A lot of people get so eager to see results in the gym, and they spend 6-7 days a week putting themselves through grueling workouts. While dedication in the gym is important, we must also make sure we give our bodies enough time to recover.
I think it's pretty safe to say that many of you are not professional athletes. Elite athletes are paid to train for their sport--all they are doing is eating, training and sleeping. For everyone else, exercise is just supplementary to improve our quality of life. We have full time jobs and families to support. Most of the population is lucky to get 6-7 hours of sleep every night.
All of these external factors in our lives place stress on our bodies. Typically, we need about 8-9 hours of sleep to fully recover. We spend so much time working hard, but we rarely step back and give our bodies the opportunity to relax. During sleep, our bodies release HGH (human growth hormone) and start to repair our damaged muscle tissue. If we don't get enough sleep, then we simply can't reap the full benefits from our workouts.
Recently, I was working two jobs, training with my coach, and sleeping minimally. My joints were achy all of the time and I was exhausted. As a result, my workouts suffered greatly, and I was on the verge of injury. Once I was able to step back and listen to my body, I was able to start devoting more time and energy to my workouts again.
I'm a big fan of active rest days. Active rest allows us to get our heart rate up without continuing to wreak havoc on our joints. Personally, I love taking long hikes in the reservation near my house. I can maintain an active lifestyle and allow my body to recover in the meantime. Yoga is another great activity that will keep you sweating without any negative consequence. Not only does yoga help you stretch out tight areas, but you will also learn different breathing techniques to reduce stress. You should find an activity that you enjoy (I'm always an advocate of trying new sports) that will not introduce a lot of stress to your body.
Just how many rest days do you need? The answer is going to vary from person to person. Some people only need one rest day a week. I've found recently that 2 is usually more appropriate for me. Some days, I will lower the intensity of my workouts so that my body can recover. I'm an advocate of self-regulation: if your body is exhausted and everything hurts, maybe you should relax a little bit.
Rest is an incredibly important regimen for anyone who exercises regularly. Listen to your body, and your body will thank you.
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” -Deepak Chopra