Your off days from training are critical to your fitness success. How you spend them can effect your recovery, performance, and progress. Some people look forward to their off days. Others view them as a necessary evil. Time and experience will teach you just how important they can be. So, how should you spend the days when you’re not working out? What types of things should you do on your off days to help create long term fitness success?
Lets start by saying that you should have at least one complete off day each week, no matter what! That includes during competition or contest season. The body and mind need rest. The central nervous system, endocrine system, along with the muscular system, all need to recover. Just because you don’t feel sore or tired and want to train doesn’t mean that you will benefit by doing so. Rest is best. If it’s non-competiton season most people would be better served by two or more off days a week. At least one should be a complete day of rest and one can be an active rest day. Active rest means taking a leisurely walk or hike, shooting a few baskets, doing some stretching, or having a relaxing swim. It does not mean running a half marathon, hiking for 4 hours, playing 2 hours of full court ball, or swimming a mile in the ocean! You should count strenuous, high caloric activities as workouts and position them in your program as such. Combine your lifting and cardio workouts on the same days to free up some off time as needed. Managing your rest is as important as managing your training. The more advanced you are and the more intensely you train, the more critical having the right amount and type of rest will be. Always remember, the harder you train, the longer you will need to recover. This is true both specifically (like for a body part) and systematically.
So, what’s the best way to spend those off days? The first thing you must realize is that fitness over the long term is hard. There will be times when you need to help yourself in areas that you probably didn’t at first realize would be critical. Your off days give you a great opportunity to do just that. Depending on what level you are at, how long you have been training, and what challenges you’re experiencing in your fitness pursuit, you can tailor you off days to help you meet those challenges.
New to Fitness (3-4 off days a week) – If you’re just starting out (or coming back after being away) you will probably have a “dangerous” amount of off days. You may even have more off days than exercise days. It’s critical that you use the days to help you embrace the fitness lifestyle and achieve success. Spend some of the time leaning more about exercise, nutrition, motivation, goals, etc. You are in danger of becoming distracted and not continuing your program. So you need to use your off days to support your decision to become more fit and healthy. Learn what and how you should be eating, and plan your meals better. Review fitness articles, videos, and information that you find motivating and inspiring. Find a fun fitness activity to attend and even participate in like a 5K or fitness expo. Spend some time simply feeling good about yourself for the work you’re putting in. Focus on where you want to be, where you are going to be if you stay on track, and doing the day to day things that are needed to get you there. This is the time when you fall in love with fitness. This is the time when you make it a normal and important part of your life. Your off days can be used to reinforce this.
Experienced – Trying to Push to a New Level (1-3 off days a week) – This is a danger area for overtraining so you have to make sure that you are balancing your training and rest. Your off days are critical during this period because you will be training your hardest and least likely to take them. Avoid the temptation to do extra work beyond what you need. Instead, use the needed off time to do those auxiliary things that take advantage of your enthusiasm without overdoing your efforts. You can grocery shop and do your meal prep, cooking your food for the next several days so that you’re set. You can visit the local supplements store, shop and keep up to date on any new products or supplements that might help you. You can involve yourself in a low energy form of active rest to simply enjoy the fruits of your labor without taking away from the work you need to do (like a leisurely walk or a non strenuous hobby like archery or bowing). It’s important that you avoid over doing it. Again, if you have two off days a week (as you should for most of the year in non-contest season) one of them should be as non-physical as possible. The other can have some activity, but it certainly should not be anywhere near the level of your training so as not to effect your recovery or progress. This may require discipline and sometimes the most important form of discipline is practiced by not working out beyond your program.
Advanced – Have Been Training For Awhile (1-3 off days a week) – This is the been there, done that zone. Not only are the rest and recovery you get from your off days important physically, they may be even more important mentally during this period. After year, even decades, of pushing forward, there can be a danger of burning out. Progress will not come as fast, enthusiasm won’t be as high, and life will have a whole new list of challenges and distractions for you than it did when you were just starting out via work, relationships, kids, etc. Still use your off day to solve any pressing fitness problems as needed like food prep. But it’s even more important now to keep fitness fun. If you still enjoy attending shows or fitness events, great!. But if too much of a good thing makes you pull back then you should use your off time for non fitness related hobbies or activities. Do something that completely doesn’t remind you of your fitness life. Go to a movie, have a fun meal out, explore a new hobby, or simply use the time to be productive and tackle some of the responsibilities that life has placed at your feet. By taking a mental off day from fitness you can focus and do what you need to when the time is right. You’re beyond the point of having to worry about dedication, but you have to keep the right level of enjoyment in order to keep pushing forward. Your off days can be a great chance to get away from the daily grind and reset yourself before the next trip to the gym.
Off days are an important part of your fitness lifestyle. They help you balance out the hard work you are doing and allow you to recover, grow, progress, and be able to come back for more. They can be useful tools to keep you motivated and enthused, give you a chance to solve problems and support your progress, or simply give you a break and allow you to have more balance in your life. Off days are as important as your training days because they are what actually allow your training days to work. Taking regular off days is a fitness necessity and a great tool that you have at your disposal.