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You Need To Chill
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Recently I read an article about the top 10 ways to rest and how important it is to take time out of a busy life to guiltlessly just chill out.
Somewhat surprisingly, the article points out that rest really is an underappreciated form of self-care. The surprising part for me is that it’s such a built-in feature of being human and yet it’s something many of us feel guilty about actually using.
Our society places far too much value on being busy and having every minute of your life occupied with something. "Productive Time" they call it.
This got me thinking about the countless times I’ve heard people proudly proclaim that they go to the gym 7 days a week.
The usual reaction from most people is one of awe and instant respect because well, this person is dedicated. My dissenting voice is usually in the minority.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the “all or nothing” attitude. And when it comes to fitness, that attitude actually can do more harm than good.
When you see or hear of people who are lifting weights 7 days a week there are usually 3 things at play:
If you've read some of my previous posts, it's pretty easy to put 2 and 2 together. I am no fan of steroid use for the purpose of achieving a certain aesthetic.
How someone looks in the mirror is simply not more important than the list of negative health impacts that abusing steroids has the potential for.
2. Younger people (late teens to about 30)
There's a reason why this age group is called "the prime of life". Nowhere else is this more obvious as in the world physical fitness and strength. The body's need for recovery and rest is at a minimum for most people on this team.
Here is where one can temporarily "get away" with some behaviours that simply will not work later down the road, such as lifting weights every day.
3. People who don't understand how all of this works
Most people are part of this group. This encompasses all ages, walks of life, gender, you name it.
Our bodies are not designed for a sedentary life, so it's important for overall health to incorporate movement into every day. Being active has many documented, observable benefits.
However, resistance training and formal cardio (as opposed to say, natural walking) are strenuous exercises which stress the body. The benefits of these types of exercises are tremendous and the visual results can’t be ignored either.
Resistance training breaks down muscles causing microscopic tears. The body is then stimulated to repair these tears and build them back stronger and larger. Verry much a result that we want.
It’s rest where cells can recover and rebuild
When the stress is too much physiologically for the system to handle, it can and will lead to overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, muscle strains, and joint pain. This is true across all age groups, but particularly true for the 30+ crowd. Yes, even at the earlier portion of that age group, our bodies begin the natural process of slowing down, where without continued stimulation (and rest), the long 'decline' begins to take shape.
Whether you’re a novice or seasoned athlete, regular breaks from strenuous workouts is crucial.
It’s rest where the cells can recover and rebuild. Rest days also allow your nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild.
For myself, it wasn’t easy to throw the mentality of "more is better" out the window. Pushing for constant physical results for as long as possible in a given week just feels more productive. Rest sounds counterintuitive.
But it wasn't until I got tired of injuries due to overtraining and seriously instituted rest into my program that I began to look and feel stronger; not to mention experienced considerably less exercise-related injuries and plain burnout.
Rest grows in importance as we get older too. Recovery from workouts does take longer as we age, so to have clear breaks for rest should really be a habit.
So what does ‘rest’ look like?
For the purpose of fitness, I would define ‘rest’ as the absence of formal exercise. That’s really it. An all-day session of sitting or lying down is not what’s meant here. We don’t want to be in a stasis chamber for a full day. The main idea is to listen to the body on the days that you decide to take off from working out.
Chances are very good that you will have plenty of natural movements such as walking around or household chores that keep your body functioning, but removing strenuous exercise that is designed to break down cells and rebuild them is the key here.
Ideally, for every gym day or workout day we would take the following day off. Sounds like a lot? Give it a try. I think you will be quite pleasantly surprised how strategically incorporating real, solid rest into your life will make a difference when it comes time to measuring your success.
Taking a full break
About every 3 months, I take one full week off from working out in any given calendar year. This can coincide with holidays or trips. Periodic, longer breaks like this act as a ‘reset’ for your body and will actually make you more energetic and probably stronger when you go back to working out again.
The benefits of a mental reset from hard exercise are also tremendous. After a week off, your focus will be sharper, any tiredness and irritability from overdoing it will be alleviated and you should feel ready to ‘get back into it’ from this important angle as well.
Again, the mere mention of a ‘full week off’ sounds counterintuitive, but let me offer you a bit of science-based reassurance: studies show it takes four to six weeks of inactivity to see severe muscle breakdown. And the type of inactivity we’re talking about here is complete bed rest.
Though your mind may tell you that this is wrong, you actually won’t suffer a significant drop in strength, power, body mass or size – or witness a noticeable gain in body fat.
Pass the breadsticks please!
Ok, so you’re on vacation and decided to take that opportunity to make it a rest week.
You’re having a great time and you are aware of the benefits of taking a longer breather and you’re chilling on the beach assured that you won’t suffer any detrimental effects due to this well-deserved break from it all.
Then it’s time for the buffet.
Although rest is clearly important, it is possible to put on some serious, unwanted weight over the course of a week of unmitigated eating and drinking.
Look, here’s the thing: while no one should expect to be an angel on vacation, some reason and logic will go a long way in ensuring your mental health here while protecting what you worked hard for.
I find there are some relatively easy ways to mitigate a week-long world of delights and no gym:
Try to drink your minimum of 8 glasses of water daily – outside of all the good that water does for our bodies, if your consumption of carbohydrates is higher than usual (the case with most vacations I’ve ever been on), water acts as a counter to the “carb bloat” – that dreaded state where you look like you’ve gained 10 pounds overnight
Opt for food choices that are least processed and as close to their natural state as possible (a steak dinner is superior to a bag of chips; a sushi dinner is superior to both, etc.)
Try your best to stay away from processed sugars like cakes, piles of cookies, ice cream, etc. (This one is easy for me as I don't have a ‘Sweet Tooth’ at all, but I also realize that this is not the case with many folks, so please keep in mind – the key word is ‘try’)
Remember, without enough breaks, you’re less likely to protect your current fitness level or gains and achieve your goals. Giving your body guilt-free rest is one of the most powerful things you can do for fitness success.
Got a question? Want to share your own experiences with this topic? Drop me a line here or on my socials. I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,