We’ve done a couple of blog posts now about training logically, and the feedback has been really positive – quite a few people have already come up to ask the coaches about how to train smarter and for long-term benefits. I can’t even begin to express how rewarding it is for us when we get to engage and talk more about better training practices. Keep the questions coming!

One topic that’s popped up a few times now is rest days. So…what is a rest day, and should you take them?

At the most basic level, a rest day is a day where you don’t come in to exercise. For example, if you’re just starting out at Ritual and you’ve committed to coming in, say, 3 times a week, the days you don’t come in, where you don’t do another form of exercise, are rest days. A lot of times, in the beginning, this feels necessary because your muscles are sore and your body is adjusting to the style of training. Most people find that in the first couple of months, the rest day(s) in between training days enable you to focus more on your movements and push a little harder on the days when you do come in. This approach works for a lot of people, and if it feels right, by all means, stick to it – don’t feel that you need to rush to change the good rhythm you’ve found.

We’ve got some clients who’ve been training consistently for a while, who challenge themselves to train more often. Some train up to 5 or 6 days a week, and then take the weekend off, for example. Some clients have taken it a little further and talked to our coaches about how to plan the variation in their intensity and, thus, schedule in rest days. If this sounds appealing to you, talk to a coach about it.

Regardless of how you approach rest days, you’ll probably find that there is no ‘perfect plan’ to it. More often than not, the number of rest days you need in a week will vary according to all the other stuff going on in life. For example, if you’ve been putting in really long hours working on a big project at work, or if you’ve been stressed out about some family issues and haven’t been sleeping so well, you’re probably not going to be in the most resilient state. Like we talked about here, your body is likely to take a little bit longer to recover from sessions when you’re stressed out, not eating well, not sleeping well, or all three. You may not be able to push as hard or perform as well as you know you can when you’re stress-free. I’d strongly recommend being real with yourself about this stuff. Not paying attention to the ebbs and flows of your stress, energy levels and rate of recovery, and trying to do more than you should, can lead to a compromised immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness.

Don’t misinterpret my advice, though – I’m not, by any means, telling you to take it easy all the time or encouraging you to let laziness get the better of you. High Intensity Interval Training works really well because you have to push hard, and it is great for you when you do. But maybe it’s not necessary to push maximally every single day of the week. Similarly, rest days can be important and beneficial if you’ve got a really demanding schedule, but you have to be real with yourself and acknowledge that you only deserve rest days when you’ve worked hard enough and have something to recover from.

So what should you do on a rest day? Sit on a couch and eat pizza? You could…but you’ll probably wake up the next day stiff and still a little sore from the last session. Plus, you’ll be missing out on the fun (and benefits) that can come from rest days.

I’d recommend getting outdoors. (Well, maybe not right now because of the haze). Go for a long, easy hike in nature, take a long walk with your partner, maybe even take the kids with you. Don’t think about calories, heart rate, squats or sweat. Just enjoy the freedom and casual movement. If you prefer structure, perhaps do some slow, basic yoga or qi gong, or simply do a half hour of stretching while focusing on slow, relaxed breathing patterns. If you’re secretly a child inside (like me), get playful – jump over things, pretend you’re a leopard, go nuts at the playground and embarrass your partner.

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you might have noticed that I’m recommending activity that promotes circulation and good breathing here, which sort of sounds like active recovery. Active recovery and rest days are a little bit different, in that active recovery usually refers to some sort of structured practice (i.e. doing a Ritual session at a low intensity). But honestly, there’s probably very little benefit to getting caught up in the semantics of ‘fitness’ terms like these. Whether you prefer structured active recovery sessions at Ritual, doing some tai chi, or going for an easy bike ride along the beach, the important take-home message is that low-intensity activity can be great for you, and you stand to benefit from getting some movement in even on the days you don’t go to the gym.

Often at times, taking one or two rest days in a row is enough to recharge your batteries if you’ve been training logically.

In an effort to help you learn to appreciate the benefits of rest days, we’ve worked out a pretty cool deal with Quintessentially Travel and Six Senses for our members at Ritual. Over the next couple of months, you stand a chance to win a complimentary 2-night stay at a fancy beach hotel in Vietnam! In fact, we’re giving away 3 of them, so your chances of winning a free stay are pretty good if you do it right! Please talk to our staff at the gym and look around for the signs in the gym for more information.

Rest days are great, but don’t forget that you’ve got to work pretty hard before you need the rest days. Essentially, you’ve got to earn them – that’s the key to being able to fully enjoy and relish the experience of rest days and holidays. See you at the gym!

Be Brave.

Ian Tan