Are Rest Days or Yoga Classes Better for Recovery?

We completely understand that you’re committed to attending your HIIT, barre and cardio dance classes throughout the week. The motivational instructors give you the right amount of energy to get through the next day, the friends you’ve made in class help you power up during those never-ending plank sessions, and the blast of endorphins at the end of class leave you feeling positive and ready to take on any challenge. However, as much as you love giving yourself an hour each day to focus on your physical health, it’s just as important to give your muscles a break. They deserve it, and frankly, they need it.

If you never give yourself a break—both physically and mentally—you’re setting yourself up to fail. When you complete a full range of tasking exercises, like squats, push-ups or deadlifts, your muscles naturally break down. Over the next one or two days, your muscles will build up stronger, but completing the same activities day in and day out without taking a break will cause you to experience increased muscle soreness, a suppressed immune system, difficulty sleeping, a decrease in strength and ability to perform well in class and, worst-case scenario, injury. While rest days may feel glorious, we all know how difficult it can be to sign up to take another class after a day of total relaxation. Instead of skipping the gym altogether, should you balance your days off with a mindful hour of yoga, or do your muscles truly need a complete day of inactivity?

Rest day

Short answer: Yes, everyone needs a rest day. Long answer: The type of rest day you take depends on your training load. If you’re new to the exercising game or are trying your hand in a completely new exercise routine, work in a rest day every third day. This means you’ll exercise for two days in a row and rest on the third. If you’re a more experienced exerciser, you can get by fitting in a rest day once a week.

Now, what exactly should your rest days look like? While plopping on the couch and working in a good Netflix binge sounds utterly enjoyable, life doesn’t always work that way. Your dog needs a daily walk, your friend just asked to take a stroll around the park, and you actually need to haul a huge load of groceries up three sets of stairs. So much for a rest day, right? Not exactly. If you’re pushing yourself every day with high-intensity workouts, a casual walk is still considered rest.

Plus, rest days don’t need to include sedentary activities. Instead of going to the gym, maintain momentum by blocking that same amount of time you would use in a class by focusing on your health. This could mean stretching, meditating or prepping your meals for the week.

Making progress doesn’t solely constitute itself in terms of how many push-ups you can do or how long you can hold a handstand. It can also come in thinking positive thoughts and eating well.

Lastly, while you need a rest day every three days of consecutive workouts, you should also work in a rest week every eight weeks by focusing on a decreased training load. Giving yourself a break will help you gain, both in terms of muscle and mental strength. Plus, changing up a monotonous routine of burpees and upper cuts will get you pumped to enter that studio again.

Yoga

Afraid a walk around the park just won’t do it for you on your rest day or that completely skipping your morning routine of hitting the gym will throw off your whole week? A yoga class could offer the right amount of balance your body needs on a rest day, especially if your workouts have a moderate intensity or you’re new to exercising. Plus, rest days should give your mind a break just as much as your muscles, and in that case, yoga is the perfect balance to keep your brain and body happy.

Yoga focuses on breathing in good energy and letting out any negative thoughts and emotions. The routine motions of working through downward dogs, warrior and mountain poses helps lengthen our muscles and tendons, which helps them recover and develop more mobility and flexibility. These motions can be especially helpful if you’re an avid runner or weight lifter, where the actions of these activities often cause muscles to tense and shorten.

In addition, the mindful movements, deep breathing exercises and positive affirmations spilling from your instructor will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on those high-energy classes for the remainder of your week.

The winner

Taking a break from the everyday routine is important in any sense—that’s why we have weekends! Just as we need a hiatus from our jobs each week, we also need to take a rest from our workout routines. However, complete couch potato-ness isn’t necessary or helpful. Taking a rest day should aid your muscles and mind. In that case, yoga works in both practices. After walking out of class you’ll feel calm, energized and ready for your high-intensity classes you’ve lined up for the rest of the week. But, of course, listen to your body. If your muscles are feeling more sore than usual, you may choose to take a slow walk around the park, practice a gentle stretching routine or even prep your meals for the week. Taking a break benefits your entire body, and that’s something you can remember both inside and outside of the gym.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.