You’ve been going all in, full out lately—crushing dance cardio, sculpting all over, and HIIT-ing the mat, hard. Then, one morning, you wake up and feel all in, full out… of energy. Womp, womp—maybe it’s time for a rest day.
So, what’s the difference between feeling sore (in a good way) and needing to take a break? What are the red flags you just need a rest day, or is something else going on? And finally, what are the best ways to rest up and recover, so you can get back to obé, your way?
We went to the experts—aka our fitness instructors, Ana C., Kat E., and Dorian C.—to get the scoop on soreness.
Rest Day Check-in: How Sore is Too Sore?
First things first: It’s perfectly okay to feel fatigued or sore after a workout, Ana says—especially if you’re just getting started working out or you’re coming back after time off. In fact, think of soreness as a sign of growth: Strength training breaks down muscle fibers, causing soreness, and as they repair themselves, they grow and get stronger! (This happens when you increase weight or reps, or work out underutilized muscles.)
The threshold? If you’re experiencing pain (vs. discomfort), if you can’t walk down the stairs, or if it’s painful to pick up your kids, it’s a sign you should rest. “And we don’t want you to get to that point,” Ana says. Taking a rest day and following the recovery tips below should help you get over the hump.
Other signs that you might need to focus on recovery for a day or two include:
- An elevated resting heart rate: If you wake up and your heart rate is higher than usual, it can be a sign that your body is not fully recovered or under added stress.
- Feeling unmotivated: Not feeling it? No desire to hit the mat? Performance or range of motion suffering? Take a break, says Kat.
- Generally feeling “off:” If you’re feeling chronically fatigued, lightheaded, or experiencing brain fog, these are all good reasons to focus on recovery, not working out, for a couple days, Dorian says.
Serious red flags: “If you’re thinking about the pain 24/7, if it lasts more than three days, or if it’s preventing you from completing your usual commitments, it’s time to see a healthcare professional,” Dorian notes.
Our Instructors’ Top Recovery Methods for Rest Days
1. Take a rest day. Importantly, there are different types of “rest.” First, a full-on rest day is when you do nothing “active” except the bare minimum (like going to work or taking care of family members). Depending on the type of training you’re doing, taking a true rest day each week is really important, says Kat.
Otherwise, try an active recovery day, which can include activities like yoga, light stretching, swimming, or a gentle walk—which Dorian calls “the most underrated exercise.”
2. Hydrate. No matter how you’re feeling—lightheaded, tired, sore—drinking some H2O will probably help. “If you’re dehydrated, your levels of soreness will be worse,” Dorian says.
3. Eat enough protein. Make sure you’re consuming enough protein, which helps your body recover from strenuous workouts, Kat says. Here are 38 high-protein meals that are tasty and easy to make in 20 minutes or less.
4. Foam roll. No surprise here; the recovery tool we all love to hate makes the list! Foam rolling is a super important step to help release tight muscles, Dorian says. Try some of our foam rolling videos here.
5. Get enough sleep! “Sleep is a seriously undervalued tool for improving fitness,” Kat says. “Set a bedtime that you’ll stick to consistently, and do a digital detox 30 minutes before bed so hormones can downregulate.” (Here, 6 bedtime rituals that’ll help you sleep better tonight!)
6. Practice self-care. In addition to all of the above, don’t forget the bare minimum for self-care, like taking your vitamins and supplements: “Magnesium in particular is a great supplement as it helps relax the muscles,” Kat says. Epsom salt baths are also a great way to relieve soreness.
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4 responses to “When to Take a Rest Day—and When to Push Through”
Love this article! Always a good reminder to listen to your body.
Love this article! Always a good reminder when to take a rest day
I love this! One of the things that resonated with me is that a rest day doesn’t have to be a “do nothing day”… you can do light recovery exercises that will help you recover better. But also listen to your body, and if you need a full on do nothing day, then that’s ok too!
This was super helpful! I’ve been doing several 30 day challenges back to back and have been experiencing some neck pain. I think this was a good reminder of listening to my body and knowing when to push through and when to rest.