The importance of rest days for athletes

How overtraining and burnout impact an athlete and the importance of rest days.

If you are an athlete, or someone who regularly exercises 4-5 times a week, chances are you require a rest day. No, rest days do not hamper your progress but they do quite the opposite. Understanding the importance of rest days are crucial for the recovery that our muscles and body requires after constantly lifting weights, running or performing strenuous working out.

Even the most professional and elite athletes are required to take rest days. For example, In 2017, world famous distance runner, Ron Hill, ended his record of 52 years and 39 days of consecutive running by taking a day’s rest after feeling unwell during one of his runs. Hill writes in his autobiography that he ran at least one mile a day, and tasked himself with training 13 times per week. His training was conducted without a coach, and was done on a trial and error basis. Though successful – he even competed twice in the Olympics – there were occasions that he describes the symptoms of over-training. These included sore and heavy legs, increased susceptibility to colds and infections, and weight loss. Though Hill found a training regimen that helped him prepare for competition, he wondered if some of his substandard performances were a consequence of not taking any rest days.


Over-training syndrome usually occurs when an athlete doesn’t adequately recover after repetitive intense training and can include fatigue, declining performance and potential injury. Many athletes when faced with this fatigue leading to poor performance signals, train even harder, pushing themselves to burnout which leads the body to break down further.


Burnout can be a by-product of this overtraining syndrome as well since burnout is the response to chronic stress of continual physical demands on the body without adequate physical and mental, rest and recovery. For athletes to recover from burnout it is important for them to rest and take time away from the sport. In this time away from the sport, if is important for athletes to feel rested and ready physically and mentally to get back into the sport. To achieve this, they must get adequate sleep, nutrition and resuming daily activities such as going to school/college/work, attending social gatherings and spending time with significant others and loved ones.


We usually define rest as a period of time without any training. For most people, this is usually about 24 hours between workouts. However, recovery is different, and could indicate a time span of several minutes to hours (such as taking a short break during training between rounds). In general, it seems that one day’s rest per week is sound advice and is supported by the scientific evidence, especially when it comes to repairing tissues, building and adapting skeletal muscle, and restoring fuel reserves. It may also reduce mental stress. 

What are the reasons for the importance of rest days for athletes?
  1. It allows the body to adapt to your work and improve your performance
  2. It restocks glycogen (which is the fuel for your workouts), builds strength and reduces fatigue
  3. It helps prevent injuries

If you are an athlete, or an individual who exercises 5-6 times a week, here is how you should go about your rest days:

  1. Relaxing– is the easiest thing one can do. This does not have to mean just sitting on your sofa or bed like a couch potato all day, but you can pick up a hobby like cooking, reading or gardening. This can take your mind off training and you can also spend the time giving your body a much needed chance to recover.
  2. Stretching– and keeping your body free from soreness and cramping up can be a good way to spend your rest day. Use a foam roller or practice yoga for 15 minutes, this can give your muscles just the recovery they need.
  3. Be sure to hydrate and eat well even if it is your rest day. Replenish your body with fluids so that you are ready for the next day of training.
  4. Journaling -If rest days make you feel lazy, plan your workout schedule for the week. It can also be a good time to sit down and write down your short term and long term goals. For example, I take my rest days on Sunday, I write down a fair outline of what my workouts at the gym will look like that week and what type of a diet I will follow. This gives me something to look forward to and keeps the goals as a clear intention in my head for the week. You can also journal these thoughts to clear your mind of any issues you have faced during the week with your training. Things you think you are doing wrong, but you can also use it to log personal achievements such as hitting a new PR while weight training.
  5. Sleep – If you are someone who does not get enough sleep, take a nap or sleep early for a change. Giving your body 7-8 hours of sleep is very necessary for your muscles to have the recovery that they require. Throughout the course of our workouts, our muscles go through a significant wear and tear, these 8 hours of sleep are very crucial for the muscles to rejuvenate and be prepared for the next day of intense workouts.

Last but not the least, it might feel like you don’t need to take a rest day because you are feeling just fine on the outside, but burnout and overtraining can catch up to you without any notice. Pencil in your rest days like clockwork and your body will thank you a couple of years down the line. Your body needs the rest and just because it cannot ask for it, do not rid yourself off of it and remember the importance of rest days as an athlete.


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Watch this interview with Maurelle D’sa and founder Sonali Gupta on: Mental health of sports players.

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