Whatever Jim Bro and his cronies may say, the “go hard then go home” approach to training is dead weight. This old-school philosophy of pulverising your body then barely lifting a cup of tea the day after might work for bodybuilders – they lift seriously heavy weights to develop specific muscles and therefore require periods of total rest to recover. But unless you plan on overdoing the fake tan, lazy days are, well, just lazy.
Let’s start with the broader health implications. Federal government guidelines advocate daily activity to ward off diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression. Obliterate your muscles every Friday, only to follow it with a sofa-bound Saturday and you’re robbed of the myriad benefits. Tired muscles might thank you, but your heart and brain chemistry certainly won’t. The consequences of inactive rest days make for an uneasy read. Your metabolism slows down and your brain produces fewer endorphins. Muscle recovery is actually impaired, not enhanced; your body needs activity to flush out the lactic acid from yesterday’s workout, which is why even Tour de France cyclists do low-intensity rides on rest days. Separate studies in the International Journal of Sports Medicine have shown that athletes who complete low- intensity exercise – such as swimming, cycling or a light jog – on their days off recover faster.
But don’t think we’re devilishly advocating daily deadlifts. Three targeted weights sessions a week (chest and arms; shoulders and back; and, yes, sorry, a legs day) is sufficient to improve strength. However, if you also want to drop body fat and boost your energy levels, you need to keep moving on the days in between.
Start thinking about alternating between “gym days” and “active days”. On gym days, train hard. On active days, stick to low- intensity stuff such as walking, tennis, cycling, swimming or golf.
The steady-state cardio will stoke your metabolism and enhance your mood. In fact, aerobic exercise is superior to resistance training for stimulating endorphins and boosting your cognitive performance.
What the stringy vest and baseball cap- brigade don’t know is that swapping sofa for sport can deliver benefits in the squat rack, too. Swimming improves joint mobility by producing synovial fluid, making it a great complement to power cleans, while yoga and Pilates will stabilise posture and strengthen your posterior chain. A paper in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine suggests regular stretching improves everything from strength to speed.
If you think staying active seven days a week will leave you drained, the opposite is true. Additional low-intensity exercise will energise you, not wear you down. So give rest a break and opt for a smarter everyday fitness program. A day off isn’t proof you’ve been training hard. It’s a waste of time.