Life isn’t fair. It’s an unfortunate, universal truth that manifests itself in a multitude of ways. For those in the fitness community, the harsh reality of life is usually presented as a physical ailment of sorts. I find it partly cruel and partly hilarious that I have the drive to be at the peak of physical excellence, but I have a body that refuses to sustain such a strenuous lifestyle.
Last week, I didn’t write a single article for the Worried Wino. I was exhausted physically, which in turn, exhausted me mentally. Every day felt like a struggle. Every push-up felt twenty pounds heavier. Coming out of every squat felt as if I had the entire world resting on my shoulders. Every joint was angry. There were a few days when I began to cry during my workouts because I wanted them to end so badly. Fitness became a chore; a grueling to-do that I had to force myself to check off of my list. I’m not the best version of myself if I don’t feel physically fit. Getting to the gym (or busting out a workout at home) isn’t a chore; it’s a part of who I am. It’s just as much a part of my day as eating and sleeping are; so, I began to feel more and more irritated with the fact that my body was not performing the way I was wanting it to perform. I decided after my half-assed workout on Friday that it was time for, not just a rest day, but a full-blown rest week. For me, taking a rest day is hard. I feel an incredible amount of guilt for not hitting the gym. A rest week is borderline intolerable. While I can usually recover quite well with 1-2 rest days a week, my body had finally had enough.
Dr. Google recommends taking a rest week every twelve weeks if you put your body through the ringer on a regular basis. Anecdotally speaking, there is some merit to a tried-and-true full-on rest week. My last rest week was July of 2016. Per my doctor’s orders, I was to take a full week off. “Drink some wine. Relax. Give your body a break.” Best prescription ever? You’d think so. For me, it was hell. I was terrified of gaining fat and of losing all of my progress. Despite the fact that I was able to get back to the gym refreshed and mentally sound a week later, I now find myself in the same exact position that I was in eight months ago: terrified.
Rationally, I know that I won’t lose all of my progress if I forego the gym this week and start anew next Monday. It has taken me years to get to where I am today. One week won’t hinder that; in fact, it may help it. There is definitely a layer of fear that has been difficult to break through, courtesy of the pessimist that lives within me. “What if I don’t feel better by next Monday?” is a thought that has crossed my mind numerous times in the last few days. While it’s certainly a terrifying thought, if I were to power through and exercise this week, I know, come Monday,I would feel even worse than I do now. It may be a lose/lose, but it could also be a win/win (a week off and happy joints? Pure bliss). Only time will tell. The only question now is what will I do with the extra time that I’ve bestowed upon myself?
Eating and sleeping seem like some good places to start.
I’m not the only one who struggles with taking some time off. Because of that, I want to list some of the things I’ve learned through my research and experience with putting a pause on exercise:
- Remember not to confuse a full-on rest week with a deload week. I believe in the power of a good deload. Deloads are great for giving your joints and muscles a much-needed breather and are an important part of your overall fitness routine. Use a deload week to work on form and mobility. During your accessory lifts, are you compensating or are you engaging the correct muscles? Does your right heel tend to raise up when you near the bottom of your squat? Deload and work on form. Don’t feel shitty about using “baby weights” all week. No one cares. I promise.
- Don’t wait until you’re crying during workouts to take a break! In essence, don’t be like me. I knew I needed a rest week weeks ago and ignored myself. That was dumb. Schedule your rest week ahead of time versus leaving it up to how you feel if you’re hard-headed like me.
- Know the difference between “ugh I so don’t want to go to the gym today” and “I shouldn’t go to the gym today.” Never use laziness as an excuse to take a full week off from training and never use stubbornness as an excuse to forego rest. Recovery weeks are a part of your training. Treat them that way.
- Nutrition. Nutrition. Nutrition. This is not the week to go apeshit and devour every chocolate cake that you see. This is also not the week for you to reduce your caloric intake simply because you’re resting. If you are in a strength/muscle building program and have been eating at a surplus, stick to your diet. Putting yourself into a deficit will not aid in muscle growth; it will hinder it. If your main fitness goal is to lose fat and you’ve been eating at a caloric deficit, don’t decrease your calories even more and throw your body into starvation mode. This is a recovery week. What do we need to recover? Sleep, water, and (good) food. Focus on whole foods. With that being said, if you are worn out mentally from tracking your diet and you really need a few days where you’re mindfully eating but not religiously tracking, do it. The recovery week is not just for your body, but for your mind as well. Take care of yourself mentally.
- Don’t be a couch potato. Work on mobility, get a sports massage, go for walks. You’ve heard the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking.” Make sure you’re treating your body well and maintaining good posture all week.
Does anyone else have a difficult time taking a week off? Are you diligent about taking a few rest weeks off a year? What do you do to make your rest week as enjoyable as possible? Sound off in the comments below!