Friday, February 11, 2011


How much rest do we need when we are participating in an exercise program? This is a common question and a sensitive one, because we receive such strong messages about the importance of exercise at this time in cultural history.

Just like exercise, rest is incredibly important no matter what your level of fitness.

Numerous effective formulas currently exist in the exercise community for determining proper rest schedules, examples being:

- every other day
- two days on, one day off, three days on, two days off
- one day off every four
- one day off every six
- seven - nine active days with varying levels of exertion

My personal preference after years of self-evaluation is to tune into my body and recognize my own need-for-rest indicators. These are typically a combination of: lack of experience of flow, a feeling of strained movements, a lack of energy generation to keep pace with the workout, irritability, over-tiredness or hyperactivity, breath rate and fatigue that is in excess of the demand, an immune system dip or an inability to fall asleep.

Some of us tend to drag our feet with regard to exercise, meaning, it is difficult to engage in an exercise program at all. The initial experience of exercise is unpleasant, and sticking with it feels continuously exhausting. Ideally, when starting an exercise program, the program design is progressive. We start with light exertion, light weights, light cardiovascular work, adequate warm-ups and cool-downs. We ease into the program. We take days off from formal exercise and instead go for walks and participate in enjoyable physical activities that we don't classify as workouts. If we are consistent, our energy will begin to rise to meet the workout. Days off are important, but ideally, we begin to crave the workout and our energy levels will begin to let us know when it is time for a rest day.

Once a fitness baseline has been established, finding a work / rest schedule is much easier. Experiment with the list above to determine what works best for you and if necessary, consult with a coach or trainer. Often trainers offer program design sessions which are a great way to establish an individual program if you are not a candidate for ongoing training. Exercise routines should be varied (unless sport specific work is of the essence), and programs should be changed at least every 4-6 weeks to avoid fitness plateaus, boredom and repetitive stress issues.

Some of us tend to over-train due to an intense physical drive that is closely linked to the experience of mental-emotional release, or because we are under the impression that more is better. This is fairly common, and finding balance is crucial. Exercise is culturally lauded so coming to terms with chronic over-training can be tricky. Among other things, exercise is incredibly beneficial for mood-balancing, stress reduction, and relief from depression. This is good! The problem arises when exercise is taken to the point where mental acuity is reduced, fatigue prevents us from addressing real issues, we feel emotionally numb and the risk of injury increases. Slowing this pattern is not easy, but is necessary for improved performance and a balanced life. In the best case scenario, workout sessions are reduced, and rest / recovery sessions are substituted in their place. The quality of the remaining workouts increases, a feeling of well-being replaces the symptoms of over-training and there is minimal back-lash. Often a meditative practice emphasizing stillness and calm, communication with friends, or another form of support is necessary.

For more information on rest, check out this article:

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