If you exercise regularly, you're probably familiar with the emotional momentum that comes with it. That energy and excitement that comes from your body feeling optimal, your motivation soaring—there's nothing quite like it.
After a week or so of consistently working out, this invigorating sense of accomplishment and excitement for life appears. Whenever I experience it, I want to keep working out all day, every day. I even find myself watching the clock, waiting and waiting for 6 p.m. to hit just so I can start my workout session.
Of course, I don't have the time to work out nonstop, and I have proof that it's not great for my body. These days I typically lift weights four times per week, do yoga once a week, and run a mile or so before work a few times a week. Sometimes I’ll skip one or the other for recovery. And to keep this physical and emotional momentum going, we need to be smart about it—and after experiencing adrenal fatigue twice from lifting weights too frequently, I am now a huge proponent of slowing down.
Adrenal fatigue is a breakdown in the central nervous system that causes serious physical exhaustion and can be caused by too many intense, consecutive workouts, which is what happened in my case. It had my whole body feeling weak and broken. My strength was around half of my normal capacity, I had cognitive fatigue, and I lost weight. I abruptly stopped training, undoing months of progress.
Long story short, we must respect and embrace the standard breakdown and rebuilding process our bodies go through, and I learned that the hard way. Here's why taking time to recover will actually make your performance stronger.
1. Taking time to recover helps rebuild muscle.
When your muscles are sore, it's because the fibers were torn during a workout—and that's not a bad thing! That's how they get stronger. So if you’re sore for days, that's because your body is eagerly seeking rest and repair. There’s a huge benefit to giving your body that rest.
Our muscles don’t just build back to where they started from: New muscle fibers will be stronger and larger in volume when they rebuild. This increase is our body’s way of accommodating the new requirements you’ve set for them. So if you're not taking rests, you keep your muscle fibers in a broken state, which prevents them from repairing. Worse yet, you’re preventing them from growing stronger.
Treat your muscles right, and they will not only repair fully but build additional strength for your next workout.
2. Sleep is everything.
Sleep has immeasurable benefits on strength and physical capability. One study found that when participants slept less than seven hours per night, it impaired both mental and physical performance. This was a huge wake-up call for me.
From January to June, I slept six hours per night. I was asleep by 11:30 p.m. and awake at 5:30 a.m. It started as a 30-day experiment that I decided to keep going, but I began suffering from physical burnout pretty quickly. So I decided to sleep 7.5 hours per night for 30 days. I recognize that I'm only a sample size of one, but the outcome was interesting. I found that my energy levels and mood were noticeably better, I didn't feel the need to drink coffee in the mornings, and it was a lot easier to wake up.
These outcomes indicate to me that this is my body's desired state of being. Beyond instinctual cues, I also feel so much stronger at the gym with this newfound energy.
3. More time, more peace.
By taking rest days, I found myself with an additional one to two hours in my day. I felt anxious to work out during this time, but it was a great way to practice channeling that positive energy into another healthy pursuit. I personally joined a book club and spent that extra hour or so reading.
I also meditate before bed now. Meditation is proven to reduce anxiety and improve mood, confidence, and focus—and I found that to be very true for me!
This additional mental time and space have probably been the most rewarding parts of taking rest days. Before any workout, we must have emotional energy. That’s what actually motivates us to exercise. If we don’t attend to our mind’s happiness levels, we risk sacrificing workouts we haven’t even done yet. I speak from experience when I say that it's extremely valuable to give yourself the chance to catch up and the opportunity to recover. It pays dividends, emotionally and physically.
Inspired by this story? Read up on how a low-intensity lifestyle changed Jordan Younger's life.