6 reasons why rest days are essential for workout progression

Frequent workouts are great for physical and mental health, but they can also be detrimental to health if you overdo them

Women stretching on the sofa in a living room
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether it’s regular gym workouts or training for a marathon, all fitness levels can benefit from a well-planned rest program and at least one day off from the training schedule each week. But what benefits can rest days offer?

We asked the fitness experts at LQ | Collagen to share their best advice about rest days and a few tips on making the most of them; after all, you don't have to sit around all day when you're having a rest day. Active recovery can and should include stretching, low-intensity work and even full-on workouts that target different areas than the one you are giving a rest.

Using massage guns and foam rollers are two of the most popular equipment used for active recovery. However, runners and cyclists should also consider other massage tools such as the Therabody RecoveryAir JetBoots.

Here are six ways rest days are equally as important as workout days from a health point of view.

1. Encourages muscle recovery and improves strength

Any form of exercise has the ability to create microscopic tears in muscle fibres. To counteract this, the body rebuilds the muscles stronger. However, this process doesn't happen during workouts, only when you rest and especially when you sleep (more on this below).

Without rest days, your muscles can't recover and grow/adapt, so all your hard work will be wanted. Worse still, by constantly working out, you can get injured and miss workouts, further stalling your progress. Therefore, it's important to have enough rest to allow muscles to repair and strengthen.

Woman looking exhausted on the floor next to a barbell

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Prevents injury

As mentioned above, it is essential to remember that rest is integral to injury prevention. Not resting adequately can lead to minor injuries becoming major ones, and overdoing workouts can lead to muscles and joints suffering from overuse. Stretching and different recovery methods can help alleviate some of the symptoms, but no technology can replace rest (yet).

3. Improves performance

Adequate rest allows the body to conserve and restore energy levels. Enhanced energy levels contribute to greater quality in each training session, helping to aid performance levels.

Determined female athlete runnig on a race track

(Image credit: Polar Elektro)

4. Maintains focus 

Although the mental health benefits of exercise are well documented and accepted, taking a planned day or two out can assist with mental clarity. The break from training helps your brain relax and encourages focus and energy. 

5. Aid a good night’s sleep

When you exercise, especially when you run, it can confuse the body, especially if there isn't any apparent danger you're running from. This can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel irritable and restless. Ensuring that you rest will help stabilise both heart rate and alertness and help you sleep soundly.

6. Allows the immune system to work effectively

When our bodies experience intense activity and training, our immune systems work on overdrive to repair muscles and joints. Without proper rest periods, the immune system is unable to repair correctly, resulting in both inflammation and injury.

Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for T3.com and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.