Recovery. What You Should Do on Rest Days

Optimal recovery is dependent 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? Unfortunately there is no clear-cut answer as 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 sessions.

Accordingly, there are a number of key guidelines and a number of different methods that can be used to optimise recovery on rest days, but everyone agrees that adequate, quality sleep and a healthful diet are non-negotiables. To give you a better idea of the other things you can and should do on your day off, we asked a number of industry experts for their top rest and recovery tips for your next day off.   

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Expert opinions

Tamarr Schroeder, a physiotherapist based in Norwood, Johannesburg, and CrossFit Jozi in Edenvale says:

“Active recovery is always a great option. Some examples include a light 1-2km row, 1-2km jog or a 30min swim, with some mobilising, stretching and foam rolling. The idea is to ‘rest’, but keep the joints moving. I often tell my patients, especially CrossFit and endurance athletes, that deep tissue sports massage isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity. So spend a rest day keeping worked tissues mobile. This will assist with recovery and also helps to prevent injuries.”

Rob Labuschagne, founder of StrongU and says:

“Do 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.”

Abby Clark, founder of the The Bikini Competitor, says:

“Sleep, eat and play.”

Kent Horner, head coach and founder of says:

“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.”

Sarah Hall, a biokineticist, personal trainer, and a competitive bikini athlete based in Rivonia says:

“Accelerate recovery by getting yourself in the pool, or the sauna or steam bath. Attempt an ice bath if you can. In my opinion, through anecdotal evidence with myself and my athletes, rest on your recovery days, but don’t be sedentary. You don’t want your body to stiffen or ‘lock up’, but you do want to allow it to adapt. It’s during this time when your body grows and adapts to training.” 

Sean Johnson, the founder of The Centre for Structural Medicine in Fontainebleau, Johannesburg says:

“In my opinion, 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.”

Lil Bianchi, strength and conditioning coach, and owner of OTG Athletic says:

“Focus on using your recovery time to enhance your performance in training by stimulating metabolic recovery pathways without fatiguing you body further. Alternate harder days with easier days in the gym. This ensures you do the work without adding to the cumulative physical stress, while still pumping blood through your tissues to aid muscle recovery. Lighter weights at higher reps that don’t take your breath away often helps to alleviate the soreness from heavy lifting days.”


By Pedro van Gaalen, originally published in Fitness magazine

Author: Tanja Schmitz

Co-Publisher at Maverick Media and until recently, Fitness Magazine editor. Tanja now manages multiple digital platforms, consults and create exciting campaigns and opportunities in the fitness industry. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.