(Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so everything in this post comes from my personal research. If you are worried about the effects your training routine is having on your body, please talk to your medical professional before continuing)
(Even more disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a bit of money if you make a purchase through that link at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links are marked with *. For more information, click here)
Hello and welcome back to Pole Goals 101! This week, we’re going to be talking all about rest days.
If you haven’t caught up with the rest of the Pole Goals 101 series, check them out here:
Rest Days – The Basics
Rest days are just as important as training days.
Yep, you heard me right!
Rest days are 100% essential to any successful training regime, regardless of what you train, how often you train, or even how intense your training regime is.
Not only do rest days make sure that you’re taking care of your mental health and avoiding burnout, but you’re also making sure that you’re giving your body plenty of time to heal, grow, and rebuild following each and every training session.
While the amount of time each person will need to recover is different based on the intensity of their training, there are a few general rules of thumb that are good to know.
Generally, you need to rest the muscle group you’ve just trained for a minimum of 24 hours before training it again, and you need an absolute minimum of 1-2 rest days a week.
Rest Days – The Science
During exercise, our muscles undergo stress.
Putting stress on your muscles causes microtears in the tissue, which the body then repairs to adapt to the stress. It’s an awesome survival mechanic that probably helped us out-run mega-bears, and now helps us get swole for the pole.
At some point during your training, you’ll have experienced the utter joy that is DOMS – or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
This is the soreness you feel while your muscles are going through the regrowth process.
It’s a sign your body is preparing you
to run away even more from mega-bears to better handle the stress you’ve just put your muscles through.
Glycogen and Carbohydrates
As we all know, the carbohydrates we eat are converted into glucose for energy.
However, the body only needs so much glucose at any given time, so it’s inevitable that not all of the carbohydrates we eat will be converted to glucose.
Your muscles store those additional carbohydrates in the form of glycogen for energy, which is a finite resource.
While your body uses up this energy source when you go about your daily life, you burn through it when you exercise.
While glucose will get burned up in a few minutes of high-intensity exercise, your glycogen stores should, in theory, be able to sustain you for around 90 minutes of exercise before you need to refuel.
We’re also probably all familiar with that weird feeling near the end of a particularly intense training session where your muscles begin to shake – this can be a sign that muscle fatigue is starting to set in.
What’s happening here is you’ve put your muscles through a lot of stress, and they’re starting to protect themselves in order to avoid injury. As your muscles use up their energy source and your blood sugar drops, there’s not much energy left for your muscles to draw their power from.
Muscle twitching can be caused by things other than muscle fatigue, though, so it’s important that you keep hydrated during your workout, warm up and cool down thoroughly, and if you’re worried, see a medical professional.
Resting and recovery
When you take a rest day, you are, first and foremost, allowing your body to go through the process of repairing your muscles without putting further stress on them.
You’re giving your body time to repair the microtears in the muscle caused by exercise, which, as you know, requires energy to do so. You’re also giving your body time to restore its stores of glycogen, so the next time you exercise, your muscles have plenty of energy to maintain correct form and prevent injury.
Studies show that the complete regeneration cycle takes anywhere between 24-36 hours depending on exercise intensity, nutritional intake, and individual health.
But, far beyond the physical effects, rest days are vital for your mental health.
Physical activity is a great way to release cortisol, which helps us manage stress. It also increases our self-esteem as we see our bodies growing stronger, helps with better quality sleep, and gives our minds something external to focus on.
However, too much exercise can lead to a form of burnout called Overtraining Syndrome, which I’ll talk more about below.
Taking rest days makes sure that you’re maintaining a healthy balance between your exercise habits and your home life. While I always say that pole dance is a great form of self-care for me, I can quite easily find that if I don’t make time to rest and spend time by myself, I can end up in a depressive episode.
I personally believe having this balance is vital to managing your mental health condition, as we can sometimes forget that we do need to spend time away from the pole studio, weights room, or climbing gym, to take care of our minds and rest.
After all, exercise should never be a way to avoid dealing with your issues. It’s a great way to give you respite and relief from the outside world, but it’s also healthy to take time to feel what you need to feel, process your emotions, and fully come to terms with what’s going on.
Why Rest Days Are Vital
Overtraining Syndrome (OTS)
Perhaps the biggest reason why you need to take rest days if you maintain a regular training schedule is to avoid Overtraining Syndrome (OTS).
This is a form of burnout specific to athletes, in which people train to the point where they plateau, or even make negative process, because they’re not giving their body enough time to recover.
Key signs of OTS include:
- Persistent fatigue
- Persistent muscle aches
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Getting ill more often
- Sustaining more injuries from training
- Loss of interest in regular hobbies
- Loss of motivation
- Decreased appetite
Treating Overtraining Syndrome
There are, thankfully, ways athletes can bounce back from overtraining.
One of the best ways to deal with OTS is to take a few days, or even weeks, away from exercising to give your body plenty of time to rebuild itself back up.
How long you need depends on how long your OTS has gone on for; if you’ve pushed yourself too hard for a few weeks, a few days might be sufficient, but persistent Overtraining Syndrome may require weeks to rest from.
Following your rest period, you need to make sure you ease yourself back into exercise gently.
Going back into your old routine all guns blazing might mean you see a recurrence of the symptoms of OTS. Personally, I’d recommend alternating training days with rest days until you’re comfortable maintaining that level of exercise, then ramp it up by one additional day each week or two.
Remember to incorporate more rest days into your routine than you did previously to prevent a recurrence of OTS.
During this rest period, you might resent being forced away from exercise, which is why cross training can be a great way to maintain your mobility while resting.
The key is to opt for low impact steady state (LISS) cardio exercises like swimming, yoga, or cycling, over grabbing the barbell or jumping back on the pole.
After all, your muscles are still in a state of recovery, so cross training with LISS cardio exercises won’t stress them to the point where you’re pushing back your recovery and out of a state of rest.
The key is to keep any cross training exercise slow, steady, and at low impact, to ensure that you’re still giving your body time to heal.
It goes without saying, but make sure to talk to a medical professional to ensure the training you’re doing is suitable during this time if you’re not sure.
Sports massage and other physical recovery
Use this rest time to find physical recovery methods that work for you and your body.
Personally, I can’t recommend sports massage highly enough for keeping your muscles in tip-top condition, and they’re fantastic for getting to the root of any persistent aches and pains you may have.
For a lower-cost option, get yourself a foam roller* – while this won’t be as targeted as a sports massage, it can help you rehab your muscles at home and keep the blood flowing while you’re resting. The one I’ve linked is the one I use at home, and the ridges really help to work deep into your muscles and release any tension you may have.
Make sure you’re getting the right nutrition
Restricting calories during exercise, and in particular when suffering with OTS, can prolong your recovery time.
Your body needs plenty of calories from a variety of sources to maintain its energy levels, help your muscles to recover, and keep your nervous system healthy. I’m not going to tell you what to eat; I’m not a nutritionist, and everyone’s bodies work in different ways.
However, you want to make sure you’re getting plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to support your body’s functions. Protein is key when it comes to muscle repair, while carbohydrates will replenish your energy stores, and healthy fats will support your brain and nervous system’s normal functioning.
Preventing Overtraining Syndrome
This is why rest days are vital.
Rest days help prevent OTS by ensuring your body maintains a healthy balance between training and recovery, as well as making sure you’re not taxing your mental health and taking the time you need for self care.
Now that you know the symptoms of OTS, you can also keep an eye out for any potential signs of it developing. It’s better to nip it in the bud while the symptoms are acute, rather than letting it develop to the point where your mind and body are completely frazzled.
Stay hydrated and take in plenty of nutrients. Your body needs fuel to exercise, so even if you’re not hungry, it’s a good idea to eat a snack around 60-90 minutes before you exercise. I’ve always found if I didn’t, I lost energy around halfway through the class and couldn’t participate at a level I was happy with.
What To Do On Rest Days
Now that we’ve taken a look at why rest days are necessary, and what the consequences of not taking enough rest days are, you might be wondering what to do on your rest days.
Rest days are primarily about recovery, so any activity that you do (or don’t do) should ideally further that goal.
Yoga and Flexibility
While you should avoid heavy training on your rest days, any kind of low intensity exercise is perfect for remaining mobile if you have the energy to do so.
You can do low intensity yoga and flexibility training on your rest days without putting too much strain on your recovering muscles. In fact, yoga and flexibility training can actually speed up your recovery time by increasing blood flow to your repairing muscles.
Sports Massage and Foam Rolling
As I mentioned earlier, sports massage and foam rolling are awesome ways of helping your muscles to recover.
Any form of massage helps increase blood flow to your muscles, but sports massage is particularly targeted to help boost the functioning and reduce tension in the muscle groups that are typically tense within athletes.
Foam rollers are great for large muscle groups, but for targeting deep trigger points, massage balls* are fantastic. With self-massage, you can get similar benefits to a sports massage in between appointments with your therapist, allowing your muscles to stay in top condition.
Take a warm bath
Warm water is amazing for soothing sore and tired muscles, but there are many more ways you can increase the therapeutic nature of your bath.
I love to have a stock of Epsom salts* in my bathroom to bathe in at least once a week, usually along with a Lush bubble bar or whatever bubble bath I tend to have in the house at the time. Magnesium sulphate is an awesome muscle relaxer that’s absorbed through the skin, and you don’t need much of it in your bath either – I only use 1 or 2 cups to feel the full benefits.
The best thing about rest days is that they’re for exactly that – resting.
If you do exercise, you shouldn’t do anything more strenuous than walking, swimming, or yoga, and even then you should take it easy to avoid straining your muscles.
Your rest days are a great opportunity to give yourself the freedom to do hobbies or fun activities you don’t normally have time for on your training days. Whether you love video games, catching up with documentaries, or crafting, what you get up to on your rest day is up to you.
I can give you all the suggestions in the world about things to do on your rest day but, at the end of the day, everyone relaxes and recovers in different ways. What works for me might not work for you – and that’s okay!
Just, whatever you do, make sure you use your rest day to relax and recover your energy – both mental and physical – for your next training session.
What do you get up to on your rest days? What helps you recover? Join the conversation over on Facebook and Instagram!
Hey, if you thought this post was helpful, I’d super appreciate it if you considered buying me a coffee. For less than the price of a high street barista coffee you can help keep the lights on at Sass and Clacks, and I’ll give you a big internet type hug (or knowing nod, if you’re not into hugs).