The Best Rest Day Activities to Support Active Recovery

Why rest is crucial to your progress.

By: Emily Freeman

“No pain, no gain.” “No rest for the wicked.” Can we put these sayings to bed? They need a rest day, or two, or a hundred. Although I’m sure whoever wrote them had good intent to motivate people to push themselves outside of their comfort zone, they can send a pretty harmful message. Let this be your reminder that it is absolutely okay to rest and take it easy. In fact, in order to reach your fitness goals, it’s necessary. 

RELATED: What is Overtraining Syndrome + Why It May Stall Results 

Benefits of Rest Days

Rest days are when your body has the opportunity to adapt to the stressors placed on it during exercise. Every time you exercise, your body loses fluid, breaks down muscle tissue, and depletes your energy stores. Your body needs downtime in order to fully repair and replenish, build more muscle, and burn fat. Without it, you can get stuck in the breakdown phase, which can lead to fatigue, depression, decreased performance, injuries, and sleep issues. 

This is especially true if you’re doing high-intensity workouts, like HIIT. High-intensity exercise causes an inflammatory response in your body to help the recovery process. However, when done too often, you can start to see and feel the effects of chronic inflammation, like a weakened immune system and water retention. 

Rest is a natural part of progress and sustainability, so honor your body… Ya hear me? 

How to Make the Most of Your Rest Days

Rest is important, no matter how you do it. But if you want to get the most out of your downtime, feel your best for the next workout, and keep reaching your goals, we have some tips you’re going to want to pay attention to. 

#1 Give Your Muscles a Little TLC 

After a few days of workouts, your muscles may feel a bit tight and possibly sore. It’s such a gratifying feeling! However, if you don’t properly recover, your body may continue to feel stiff even after a few days of rest, and you’re left going into your next workout feeling subpar or potentially skipping it all together. Show your muscles some love by doing some stretching or myofascial release with a foam roller, which will help improve your range of motion without decreasing performance. 

Want some rest day stretch guidance? Browse the stretch category in the FitOn app. 

#2 Drink Up to Reduce Inflammation!

Hydration is important all the time. The body relies on it for survival, and drinking plenty of water will give your body exactly what it needs to reduce inflammation, normalize blood pressure, improve digestion, cushion joints, protect organs and tissues, regulate body temperature, and carry nutrients and oxygen to your cells. All of these functions are necessary to leave you feeling rejuvenated for your next sweat sesh! 

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Hydration 

#3 Fend off Delayed Muscle Soreness With Nutrients 

It’s important to chow down on a variety of nutrients daily for optimal health. And although we’re totally on board for a balanced approach to nutrition, including indulging in your favorite treats every now and then, a rest day is not an excuse to eat junk food all day. Instead, focus on getting in adequate lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and some muscle-soreness fighting foods like tart cherries, turmeric, salmon, eggs, bananas, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, and green tea. 

#4 Treat Yourself to an Epsom Salt Bath 

Though none of the claims about Epson salt to alleviate muscle soreness are scientifically proven, there is something magical when you allow yourself to relax in a warm tub of water. You can immediately feel the tension flow out of your body and mind. And when you’re relaxed, your body works optimally. So, although the science is shaky, I still say, “Treat yourself!” 

#5  Get in Adequate Z’s 

Your body is doing more than dreaming when you sleep. When you’re asleep, your body releases a number of hormones, including growth hormone. This is the hormone that stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building, and fat burning. So if you’re trying to gain muscle, lose fat or a combination of the two, you’re going to want to make your pillow your new best friend. Sleep is “arguably the most important factor in exercise recovery,” according to this scientific study

Dealing with any sort of sleep disturbances? Try incorporating a regular nighttime routine that includes some of our favorite wind-down practices like a FitOn sleep meditation, chamomile tea, putting the electronics away at least 30-minutes before bed, using lavender essential oils in a diffuser or sprayed on your pillow, light reading (no thrillers, please), journaling, or any of the Before Bed routines in the FitOn app. 

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Sleep 

Our Favorite Rest Day Routines

Whether you prefer to give your body some love with a walk, Yoga routine, or a long stretch, it’s always important to move your body to release tension and bring balance back to your body. We also love routines like:

This 10-minute routine with Vytas focuses on gentle Yoga movements to release tension and rebalance your body after you’ve killed it all week in your workouts. 

Jeanette Jenkins takes you through a gentle 21-minute stretch routine that dissolves muscular stress and preps your body for your next booty-kicking workout. 

DeAndre Sinette gives you the space to hold deep stretches for elongated periods of time to release your muscles and find peace and relaxation in this 14-minute routine.  

Your Body Deserves Rest 

No matter where you are in your fitness journey, even if you didn’t work out your absolute hardest this week, you deserve adequate rest. If you still need permission to do so, here it is! Go rest you, rockstar, you!