Why Rest Days Are Important & The Importance of NEAT

While the fitness world may convince you otherwise, it’s super important to have rest days and time off the gym for your body to rest, relax, and recover from training. More does not always equal better with working out, and working out too many days a week or training too much can actually cause more harm than good – whether looking to increase performance, increase health, or produce a change in aesthetics.

Rest days are like putting gas in the tank. Regularly programmed rest days are non-negotiable and absolutely should be a priority. We typically suggest a minimum of at LEAST 2 days rest days off the gym each week, non-negotiable.

So let’s define what a rest day means: it means time OFF physical activity. This does not mean you still go to the gym and row/bike for 30-60 minutes, even at a slow pace. It does not mean going to hot yoga for 60 minutes. It does not mean you go for a 2-3 mile run. Ideally, it means you stay out of gym, you don’t exercise, you enjoy the day, and you relax.

Could you go casually cruise on a SUP? Go for a long walk on a hiking trail? Go to a restorative yoga class? Sure. But the premise of a rest day is that you’re doing just that: resting. Keep yourself honest and don’t confuse the two.

If a body is constantly be stressed and worked, it’s hard for the body to positively adapt (whether that be gaining muscle, losing fat, improving body comp, increasing strength, improving performance…). I think everyone knows that person that is in the gym and working out 5-7 days a week, taking multiple fitness classes a day, training for hours on end – and they’re also the same person that’s chronically sick, constantly injured, complaining about how they haven’t hit a new PR in a while, or how they can’t gain muscle or lose weight. Recovery is the name of the gym.

We DO still suggest you get 7,000-10,000 steps a day on both training days and rest days. But other than that, you should be relaxing and recharging so you’re ready to crush it the next time you workout.

The hour we might spend in the gym is important, but it’s also super important how we spend those other 23 hours of the day. NEAT, otherwise known as “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis” (try saying that five times fast), encompasses “the energy we expend for everything we do that is NOT sleeping, eating, or sport-like exercise. It ranges from energy expended walking, typing, performing yard work, fidgeting, and other things like doing dishes.

NEAT certainly is NOT a substitute for regular exercise, but it plays a damn important role in our overall health and fitness. Think about someone who sits at a desk all day in comparison to someone who does manual labor – It would make sense that people who get more NEAT tend to have better health and body composition than people who get less NEAT.

Another big one to watch out for is the fall and winter months, as NEAT tends to decrease DRAMATICALLY. Obviously it’s cold and the negative temperatures and chilly winds aren’t the most encouraging to want to go spend time outside. But try to bundle up and get that NEAT anyway.

Consider investing in a pedometer that can track steps, as you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch, or your iPhone will all the do the trick (use of your iPhone will obviously require it to be on you at all times). It’s very common for people to track their steps for the first time and report back that they only net 3,000-5,000 steps – even including those who choose to train a few hours a day!

Easy Ways to Net More Steps:

  • Take your dog for a 20-30 minute walk 1-2 times a day
  • Take a 5-10 minute walk around the neighborhood after your meals
  • Make a morning and/or night ritual out of going for a 15-20 minute walk
  • Skip the elevator and take the stairs whenever possible
  • Scroll social media while walking rather than sitting
  • Stuck on a phone call or conference call? Walk around rather than sitting through the call
  • Park as far away as possible in parking lots
  • Lunch break? Walk around and get some sunshine and fresh air
  • Walk around between lifting sets
  • Walk a 400m lap or two once we’re done working out.

Also a quick plug as it’s common to see people drop their caloric intake on rest days with the justification that they’re “doing less”: This may or may not be great practice. Glycogen stores are delayed in replenishing, so if we take down food on rest days, we’re less equipped to crush it when we return to the gym.

Big Takeaways:

  • Aim for 7-10,000 steps every day
  • Get a minimum of 2 rest days per week
  • Consider keeping food and carbohydrate intake the same, regardless of training or rest day.

 

Murray, Bob and Christine Rosenbloom. “Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes” Nutrition reviews vol. 76,4 (2018): 243-259.