The Importance of Rest Days and Recovery Workouts

Think rest days means resting on your fitness goals? Sleeping on their importance could be derailing progress. Find out why rest days are important and how often you should workout.

Arguably, resting is as important as actually exercising. But why are rest days so important? Well, working out tears and breaks down muscles and rest allows them to rebuild and grow in size and strength. Thus, giving the muscles time to chill is imperative to making progress no matter the fitness goal.

What’s more, not giving the muscles time to rest and repair can hinder potential progress and results. This is because multiple bodily systems are negatively affected when the body is overstressed. 

Exercise is an acute stress on the body, but if given proper rest time, the body can repair and build better than before. Conversely, overworking the body by not taking rest days can lead to burnout, a decreased immune system, increased cortisol production, and overly sore muscles.

So, how often should you break from a workout program and what are some recovery focused workouts? Read on to discover! 

What Are Rest Days?

Rest days can look slightly different for everyone. In general, though, rest days do not involve intentional exercise training sessions. Meaning, the type, intensity and/or length of workout is decreased or maybe nonexistent! 

The most common type of rest day involves doing little to no exercise at all. This is totally ok and even encouraged 1 to 2 times a week by many personal trainers and health professionals. 

However, some people enjoy movement so much, they prefer to take active rest days. This term refers to engaging in light exercise on their designated rest day. 

For some, active recovery days looks like taking a leisurely walk, riding bikes outdoors, doing an easy hike, or dynamic stretching. For others, an active rest day might include doing household chores, gardening, taking a swim, or anything else that involves untaxing movement or exercise.

Anecdotally speaking, many athletes find it imperative to take one full rest day per week and also include one to two additional lighter workout days. This ensures muscles receive proper rest and rejuvenation.

In fact, rest is one of the best ways to treat and prevent sore muscles! Consider adding these recovery days into your workout plan to avoid overtraining syndrome and injury.

What Are Some Recovery Workouts?

Recovery workouts are less of a specific style and more of a vibe. Meaning, nearly any workout can be morphed into a recovery workout by lowering the intensity.


Yet, walking is usually the most popular active recovery workout of choice, and for good reason. Walking provides as much mental and emotional benefit as physical and even more so if done outside. This activity is linked to lower blood pressure, better blood sugar management, and reduced risk of type II diabetes among many other health benefits.

Walking also allows the muscles to move and stay loose, draining lactic acid build-up but does not tax the muscles too much, deeming this a superb recovery workout. To protect muscles from overuse, skip the hills outside and the incline inside. A swift 30 to 60-minute walk does the trick!

Dynamic Stretching

Another great recovery workout is dynamic stretching. This sort of stretching is active and allows muscles to move through a full range of motion. 

Frequently used as a pre-workout warm-up technique, dynamic stretching also serves quite well as a recovery workout. It helps muscles stay loose, but are not being overworked, which allows them to properly repair from prior workouts.

Recreational Sports

Recreational sports played for fun also make a great recovery workout. Activities such as soft ball, a pick up basketball game, or kickball allow for gentle movement that is still restorative. 

Childhood games like hide and seek, capture the flag, sardines and many others also encourage gentle movement that still provides muscles the kind of rest they need.

Intentional Movement

Finally, being intentional about general movement throughout the day is a plenty fine recovery workout. Intentional movement can range from vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning the kitchen to parking in the furthest spot at the grocery store and making a point to get up for five to ten minutes once every hour.

Whatever recovery workout sounds best, just be sure to include intentional rest days throughout the week to reap the most benefit from exercise!

Nutrition On Rest Days

It’s understandable to think that nutrition should shift on workout rest days. However, unless one is training very intensely, nutrition need not change much on rest days. 

As already mentioned, rest days allow for the muscle groups to repair and grow. Fuel in the form of food is a necessary prerequisite for this to occur. Therefore, rather than food fueling a workout, it is being used to rebuild muscle tissue stronger and bigger than it was previously. 

And, in fact, it is nearly impossible to grow muscles without eating in a surplus of calories. So, do not fear eating even if an intense workout did not precede!

However, nutrition can be shifted if taking multiple rest days a week or if eating a substantial amount of certain macronutrients before and after intense workouts. If this is the case, reducing total calories by 100-500 and reducing carbohydrates or fat grams can be implemented on rest days. Many choose to slash these calories from their pre-workout drink or meal and decrease the amount of carbs and/or fat throughout the day.

Because protein is the macronutrient that specifically contributes to muscle repair and growth, maintaining protein is prudent.

Other than that, normal, healthy nutrition principles still stand on rest days. These include focusing on:

  • 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains with fiber
  • Beans and legumes
  • Lean meats and seafood
  • Healthy fats
  • Moderation and portion control

While common to participate in “cheat meal” days on rest days, this can create a poor relationship with food in the long run. The practice doesn’t serve as the best fuel for tired, growing muscles or upcoming workouts.


Consistently taking one to a couple rest days a week is vital for well being and muscle progression. Moreover, rest days can be completely restorative or active in nature.

Nearly any workout can morph into a recovery-fashioned one. However, walking, dynamic stretching, and recreational sports are some of the most common and beloved. 

Finally, nutrition and especially sports nutrition is quite nuanced, and may or may not need alternating on rest days. Most often, carbs and fat are reduced on workout rest days if shifts are necessary. However, still fuel enough to replenish energy stores and allow muscles and the body a proper foundation to rest and repair.