For class-goers, runners and athletes alike, it’s a common (and obnoxious) occurrence.
You’ve been committed to your workouts all week long, diligently hitting the pavement before dawn or pushing out that last burpee in class. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, your attitude sours, your energy levels dip, and your body feels like it’s aged 20 years. Whereas hearing your class instructor’s bright, enthusiastic tone used to get you pumped, today, it sounds like shrieks.
While your gut might be telling you to push through the pain and resist throwing in the towel (literally), that’s the last thing you should do. In fact, you might be in dire need of a rest day.
“When it comes to becoming fitter and stronger, rest is equally important as training. The body makes fitness gains during recovery,” Yang explains. “I always tell my students and clients about GAS, or the General Adaptation Syndrome. GAS states that in order for the body to become fitter, faster and stronger, a certain amount of stress needs to be applied to the body, then adequate recovery has to happen in order to repair the stress.”
So, while a day off from the gym might make us feel like we aren’t striving hard enough to reach out fitness goals, the truth couldn’t be more opposite.
“There are two sides to the coin, training and recovery, and they are both equally important. It’s during rest that muscle tissues repairs itself and we re-energize mentally and physically to avoid injury and burnout,” she explains. “Overtraining can be dangerous because it leads to injury, pain, physical and mental burnout, severe dehydration, poor sleep, frequent sickness, inability to concentrate, chronic fatigue and decreased exercise performance.”
How can you tell if it’s time to give the weight rack and treadmill a break? Yang offers these five key signs.
Your energy levels are dipping
On some weekday mornings the birds are singing, you spring out of bed with boundless energy, and you hop off to work feeling like your life is the set of a romantic comedy. Other days, however, you wake up feeling like you’re emerging from a 100-year-long slumber in wooden coffin, with stone-stiff muscles and a pale, vampire-like complexion. According to Yang, these day-to-day fluctuations in energy are 100 percent normal, and also a great way to pinpoint when you probably need a rest day.
“Your muscles will tell you first if you need a rest day,” she explains. “You may find yourself trudging up subway stairs instead of bounding up them and the thought of working out after work seems daunting, or you’re walking around the neighborhood and your legs feel like lead. Your muscles are definitely fatigued and you need a rest day.”
You’re crankier or more stressed than usual
Whether it was a fight with your significant other or dealing with a bullying boss, sometimes just making it through the day can be a major struggle, which can leave you with a poor mood and crankier than usual by the end of the day. According to Yang, this might be the best time to skip the workout after being in the office, head home, order in some takeout, pour an oversized glass of vino, and pull up the Netflix.
“When your body is overloaded with physical stress (in this case overtraining), your body will release a stress hormone called cortisol which causes irritability and mood swings,” she says.
Don’t worry about the added calories. You’ll make up for it (and then some) when your mood is back to normal during the next exercise sesh.
You’re nauseous or ill
While serious illness or vomiting is a no-brainer sign that you should definitely be skipping your workout, other times when you’re sick, the line between what is serious and what’s just uncomfortable can be a bit blurred.
Yang points out a general rule of thumb: “If your symptoms are above the neck, you can workout. Anything below the neck, skip it. Muscle aches, chest congestion, swollen glands, a bad cough and muscle fatigue are a few other key signs you’re too ill to exercise.”
You feel especially sore, and in places you’re not normally sore
For frequent exercisers, soreness can feel like a badge of honor, a physical reminder of the new weight you were able to squat or amount of push-ups you were able to do in your last workout. But according to Yang, extreme soreness, especially in places where you don’t normally become sore after a standard workout, could be a sign of something much more serious.
“If you feel something different than the dull, only slightly painful feeling of being sore, take a rest day,” she says. “The recovery time will prevent you from getting injured.”
Your enthusiasm is lackluster, at best
Does anyone really see their alarm go off at 6 a.m. to squeeze in an early morning workout and start beaming? Having difficulty mustering up the courage, energy and enthusiasm to go workout isn’t necessarily a sign you need a rest day, but if the dread you feel leading up to your workout is consuming your thoughts, don’t feel bad about throwing in the towel for the day.
“It’s not that you should always be pumped to workout,” Yang explains. “But if you’re truly dreading your next run or class, if you’re dreading seeing that same tree again in the park or running up the same hill over and over again, it might be time to take an emotional break from training. Working out is a gift, and it’s totally fine to take a break and keep things fresh. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!”