Since I have been an athlete for much of my life (I started swimming when I was 12) I really don't know what it is like to not workout. Sure, swimming at least 15 hrs a week wasn't "exercise" for me but rather my "sport" I absolutely LOVED swimming and would throw a FIT to my parents if I had to miss a workout. I'm sure I looked forward to the boys in speedo's and the locker room gossip, rather than the main sets like 8 x 400's IM or 20 x 100's butterfly, but I loved my lifestyle of swim, school, swim, piano, homework.
From the age of 12 until I graduated from college I swam 6 days a week and had off on Sunday (unless we had a swim meet). I absolutely LOVED Sunday's..I was able to sleep in, get some homework done before midnight and hang out with my non-swimming friends.
When I was in college, I never once considered that a day off from swimming (Sunday) would reduce my fitness. If you can imagine, swimming 7,000-10,000 yrds a day (I specialized in butterfly so much of that was stroke work) on top of studying, going to classes, attending meetings (I was president of the Exercise Science club) and doing homework/projects was exhausting. I could barely keep my eyes open in class, I was always run-down and I had an inconsistent sleeping and eating routine. Somehow I made it all work by the time I graduated with my bachelor's in exercise science and a minor in psychology as well as 4 years of college swimming..however, I have no idea how I could have done it all if I hadn't had at least 1 day to let my body rest and relax from swimming.
Many athletes don't believe in rest days. Or perhaps they believe in them but it is hard to take advantage (or plan) them. I have no trouble planning rest days, especially when I consistently work out hard Tues - Sunday.
I could probably contribute my consistency of working out to quality over quantity training, as well as a balanced vegetarian diet but I firmly believe that giving my body a day to relax works as an advantage, rather as a disadvantage to my training and eating routine.
I have worked with countless athletes and I find that many people feel guilty when they don't work out. I think everyone could agree that the body does need rest every now and then but depending on your weekly workouts and training goals, not every week requires a complete day off.
For me and my athletes, Monday's are recovery/rest days. Depending on many factors (sleep, stress, weekend workouts, weekday workouts, races, etc.) it is up to you to decide when you need a complete day off (no exercise) or an active recovery day. I don't see any benefit in running 3 miles on an active recovery day. I believe that non-weight bearing exercises such as light bike riding, swimming or walking, all at around 30-60 min. are acceptable forms of active recovery. As for an off day, yoga and stretching are perfectly fine so long as you are relaxing the mind and body.
So how do you decide if you need to take the day off or if you need an active recovery day?
Active recovery day
*You want to loosen-up the body
*You are motivated to work out
*You have friends that will join you
*You just had a race and you want to prevent stiffness
*You have a busy day and you want to de-stress
*You don't need to set an alarm to wake up
*Your resting HR is normal, compared to other days
*You are hydrated (urine is pale yellow to clear)
*You aren't focused on "burning calories"
*You feel in control of your diet and aren't thinking about rewarding yourself with food for the day because of your workout
*You are tired and sore when you wake up (likely with an alarm)
*You are typically exhausted on Monday's
*You are moody, sore and cranky on Monday's
*You have a long to-do list (I LOVE grocery shopping at 7am - NO LINES!)
*You tend to experience extreme cravings on Monday's and tend to overeat on Monday
*You are trying to work on your daily diet in an effort to support your training routine
*You just had a race and need to rest your mind and body
*You need to rest your mind
*You have a hard week of training coming up (or a race)
*You are tired of training and feel burnt-out
*You compare yourself to other athletes and have a tendency to push yourself too hard, too fast and aren't seeing any results
*You tend to experience injuries
Most of my Ironman events have been in the late summer/early fall (IMFL, Kona, IMKY and now IMWI). When I train for an IM, I do everything I can to avoid overtraining. I likely get to the point of overreaching but I know when to back off when I get to a healthy level of pushing my body. When a typical "peak" IM weekend workout includes around 7-9 hrs of training (in addition to weekly workouts) you better believe I crave MONDAY to REST REST REST!
Because I usually do a half ironman distance event in the early summer, I tend to use Monday's as my recovery day. My weekly volume is not as high as with IM training and I am able to balance my life with my training. IM training (specifically the weekend workouts) does make it a bit more tricky to fit in everything during the week.
As you know, I do not exercise to burn calories and I do not eat to meet specific calorie goals. I am not focused on burning calories during that workout because my workouts are never "calorie burning" opportunities. I am there to train. There was a time in my life when I was concerned about my calories in and calories out and because of that, I was less focused with what I was getting out of my workouts andm more focused on how many calories I was burning and what I could (or couldn't eat) in return. However, that was several years ago (well before I had IM finisher behind my name) and now my focus is on a heart-healthy vegetarian diet to help me live a quality-filled life and an active life.
But, regardless if you are an individual who exercises for the caloric-burn (there's nothing wrong with that, so long as the exercise and eating routine do not become obsessive) or you are training to be the best athlete you can be, one day of no activity (or an easy 30 min swim) will not sabotage your performance or your weight loss routine. Considering that the body needs to rest and recover in order to get stronger, recovery is one of the most important parts of a successful weight loss/maintenance and training routine.
It's kinda funny because triathletes seem to have no trouble working out whereas much of the population wishes they had our motivation, discipline and enjoyment of "working out" every day of the week. I absolutely LOVE to exercise but I know many athletes who just want to train and without a training and racing schedule, there would be no motivation to workout.
Here's how I see it:
A triathlete tells a friend that she/he is tired and the friend says "just take a day off...you need a rest". In contrast, a friend who is just getting into a workout routine tells the triathlete that she/he is tired and the triathlete encourages him/her to try to workout in an effort to de-stress or clear his/her mind. One of my favorite quotes:
"Triathlons - from the outside looking in you can't understand it. From the inside looking out, you can't explain it"
To reap the benefits of your workout, eating and weight loss/maintenance routine, take one day a week to remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing.
Are you having fun? Are you overly tired? Are you meeting your realistic goals? Are you making yourself do something that is not maintainable or enjoyable?
I am not going to tell you to take a day off from exercise or to go and work out 6-7 days a week. But I will ask you to work on that guilt feeling that is often associated with not doing x-workout, x-miles or eating x-amount of calories. If you find yourself failing at your unrealistic and unreasonable expectations, it is time to start making the most out of life and creating a schedule that allows you to live a healthy and active life.
This morning I went to the Y with Karel. We did about 10 min. of core exercises and I showed Karel some plyometric exercises that he can do on his own. Afterward I went to the pool and chatted with my friend Laura for a few minutes and then chatted with my friend Sara. 10 min. later I got in the pool and swam a 500. Karel jumped in the pool and swam 200 yrds (first time swimming in at least 2 years! I was smiling from ear to ear. I completely forgot about my "planned" 30 min swim and just played in the water as I watched Karel swim with perfect form. I finished the morning with 1200 yrds and it was the best "workout" ever :)
Campy LOVES recovery day: