Stuff I Did Yesterday: Shopped for a metallic shirt without sequins. (Didn’t find one but got a be-sequined version anyhow because it’s always better to err on the side of too sparkly.) Googled “foods that do weird things to your body” after another after-beet bowel movement that makes horror movies (Fun fact: Did you know that only 14% of people* have a recessive gene that makes their poop turn red after eating beets? I AM a special snowflake!!) Cooked the most delicious shrimp and edamame dish using only coconut oil and sea salt. (Seriously, how did that happen? It was the laziest dinner ever and yet the yummiest.) Danced a little, talked a lot, wrote some stuff, deleted more, did the dishes and took my kids to a park named “Chutes and Ladders” because of its similarity to the board game (minus the snapping alligator).
It was a fun day! But did you notice what wasn’t on my list? Exercise. I did not work out yesterday. Nor did I get my sweat on Sunday or Saturday. I was really tired and still sore from my workouts Monday through Friday so I took some rest. Three straight rest days! Pause: Did you just a)react with horror, clutching your pearls and falling into a faint? Take a day off? Never! b) nod and give me props for listening to my body or c) are already adding beets to your shopping list so you too can see if you’re one of the 14% red crappers found in the wild? (You know who you are!)
Rest days are hard. (Was a more oxymoronic sentence ever written?) For some of us anyhow, forcing ourselves to step down from the plyo box, step back from the weight rack and hot-step ourselves all the way out of the gym without having a panic attack is a very real issue. You know the 80/20 rule? Well when it comes to this I think it’s closer to 95/5, as in 95% of the people use the gym 5% of the time — in which case I’d like to point out per my usual that exercising is awesome and fun and you should get you some, preferably in a sequined shirt — but 5% of the people use the gym 95% of the time. It’s you 5% (whether you work out at the gym, on the running trail or in your garage) that I’m mainly talking to.
Your muscles grow when you rest. We’ve all heard it. But it’s one of those fitness-isms that’s actually true. Exercising breaks you down and it’s the rebuilding that makes you tougher so refusing to take rest days will negate all that hard work you’ve done in the gym. Plus over-training has lots of health consequences. Some are small like an increased heart rate, irritability, excessive fatigue, weight gain (oh yes!) and soreness. But others like heart-muscle damage, thyroid dysfunction, brittle bones, amennorrhea (losing your period), and overuse injuries can have life-long impact. Not to mention all the mental health complications like OCD, depression and anxiety.
People often worry that taking a rest day will set them back in their training and delude themselves that somehow they’re the superhuman exception but in reality not resting will catch up with you. Even (especially?) Olympians take rest days. But seeing as there are a lot of misconceptions about rest days, here are my five favorite tips.
1. Rest days aren’t optional. Get in the mindset that resting isn’t “cheating”, that you’re not a “failure” and your body deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.
2. Schedule the day. Plan ahead for rest days. They have a place in every workout program – you can even call them periodization if you want to sound fancy at the juice bar. (But don’t be too rigid about your plan. If you wake up one morning feeling extra sore or sick, just take some time off.)
3. Don’t schedule the rest. Lots of workout-a-holics I know (and yes, it takes one to know one!) like to do “active rest” where they do yoga or take long walks or something else on their rest days. I’ll probably take some heat for this but I’m not a fan. First, that’s not rest, it’s cross training. And it can be too tempting to make yoga or walking into a power sport. Second, we all have lives outside of exercise (or we should) and for me it’s important to use that “extra” time to do something in a completely different area. I’m not saying you need to refuse to get off your couch and take up counted cross-stitch. But I am saying if you take your kids to the park, have fun playing with your kids and don’t take them to the park just so you can get in some extra exercise.
4. Eat to hunger. Don’t restrict your calories because you didn’t “earn them” from working out. Pay careful attention to your hunger and you will often find that you’ll be less hungry on days you don’t work out (basic math, for the win!). But there will be days where you’re ravenous. I was starving yesterday so I ate a crap ton of food. I don’t know why but I just went with it. Even though I didn’t workout.
5. Get enough sleep. Nothing messes up your system more than not getting enough shut-eye. One of the symptoms of over-training is having a hard time falling asleep and/or insomnia which can start a vicious cycle of over-exercising and under-resting.
I am by no means the expert on this and I’m certainly not perfect – if you’ve read this blog for more than 5 minutes you know how hard I’ve struggled with my propensity to workout too much and too hard. But this is why I’m writing about it. I rest now. And it’s made a huge difference. Exercise is all about balance and finding the right balance will take constant tweaking and adjusting but once you learn to embrace the rest day as not just an “off day” but a “productive-in-a-behind-the-scenes-way” day it’s a lot easier to do that.
What’s your philosophy about rest days? Do you have any tips to add to my list? What happens to you after you eat beets?!
*If you get random episodes of urinating red after eating beets it’s called beeturia and is actually an indication your iron levels are too low! So next time you pee pink it might be worth calling your doc to get a finger prick. Or just a great reason to eat a grass-fed-and-finished fatty steak!