“Never miss a Monday” and “No pain No Gain” are slogans often used in the fitness world as motivation. Somewhere along the pursuit of health and fitness we pushed to go harder, go faster and under no circumstances miss a day. Our recovery runs are run at tempo pace, we sniffle our way through reps and instead of taking a sick day, we choose something “light”.
I should know, I’ve been guilty of running too fast, too often which ironically slows you down overall. I’ve run through excruciating ITB pain because I thought I needed the kilometers in my legs, when what I really needed was rest. I’ve worked out when sick, which no surprise leaves you feeling sicker not better. Over time I have learnt better. Learnt that a day (or week) off will not make me unfit and that today’s workout is only as good as yesterday’s recovery.
But because we share our workouts, not the rest days. Our fast runs, not slow ones, it appears as if everyone else is sailing through workouts leaving you behind to feel guilty and lazy for taking time off. How do you learn to distinguish whether not wanting to workout is laziness or your body truly needing a rest? How do you come back after taking a break without burning out? How do you learn to see the value in resting without feeling guilt?
Vicky-Leigh Kruger is a personal trainer and the co-owner of Rukru Fitness, a personal training company that trains clients at their gym, at home or online. She has a no BS approach to fitness and her Instagram page @vkruger_fit is littered with plenty motivation, but also hard truths. Like complaining about fitness being too expensive when you’ll happily spend money to go out partying. Or that there are no quick fixes to losing weight, no fad diets that work long-term or supplements that will change your life. It’s time, consistency and changing lifestyle habits that will.
Who better to ask than a no-nonsense trainer about Rest and Recovery? From learning to spot the signs of burnout, to times you need to reset your mind not body, to the importance of rest and not feeling guilt, we asked, and Vicky-Leigh answered.
Where is the line between resting because you need to and resting because you just don’t have the motivation to work out?
The line is clearly drawn between your body telling you that you need to rest and your mind making up excuses because you lack motivation.
If you are fatigued your body will give you some signs like stiffness, restless sleeping patterns or pain. If this is the case, listen to your body and rest.
If you keep coming up with excuses and you are finding every reason under the sun not to go to the gym, this does not mean you need to rest. This means that you need a mental reset and you probably need to sit down and evaluate where you are and where you’d like to be.
Motivation is temporary. You will never always be motivated, nor will I and nor will the next person. You need to be disciplined; you need to get yourself to the gym even when you don’t feel like it and you need to give your workouts whatever it is you have to give. Some days it might be 100% and other days it might be 60% – but showing up is already doing half the work.
What are the signs that you need to take a rest day (or week)?
Generally, when you start to get sick your Resting Heart Rate will start to increase. Most of us have fitness watches that monitor this. If you notice that your RHR is slightly starting to increase and you aren’t feeling 100% I’d suggest taking the day off. If you don’t want a full day off choose a LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) session rather than a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or strength session.
When it comes to mood and needing to rest, it can go one of two ways depending on the type of person you are. For me, if my mood starts to swing – I need to get to the gym. However, for some people, working out might only make them even more angry, sad or annoyed. If you are this person, you need to rest.
When is it OK to workout when you are sick and when is it not OK?
This is a tricky question for me because my opinion will always stand as: DON’T WORKOUT WHEN YOU ARE SICK.
Many trainers will have a different opinion on this and may allow “light workouts”. If you are asking ME the question, I say: IT ISN’T OKAY TO WORKOUT WHEN YOU ARE SICK. I truly believe that when you are sick, you really just need to focus on getting better. You can’t do this if you are exerting yourself at the gym on top of still doing life (working a full time job, running a household, studying).
What’s the best way to return to exercise after a break (whether it was from illness, injury or lack of motivation) in a way that’s manageable?
Start by adjusting your goals slightly and making sure that they are realistic within your current state. Setting goals, no matter how big or small is the first step you need to take. This will give you some direction of where to go and how to get there. It can be as simple as “Go to the gym for 30 minutes, 3x times this week.”
Weekly goals will help you stay accountable and that way you can accurately reflect on [once a week] and see how you can adjust them for the next week ahead.
Start with body weight exercises and light sessions until you’ve built up your routine again.
Start slow. Let the goal be: TO MOVE. Don’t go pushing yourself too hard. Any form of exercise is good, you don’t need to be going at 1000km per hour.
Be kind to yourself. These things take time. There is a season for everything. You are stronger than that season and you will get back on track.
When returning to exercise after a long break, what signs should someone look at to gauge how much to do and how much rest they need?
It is always best to listen to YOUR body. Each person recovers and reacts so differently to taking time off exercise. The following physiological signs can give you a good indication of whether you are pushing too hard:
Very high heart rate, heaviness in breath, pain in chest (go see a Dr), feeling light-headed, how much strain you feel your body taking, a pinching pain in your joints and nausea.
There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to rest, however you do need to give yourself enough rest in between your workouts/sets/reps – and increase it accordingly if you experience any of the above mentioned.
What advice would you give someone who feels guilty about taking rest days and time off?
Please don’t! I know that it is easier said than done, but there is literally NO need to feel guilty. If you genuinely cannot stand the idea of taking a “rest day” – I suggest you incorporate “active rest days” into your routine. These sorts of days can be a lot less straining on the mind and body and can be fun and social. Go for a hike, a walk with the dogs, take a trip to the park, a light swim or even dedicate your “rest day” to doing a half an hour foam rolling or stretching session where you literally just focus on your flexibility. Life is all about balance though, it is important to be realistic and know that you cannot exercise 24/7/365.
As a personal trainer what is the value of rest days to overall wellbeing?
They are super important and are exactly what they claim to be: REST days. They are needed for you to recover in more ways than one.
They help your muscles recover which can help prevent you from potentially getting injured. Rest days allow you to mentally refocus and recoup. Mental fatigue can be every bit as detrimental as physical fatigue and taking a rest day helps to recharge your psyche. Over-training can negatively impact your sleeping patterns because your body physically cannot rest as well. This slows down your progress. Your immune system is constantly working at repairing muscles when you’re exercising, so if you over do it and don’t take or day or two off – you can potentially get sick. Just as you need a weekend as rest from your job, the same applies to your training.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.