If you want to be healthy and amazing, you need to work out. But contrary to most fitness lore, you don’t need to destroy yourself daily to see results. In fact, that is probably holding you back. Here are the main reasons you don’t need to crush it every day – and what to do instead.
Recovery and adaptation From Working Out
The body adapts to stimulus in countless ways. When it comes to exercise, working out provides the body stimulus to make adaptations – changes. This could mean adding muscle mass in response to heavy weight training, strengthening the heart to adapt to intense interval cardio, or simply getting more efficient at transporting oxygen and waste products in the blood.
As it turns out, the body doesn’t do this during a workout. It’s too busy dealing with the current demand. Instead, these adaptations take place during the rest period after a workout, in the day or two following, while we’re asleep, and over time as you keep providing the stimulus. This is called recovery, and it’s a crucial part of the process of getting fit – no matter what your ultimate goal.
So, while it may be tempting to think “well, if high intensity training is good then more is even better,” that’s not actually the case. If you go hard again before you’re fully recovered, your body doesn’t get a chance to replenish nutrients, repair damage, rebalance hormones, and make adaptations. This is called overtraining and can lead to fatigue, muscle loss, injury, or more severe conditions like the Female Athlete Triad (if you’re a woman).
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t go hard when working out– and to be clear, women can go hard just as well as men – it just means that to reap the benefits, you need to go hard, recover, go hard, recover … and so on.
Sustainability and Burnout From Working Out
The other big problem with crushing it like a beast every single day is mental. Eventually the mind just can’t maintain that kind of intensity – partially because the body sends signals that it’s time to rest. Burnout is a common problem, especially among new exercisers who try to accomplish their lifetime goals in a short time.
Even elite athletes don’t train at their highest level constantly, all year round. In fact, strength and conditioning specialists have a special thing called “unloading,” where athletes spend a week at the end of a training cycle of around 4 or 5 weeks reducing their volume and intensity by as much as half. This gives the body a chance to recover fully before the next challenging phase. This along with changing phases, in-season and out of season training, and breaks help keep athletes motivated and engaged.
Whether or not you’re an athlete, these concepts apply to you too. Alternating hard days with easier days and full-on rest days will not only help your body, it’ll help your brain see that you’re in it for the long haul.
Think of it this way: You don’t eat the whole week’s food at breakfast on Monday, do you?
What to Do Instead
How much you can handle and how long it takes you to recover depends on your level of fitness. Some people can handle a lot. You have to find out where you stand and understand how much recovery you need. A personal trainer can help with this, as can simply paying attention to how you feel.
Contrary to popular belief, sometimes if you’re tired and unmotivated, it’s because you need to rest.
A good rule of thumb if you’re a beginner is to alternate workout days with rest days. If you’re starting out a HIIT training program for example, you might do Monday, Wednesday, Friday, rest or take a walk on Tuesday and Thursday, and rest on the weekend. As you get stronger, you may be able to start doing a more intense walk or jog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or even add weight training daily with different parts of the body.
Think similarly for regular strength training. In personal training, we often start beginners off with a full body program that they can do 3 days per week. As you get more advanced, you may move to more intense workouts and go to four days, splitting into two upper body workouts and two lower body sessions.
Advanced weightlifters who are really trying to pack on muscle often train 5 days per week – with a different muscle group each day. This gives each body part a full week to recover, while the overall system gets work five days in a row. Notice that as intensity increases, volume (number of workouts and how long they are) goes down – even for elite athletes.
Elite distance runners sometimes alternate weeks – hard, easy, hard, easy- with a similar undulation during the week.
Martial artists often do hard kung fu workouts one day and Tai Chi the next.
There are tons of ways to deal with intensity, volume, rest, and recovery. No matter what you’re doing, though, it’s important to listen to your body. If you’re hurt, dragging, or “not feeling it,” it may be your cue to take a day off. Get a great, healthy meal, plenty of water, and a good night’s sleep.
The old saying is true: there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you love working out, great! You should! Just remember that the goal is to be working out for a long time to come. So don’t be afraid to kill it only some days.
Find a few more exercise tips from Snehi Shah