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Get off your couch! Here’s what you should really do on ‘rest’ days

rest days

Optimal recovery depends on a number of interrelated factors, the most important of which are nutrition and what you do between intense exercise sessions.

While this important recovery period needs to include rest, should your day (or two) off of training each week be devoid of activity? What should highly active individuals be doing during this time to ensure that they fully recover?

Individual difference

Unfortunately, as is always the case when we discuss how the human body responds, there is no clear cut answer, because everyone, and everyone’s situation, is different. Our genes, training history, environmental factors, life stress, nutritional status, sleep quality, and more, all affect our ability to effectively recover between training sessions.

There are a number of key guidelines and a number of different methods that can be used to optimise recovery on rest days.

Some experts say days of complete rest with little or no activity, while others suggest mild to moderate activity of some sort. What doesn’t seem to differ is their recommendation to eat good quality food, with the right macronutrient ratios for your sport or activity, and to get enough good quality sleep.

What is active recovery

There are a number of active recovery techniques that can help your muscular, hormonal, cardiovascular and immune systems to recover more effectively, in a shorter period of time, which helps to maximise your body’s adaptations to exercise.

By combining active recovery workouts with outright rest often results in better recovery than you can achieve through rest alone.

Active recovery workouts are simply short activities, which are often different to your primary training modality, which are performed at a low to moderate intensity. The reason this approach helps to accelerate recovery is that, given adequate post-exercise nutrition, the recovery process proceeds quicker during the hours immediately following training as your body works to return to a state of homeostasis.

Poor recovery techniques can destroy your ability to perform at your next training session or race, as they can devastate your muscles, send your hormonal system spiralling out of control, and overwhelm your immune system.

To give you a better idea of the best things you can do on your day off we asked a number of industry experts for their top rest and recovery tips for your next day off.

Expert opinions – What you should be doing on your active recovery day

Kyle Norton, a biokineticist at Virgin Active Randburg suggest that clients focus on nutrition to replace the macronutrients and micronutrients that have been lost through training. “I also ensure that they do lots of stretching and foam rolling.”


Julian Reichman-Israelsohn, owner and head trainer at CrossFit Platinum says recovery days should be all about food, hydration, rest and massage… “To make the most of down time, athletes must ensure that their bodies have enough fuel and nutrients, through correct nutrition, to keep the body anabolic, and replenish energy and nutrients that have been depleted through training. And adequate hydration allows this restorative process to take place in a healthy environment within the body. Another excellent and extremely important method of recovery is deep tissue massage. Many athletes spend many hours rolling and mobilising muscles and joints, but they can only go so deep, and so hard. A massage therapist will be able to assist the athlete in getting deeper into muscle tissue and release the tension that has been building up through training. This will improve the efficiency of movement needed to improve performance.”


Rob Labuschagne, founder of StrongU and www.foreverathletic.co.za suggests doing some foam rolling, a quick mobility circuit and then go for a 3-5km walk while listening to some of your favourite music. “Light movement and fresh air does wonders to your recovery and mental well-being.”


Kent Horner, head coach and founder of www.mytrainingday.com believes that sleep is the most important form of recovery. “If you can, sleep more on your rest day. You will recover faster and it gives your body the time it needs to repair.”


Sean Johnson, a structural medicine specialist based in Randpark Ridge, in the northwest of Johannesburg says that while rest from the physical aspects of training is very important, a mental break is vitally important as well. “Our bodies adapt quite well to the physical strain of training, but more often than not we fatigue mentally and emotionally a lot quicker due to the monotony of repetitive training schedules and diets. Even if you choose to have an active rest day, participating in exercise that is different from your normal workout routine will give you the mental break you need, but still keeps you on track with your particular fitness goals.”

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

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