you get back in the gym. If you’ve never tried a class before, it’s worth a shot.
6. Light conditioning
If you just can’t seem to relax, a little light cardio won’t wreck your recovery day. You don’t want to do anything too crazy, just go for a light jog in your neighborhood or on a treadmill. Just make sure you keep the intensity level low — if you push yourself too hard, you might actually be doing more harm than good.