Knowing when to rest your body
Taking days off from the gym are excruciatingly difficult for me.
On days I don't go to the gym, I feel weak - not fatigued, but weak. I feel like I'm losing all of my muscle mass (a.k.a. gains). I feel lazy.
Of course, all of these feelings are nonsense. Rest days are necessary to help your body repair itself from the barrage it faces each time you hit the gym. And a day of rest is certainly not going to cause you to lose muscle mass - in fact, it's quite the opposite.
But that doesn't stop my mind from constantly trying to convince me to go to the gym anyway.
So imagine how I felt over the past two weeks when a slight tweak to my back, my travel schedule, and a bout of illness all conspired against me to keep me out of the gym.
As much as it sucked to stay out of the gym, I think the last two weeks were actually a very good thing for me. It feels like a bit of a reset, and also allowed me to do some other things that I enjoy. Like yoga, and lots of stretching. And I visited the chiropractor a few times.
Here are the top three reasons to take an extended break from your workout routine:
1. When you're injured
As I said, a tweak in my back was part of what caused me to miss my workouts the last couple of weeks. It happened when I failed to pay strict attention to my form on a heavy squat set and likely allowed my back to round a bit.
If you're injured, stay out of the gym. Rest up. Let your body heal. Don't make matters worse by exacerbating an injury or re-aggravating an injury that hasn't completely healed. Just remember: It's even harder to make gains after surgery, which is where you could find yourself if you force in a workout with an injury.
2. When you're sick
When you're sick, your body is in overdrive mode trying to fight off the illness, diverting extra energy to fighting the foreign invader. Going to the gym when you're fatigued and not feeling "all there" is a recipe for, at best, a pathetic workout, and at worse, an injury that could sideline you for much longer.
Not to mention the fact that you could pass your germs on to other gym-goers.
My sickness this past week definitely caused me fatigue and light-headedness. Rather than try to fight through it, I allowed my body to do it's thing while I rested and ate continued to eat healthy.
3. When you just need some rest
I normally take one day off each week for a rest day, but every so often, my body simply needs a bit more time. Taking three days, or five days, or even a full week off from the gym isn't going to set you back any significant size or strength gains, and will allow your body time to fully repair and reset itself.
Our bodies are high-functioning mechanisms, but it never hurts to give them an extended break. Mentally, a longer rest can also allow you to come back to the gym more hungry to hit some PRs and bust through some plateaus.
Resting doesn't mean laying on the couch and not moving. Use this extended rest time to do what I do: go on easy hikes or bike rides, practice yoga, stretch more.