How to tell you need a rest day (and when to keep going)

Recovery is key to getting results from your workouts -- here's the best way to do it.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read

Many experts say rest days and recovery are just as important as your workout.

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Listen up fitness fanatics: as much as you may love your workout routine, not taking a rest day can be a big hurdle in reaching your fitness goals. Even if you enjoy your workouts so much you can't imagine taking a break, doing so is essential to building muscle and improving your fitness.

Any personal trainer will tell you that, including Melissa Chisholm. "Recovery is just as important as your workouts to ensure that you are able to work to your fullest potential." Recovery and rest is especially key for mobility and ensuring proper range of motion when you exercise. 

Read more: How to recover from long runs CrossFit workouts, HIIT and more

Science and fitness experts are starting to tell us even more about the importance of actively investing in recovery. The good news is recovery doesn't always mean doing absolutely nothing. There are plenty of ways to engage in recovery (like foam rolling and stretching) and not feel like you have to sit on the couch all day. 

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Keep reading for expert tips on how to structure your rest days for optimum recovery and performance in the long run.

When do you need to take a rest day?

The truth is, rest days don't work the same for everyone. Yes, everyone needs to recover, but how you structure these days will depend on your schedule and how you feel. "You want to make sure you are giving your body at least one day per week. Maybe it's a day that you don't have work or anything planned. Maybe your rest day is the day at work when you're the busiest and you know it's not an ideal day to workout because you will not be at your best," says Chisholm. 


Rest days can include stretching to ease muscle soreness.

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For starters, Chisholm suggests going 24 hours between workouts. One full day is usually plenty of time for your body to rest and repair. "When planning your workouts, if you go back-to-back days, try not to do a late night workout and then an early morning workout because you don't have a lot of recovery in between," Chisholm said. 

An easy way to do this is to schedule your workout for the same time each day, which is good for consistency and it will ensure you have proper recovery time in between workouts.

"If you plan out six days of workouts and one recovery day, make sure you are also listening to your body. Just because you have a workout planned, you might wake up that day feeling sore or achy in a way that you would be better off taking a rest day instead. Be kind to your body, but also be honest with yourself if you need or want a rest day," Chisholm says.

Do I have to take a day off even if I feel like working out?

Sometimes you go 5 or 6 days and think you'll be ready to take a day off, but wake up ready to go. But should you? According to Chisholm, it depends.

"If you have a rest day planned but you feel energized and ready to go, you would be better off shifting your rest day to another day. There are a few ways to look at recovery. One way is to always have a designated day, and another is to listen to your body and let your body determine your rest day. The second option can be a little bit trickier," Chisholm said.

One reason is that you might not realize how much you need to rest until you've already injured yourself or burned out. "Sometimes our bodies catch up with our mind at a slower rate, which can lead to overuse and injuries. Your mind might tell yourself, 'I don't need this rest day today,' while your body actually needs it." This is why planning a rest day in your schedule is helpful, especially if you haven't mastered listening to your body's needs.


It's best to listen to your body when it comes to deciding whether or not to work out. 

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What should rest days look like? 

Rest days can be structured however you need to feel your best, whether that's sleeping in, watching Netflix or starting the day with some gentle stretching. Foam rolling and massage guns are great tools to utilize to help your body recover faster, and help ease any soreness you have lingering from your previous training.

If you do feel the need to do something active on your rest day, Chisholm suggests low-key or low-impact activities like walking, a yoga class or another low-impact workout. You can also try popular recovery techniques like cryotherapy or infrared sauna on your rest day. It's also important to keep in mind that proper hydration and nutrition are key to good recovery. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.