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Blog Fitness Active Rest Day Benefits, Workouts, And Diet

Active Rest Day Benefits, Workouts, And Diet

Rest is just as important as exercise when trying to improve your physical fitness. Contrary to popular belief, taking a day (or two) off from the gym doesn’t mean you’re slacking off on your fitness journey. In fact, giving your body ample time to recover between workouts is essential to seeing results. But what should you do on your day off? Should you go about your day as if you didn’t just commit to a new workout routine? Sit on the couch all day and watch Netflix? No and no. There is such a thing as an active rest day, where you engage in low-impact activities that help your body recover from your previous workouts.

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Benefits Of Active Rest Days

An active rest day is a day where you don’t do your regular workout, but you still do some kind of physical activity. This could be anything from going for a light jog to doing a yoga class. The idea is that you’re moving your body without putting too much stress on your muscles.

There are several benefits to taking an active rest day: 

Muscle Recovery

When you work out, you’re actually causing tiny tears in your muscle fibers. This is what causes soreness 24-48 hours after a workout (aka delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS). An active rest day can help reduce this soreness by getting blood flowing to your muscles (2).

Waste products like lactate and carbon dioxide build up in your muscles during exercise, and they need to be flushed out as part of your muscles recovery process (2). 

Improved Circulation

Active rest days can also help improve circulation. When you work out, your heart rate increases and blood vessels dilate to send more blood to your muscles (2).

Taking an active rest day can help keep your blood vessels open and improve circulation throughout your body, not just to your muscles (2). 

Mental Break

Let’s be honest, working out can be tough, both mentally and physically. Taking an active rest day can give you a much-needed mental break from the grind of a workout routine. This can help you come back to your next workout feeling refreshed and ready to go. 

Injury Prevention

If you’re constantly pounding your body with high-intensity workouts, you’re increasing your risk of injury. Active rest days give your body a chance to recover from these workouts and can help prevent injuries down the road (2).

Read More: Bedtime Drinks: Best And Worst Drinks For A Restful Night

active rest day

Improved Performance

Taking an active rest day can actually help improve your performance (2). When you’re constantly pushing your body to its limits, that can lead to burnout, both mentally and physically.

Active rest days give your body and mind a chance to recover so you can perform at your best when you workout. 

Boosted Mood

Exercise is a great way to improve your mood, but sometimes you need a break from the intensity of a regular workout. Active rest days can still give you that boost of endorphins that comes with exercise, without putting too much stress on your body (2). 

Active Rest Day Workouts

Now that we’ve gone over the benefits of active rest days, let’s take a look at some examples of workouts you can do on your day off. 

Yoga

Yoga is a great way to get your body moving without putting too much stress on your muscles. There are tons of different yoga poses that you can do to target different muscle groups. 

Yoga can also help improve your flexibility and balance, two things that are important for any type of workout (5). 

Light Cardio

Just because you’re not doing your regular workout doesn’t mean you can’t get your heart rate up. Going for a light jog, taking a bike ride, or even going for a leisurely swim are all great ways to get some cardio in without overdoing it.

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Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that can help improve circulation and reduce muscle soreness (1). You can use a foam roller on any muscle group that’s feeling tight or sore. 

Active Stretching

Active stretching is a type of stretching that involves moving your body while you stretch. This could be anything from doing a standing hamstring stretch to doing walking lunges. 

Strength Training

You don’t have to go heavy to get a good strength workout in. You can do bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats, and sit-ups, or you can use light dumbbells to get a little bit of extra resistance. 

No matter what type of active rest day workout you choose, make sure you listen to your body and don’t overdo it.

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active rest day

Active Recovery Stretches: Types And Benefits

Stretching is an important part of any workout routine, but it’s especially important on active rest days. Stretching can help improve circulation and reduce muscle soreness.

There are two main types of stretches: static and dynamic.

Static stretches are the type of stretches that you hold for a set period of time. These are the types of stretches you would do after a workout to cool down.

Dynamic stretches are the type of stretches that involve moving your body while you stretch. These are the types of stretches you would do before a workout to warm up.

Both types of stretching have their own benefits, but dynamic stretching is generally better for active rest days because it:

Helps Improve Range Of Motion

Your range of motion is the amount of movement you can do at a joint. Dynamic stretching can help improve your range of motion, which can make it easier to do activities that require a lot of movement, like running or playing sports (3). 

Reduces Risk Of Injury

Dynamic stretching helps prepare your body for the workout ahead by loosening up your muscles and joints. This can help reduce your risk of injury during your workout (3). 

Helps Improve Performance

Dynamic stretching can also help improve your performance by helping you warm up your muscles and joints before a workout. This can help you be more efficient during your workout and may even help you lift heavier weights. 

Increases Muscle Activation

Dynamic stretching increases muscle activation, which means your muscles are more likely to fire during your workout (3). This can help you get the most out of your workout and see better results.

Read More: Muscle Recovery Time: Here’s How Long You Should Rest Between Workouts

active rest day

Improves Circulation

Dynamic stretches help improve circulation by getting your blood flowing to your muscles. This can help reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery (8).

If you’re not sure how to do a dynamic stretch, here are a few examples:  

Arm Circles

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
  2. Start by making small circles with your arms, then gradually make the circles bigger. 

Leg Swings

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and swing one leg forward and backward.
  2. You can also swing your leg from side to side. 

Walking Lunge

  1. Step forward with one leg and lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your back knee is close to the ground.
  2. Push off with your front foot and step forward with your back foot.
  3. Repeat with the other leg. 

High Knees

  1. Run in place, bringing your knees up as high as you can. 

Butt Kicks

  1. Run in place, kicking your feet back to touch your glutes. 

Choose a few of these dynamic stretches and do them for 30 seconds to 1 minute each. You can also add in some static stretches after your dynamic stretches if you’d like.

Remember, the key to an effective active rest day is to listen to your body and not overdo it. If you’re feeling tired, take a break or cut your workout short.

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What Should You Eat On Active Rest Days? 

What you eat on active rest days is just as important as what you do. Eating the right foods can help improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness.

Here are a few tips for eating on active rest days: 

Eat Plenty Of Protein

Protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery. Eating plenty of protein on active rest days can help your muscles repair and grow. Aim for 0.5-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight (6). 

Eat Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are important for restoring glycogen levels, which are depleted during exercise. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose and is used for energy during exercise. Eating carbohydrates can help improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness (6). 

Eat Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are important for hormone production, joint health, and brain function. Eating healthy fats can also help reduce inflammation. Aim for 20-30% of your calories from healthy fats (6). 

Drink Plenty Of Water

Water is essential for overall health and recovery. Drinking plenty of water can help reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery. Aim for 8-10 cups of water per day (6).

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active rest day

Avoid Alcohol And Caffeine

Alcohol can interfere with muscle growth and recovery. It can also dehydrate your body and increase inflammation. Avoid alcohol on active rest days (7).

Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and soda can also interfere with recovery by causing dehydration (7). 

Include Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Certain foods can help reduce inflammation. These include omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Include these foods in your diet to help reduce inflammation (4):

  • Omega-3 fatty acids –  salmon, tuna, nuts, seeds, and flaxseed
  • Antioxidants – berries, dark chocolate, green tea, and fruits
  • Phytonutrients – colorful fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and tomatoes 

Final Thoughts

Active rest days are an important part of any workout routine. They help improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness. Eating the right foods on active rest days can also help improve recovery and reduce inflammation.

Remember, the key to an effective active rest day is to listen to your body and not overdo it. If you’re feeling tired, take a break or cut your workout short.

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery (2019, nih.gov) 
  2. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis (2018, nih.gov) 
  3. Dynamic Stretching Has Sustained Effects on Range of Motion and Passive Stiffness of the Hamstring Muscles (2019, nih.gov) 
  4. Foods that fight inflammation (2021, harvard.edu) 
  5. Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes (2016, nih.gov) 
  6. Sporting performance and food (2022, betterhealth.vic.gov.au) 
  7. The effects of caffeine, nicotine, ethanol, and tetrahydrocannabinol on exercise performance (2013, nih.gov) 
  8. Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries (1985, pubmed.gov)

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