Well+Good

How taking a rest day can make your workouts more powerful

Photo: Stocksy/Ivan Gener

If you exercise, you need a rest day—period. That’s the word from Barry’s Bootcamp CEO Joey Gonzalez, who works out hard *and* knows the value of some time away from sweat sessions. Here, he explains how to make your day off count—and the lesser-known ways it can make your workouts have a bigger impact overall.

I’m a big believer in the power of daily exercise—which is why I think rest days are so important, too. Yes, even the CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp takes a regular rest day… and my fitness routine is all the better for it. So let’s talk about why rest days are not just valuable, but necessary, if you want to make your workouts count.

What is a rest day?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what constitutes a rest day. Some people take the day off completely, and others (like me) incorporate some light activity. In general, though, a rest day involves avoiding whatever type of activity you do on regular days. If you lift heavy weights, then you might go on a nice light jog or a hike. If you’re mostly doing cardio throughout the week, you can do yoga. Or just stretch out on the couch and dive into a good book—it’s up to you. Personally, because I do so much cardio and lifting, I don’t do much on rest days. Maybe I’ll take a hike with my family, or I’ll spend time in meditation, or I’ll do something restorative (like a massage) to treat my body.

Is a rest day a wasted opportunity?

A few of you might be thinking that exercising seven days a week is ideal. Not so. Let me explain: After you work out, you need to recover. That’s because a lot is going on as you exercise. Your muscles are tearing. Your joints are cracking and popping. All of this strain breaks down your body. So rest is actually necessary—it’s part of the formula to ensure that not only are your muscles and joints are repairing, they’re actually gaining that extra strength as well. If you don’t take days off and give your body the time to rest and recover, you won’t actually reap the benefits of all of your workouts.

Rest days can also help maintain your immune system. When you do intense or extreme exercise, the body produces certain hormones that lower immunity, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones raise stress levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. (I’ve had elevated cortisol levels before, and when I’ve spoken with naturopaths, they’ve always advised me to get better sleep and pay better attention to my rest days.) And guess what cortisol also does? It causes your body to hold onto belly fat. So if you’re not paying attention to rest days, you may actually end up with more fat than if you had simply taken a rest day to help those hormones regulate.

Photo: Form on Unsplash

How often should I do a rest day?

I love to plan rest days, but you have to listen to your body. Not too long ago, I woke up and my lower back hurt a little bit. It wasn’t my scheduled rest day, but I moved it ahead. Planning is incredibly effective, but listening to your body trumps that.

Does anyone not need a rest day?

Sure. If you’re doing only low-impact exercises like standard yoga (as opposed to hot yoga), you probably don’t need a rest day. Instead, you should be sure that you also have cardio and strength training in your fitness mix. Flexibility, strength, and cardio will make you feel better, look better, and live longer. If you are getting two of those three things from yoga, you should definitely be bringing in the third on your days off.

How can rest days improve the big picture?

People talk about how they don’t have time for anything, but a rest day is schedule-opening magic. Not working out for a day gives you time to allocate towards something else, whether it’s investing in your relationships, making a phone call you’ve been meaning to take care of, or finally starting that hobby you’ve been considering. It’s important to think about your life as a blend of so many things—and a rest day makes all of it, including your fitness, even better.

As a trainer turned CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, Joey Gonzalez has a holistic view on wellness that includes family, mental health, and, of course, fitness. Since he took the top job in 2015, he’s grown the popular fitness empire to 41 studios—11 of them international.

What should Joey write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to experts@wellandgood.com