The optimal rest day – how often should you take a break?

The “Rest Day“ has now established itself in German-speaking countries as “the” term for a day off from the gym or running. But what actually falls under Rest Day? How do you organize your rest day correctly? And how often should you take a rest day? You can find out this and more in this blog article.

What is a rest day?What is the point of a rest day?How often should you have a rest day?How do you find the right number of rest days?The best tips for your rest day1. Exercise, but not trainingDo This:Avoid:2. Eat EnoughDo This:Avoid:3. Eat colorfully Do this:Avoid:4. SleepDo This:Avoid:5. Time for youDo This:Avoid:Conclusion – The optimal rest day

What is a Rest Day?

“Rest Day” is simply the English word for “day of rest”.

This involves one (or more) day(s) a week in which you take a break from sport and recover. The interpretation of rest day is very individual: some people rate a day with a regenerative run as a rest day. For others, yoga and mobility fall under the rest day and still others do absolutely nothing on the rest day.

What’s the point of a rest day?

The aim of the rest day is to improve regeneration. Every time you train, you set a training stimulus. This leads to a short-term deterioration in your performance and your physical fitness only increases after a certain recovery period and the next optimally designed stimulus. This applies to strength training in the gym or at home as well as to any endurance sport such as running.

The right stimuli in your training through a well-thought-out training plan are only half the battle. The other half of your training success is determined by regeneration. And in addition to the regular rest days, this regeneration also includes:

The focus of a rest day is on recovering optimally and giving your body the opportunity to adapt to the stimuli you have previously set. Strictly speaking, a rest day is a day on which you are relaxed, take good care of your body, promote your blood circulation and get enough sleep.

A day in which you only get a few hours of sleep, have an unbalanced diet and are under constant stress is actually not a rest day because you cannot recover from your training.

How often should you take a rest day?

How often you should take a rest day varies from person to person and depends on numerous factors. Not only your training plan and the different units, but also the sport or sports you do play a role. There are also individual circumstances that influence the optimal number of rest days. For example:

Training condition Age Flexibility in time Training experience Stress level Sleep Nutrition Energy intake Combination of sports Training split

In general, I never recommend less than at least one rest day per week. For 95% of my clients, I even plan two or three rest days every week to enable optimal regeneration. Even if you combine strength training and running, you shouldn’t exercise every single day.

If you have a lot of training sessions per week, for example because you are training ambitiously for a marathon and at the same time maintain your strength with strength training, I recommend 1-2 training days with two sessions rather than forgoing at least one complete rest day per week.

As a beginner, it is a good idea to plan a rest day every second or at the latest every third day.

More advanced athletes can also train for three days in a row and then take a rest day.

How do you find the right number of rest days?

As already described, the right number of rest days per week is individual and depends on many factors. But I would still like to give you some guidance.

Basically, it is important to understand that a lot of training is not automatically better. On the contrary: there is a “sweet spot” where you make optimal progress. Too little training will hinder your progress just as much as too much. Because after a certain amount of training you reach a point where the effectiveness decreases.

For many people and many sports, this sweet spot is 2-4 sessions per week.

But the training design also makes a big difference:

While an easy run of 20-30 minutes in Zone 2 (60-70% of maximum heart rate) requires very little recovery time, interval training of the same duration is incredibly stressful and requires more time for adjustments.

The more intensively you train, the more rest days you need.

The more and more often you want to train, the more you have to reduce your training intensity.

And the less training experience you have, the less extensive the training should be at the beginning.

The best tips for your rest day

But how do you get more out of your rest day? What should you pay attention to and what are the no-gos on your rest day? Below I’ll share with you the best tips to optimize your regeneration on the rest day.

1. Exercise, but not training

Anything that doesn’t stimulate you to train is allowed on your rest day. Moderate and gentle exercise promotes blood circulation and thus regeneration. Anything more intense drains energy unnecessarily.

Do This: Break up long periods of sitting regularly. Incorporate several short walks or a slightly longer one. Gentle yoga styles, stretches and self-massage can be beneficial, but are not a must. Avoid: Complete inactivity and prolonged sitting. Excessive walking for hours. Exercise that increases the heart rate such as “regenerative” runs, more intense yoga styles, bike rides

2. Eat enough

Your body also needs energy on the rest of the day. Every time you exercise, it depletes your glycogen stores and causes small injuries to your muscles. You fill your stores with carbohydrates and your muscles need proteins. These processes don’t just happen on the day of training, but last up to 48-72 hours after exercise.

Do This: Eat enough energy. Make sure you also consume enough carbohydrates, proteins and unsaturated fatty acids on the rest day. Avoid: Restrictive behavior Severe reduction in carbohydrates or energy Too little protein (<1.2g/kg body weight)

3. Eat colorfully

In addition to energy, your body also needs micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances. Many of these substances are lost, especially during intensive training, which is why you should keep an eye on them. The rest of the day is a good opportunity to eat colorfully and maybe try something new.

Do This: Eat at least 10 different plant-based foods a day (not just on the rest day). Incorporate as many different colors as possible. Keep an eye on your micronutrient intake and supplement if necessary. Opt for less processed foods. Avoid: Only highly processed foods. Unbalanced diet. Too few plants. No supplements if you are under-resourced.

4. Sleep

There are factors surrounding sleep that we cannot necessarily influence. It is clear that a new mother receives less optimal sleeping conditions than a person who lives alone and has flexible working hours. Nevertheless, sleep is particularly important on the rest of the day and helps you recover well. And of course, there are always things we can do to improve sleep!

Do This: Establish a regular sleep pattern. Find an evening routine that helps you relax. If necessary, support yourself with sleep aids such as CBD, melatonin or valerian. Avoid: Staying awake for activities that you wouldn’t get up earlier in the morning for. Working too long in the evening, watching TV, scrolling on your cell phone or having intensive conversations.

5. Time for you

One point that is often forgotten in the fitness world is the mental component. This is incredibly important not only for your general health, but even for your regeneration. Because stress of any kind impairs your recovery and puts your body in a state of alert. That’s why the rest day is an ideal opportunity to take care of yourself and actively care for yourself.

Do This: Spend time with friends, partners or family. Understand the different types of stress and provide yourself with appropriate forms of recovery. Use a variety of methods for emotional regulation and self-care, e.g. journaling, meditation, yoga, conversations, coaching/therapy, … Avoid: Focus only on exercise as self-care and tool for emotional regulation Feeling guilty on rest days

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Conclusion – The optimal rest day

The rest day is the rest day from training and helps you recover well from your sport.

How many rest days per week you need varies from person to person and depends on many factors. Basically, training shouldn’t be about training as often and as much as possible, but rather finding the golden mean for yourself.

To regenerate optimally on your rest day, the following behaviors will help you:

Moderate and gentle exercise that does not increase your heart rate. Sufficient energy, carbohydrates and proteins. A varied diet with lots of plants and micronutrients. Lots of quality sleep. Time for yourself and consciously dealing with your stressors

Author: Paula Thomsen

Paula Thomsen is the founder of Laufvernarrt. With her combined expertise as a state-recognized physiotherapist, nutritionist and personal trainer, she devotes herself holistically and thoroughly to topics relating to fitness, nutrition, training and mental health.