Is it just me or does anyone else find their weekly rest days a struggle? We all know the benefits of not working out every day of the week: training breaks down your body tissues and weight training can cause teeny tiny tears in our muscles so we need time for all this stuff to mend but I find the psychological break from training much harder to deal with than the physical.
I made the mental connection between physical exercise and stress relief many years ago and it’s never really left me. I suppose it’s because when all our attention is focused on what our body is doing our mind doesn’t really get a look in; if you’re stressed about something it goes on the back burner when you’re trying to push out that last rep or get to the end of the 5km with muscles that feel like hot jelly. The fact that exercise causes serotonin and dopamine to go rushing around your brain probably doesn’t hurt either; these chemicals are known to improve our mood but can also give a kind of high that’s difficult to reproduce without the aid of artificial stimulants so, that in itself, tends to be addictive. I find that I can go to the gym tired but after half an hour of cardio and a few reps with the weights I’m buzzing with energy and can sometimes be found having a little boogie around when I think no-one is looking. It follows then that, when I don’t feel great I will look to exercise to make me feel better and, for the most part it works.
The other slight issue is the ‘I can go out to lunch today because I know I’m going to the gym later’ logic. Although calories in and calories out is the basis of any diet, it can become something of an obsession and, like any obsession, common sense tends to go out the window when it takes hold. If your only goal is pound shedding then it’s certainly sensible to slightly lower your calorie intake if you know that you’ll be inactive for a couple of days but, if you’re trying to build muscle this can be counter-productive as our bodies need food, especially protein, to grow and develop muscles. I understand the principal but there is always a little nagging voice on my shoulder saying ‘if you eat that today, you’ll be fat tomorrow if you don’t burn it off’ (it’s a kind of sing-song voice which is really irritating!).
Therefore, between genuinely missing the feelings I get when I work out and the completely irrational concern that I’ll suddenly gain 10lb if I don’t exercise for a day, I do find sometimes that I’ve gone 8 or 10 days without a break and then I’ll get my wake up call. The human body is pretty canny and, whilst your brain is busy telling you that exercise = feeling great, your body is saying ‘hang on a minute I’m knackered’. At this point, as our bodies are infinitely more intelligent than we give them credit for, they will force us into a period of rest whether we like it or not. They might decide to catch a cold or to suddenly take that mild niggle in your knee and turn in it into raging agony overnight. This is not your body being unkind, it’s merely trying to attract your attention and tell you that you’ve been over-doing it.
Having been through this cycle more times than I care to remember I have come to realise that, like them or not, rest days are an essential part of my exercise regime. Gentle yoga stretches, some deep breathing exercises and 30 minutes or so of meditation will usually be enough to calm my mind and allow my body the rest that it needs or, failing that, a Sex in the City marathon or a day’s sunbathing ;O)