Fun fact about me: I used to resent the idea of exercise.  

After seventeen years of living a sedentary lifestyle and wanting to change, I picked up running as a hobby and became a huge advocate for working out. The time I spend each week at the gym has been a major part of my lifestyle since my senior year of high school. Through my brief time as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor, I have found that exercise can be, well, addicting. After getting into the habit of getting up at 4:30am, having my coffee, and leaving for the gym at 4:50am, it can be a bit of a lifestyle choice and something I have a hard time going  a day without.  

Years after my conversion from couch potato to gym junkie, I realized what was missing from my lifestyle of daily exercise: rest days. I have learned to never underestimate the importance of giving your body time to rest and your muscles a chance to recover. Rest days can actually decrease your risk for injury, not to mention making exercising seem less mundane.  

Recovery for your muscles is critical. This implements what the National Academy of Sports Medicine refers to as the SAID principle, which stands for “Specific Adaptations on Imposed Demands.” This principle refers to the way our body adapts to the demands placed on it.  As the body adapts to the stress placed upon it during your workouts, it will become stronger and ready for another workout. Without the rest period, your muscles will not have this benefit and you will not get stronger.  

Summary: Rest days are equally important as exercise days. Both have a part to play in building strength, endurance and muscle. When beginning a new exercise program, never underestimate the importance of a fruitful recovery day. Make sure your rest days are truly restful and rejuvenating, but that doesn't mean you need to plan a day on the couch! Activities such as a leisurely walk or even a yoga class are great options for rest days that will keep your energy up and your muscles loose. Rest days will not only allow the body to recover and repair, but they are equally beneficial for the mind.

If you find yourself in a workout slump, incorporating a few rest days into your week - or even a few days of low intensity cardio - can help avoid burnout, re-energize your motivation, and offer some variation to your fitness routine. 

Written by a personal trainer at the Gateway Region YMCA.