A successful fitness program involves more than exercise. Conventional logic would suggest that if some exercise is good for you, more is better, and this is true – to a point. Long, strenuous workouts, whether that is pumping iron, pounding out miles on the pavement or pedaling for hours on end, tear down muscles and can deplete them of critical nutrients. Without sufficient recovery time, all of that work can actually do more harm than good.
Regardless of the activity, most experts recommend alternating between days of hard exertion and days of active rest as the best way to optimize the benefits of an exercise program. Active rest, or active recovery, means doing something on off days, but nothing too strenuous. This aids recovery by promoting blood flow without taxing your muscles.
In the gym, where the objective is toning or building muscle mass, the simplest solution is to work different parts of the body on alternate days – legs one day and upper body the next. This allows the recommended 48 hours for each muscle group to recover and rebuild before the next session.
For runners, the benefits of rest days are often eschewed for the rush of endorphins (runner’s high), weight control or the competitive desire to improve performance.
Even local marathoner and running shoe guru Cregg Weinmann, whose running streak of consecutive days had reached 1,040 when I checked in with him a few weeks ago, dials it back two to four days a week. “These usually involve either reduced mileage or intensity, or sometimes both,” he said.
Weinmann, 63, gives credit to a strengthening and flexibility routine, proper shoe selection and closely monitoring his body’s aches and pains for his ability to avoid injury and overtraining symptoms over the years. “Muscle, tendon, and bone are strengthened by use and adapt to the workload,” he said.
But even Weinmann admits that running every day is not for everyone. “Running every other day, or only two or three days a week, may be necessary for some people,” he said.
While cyclists are spared the effects of pounding experienced by runners, their workouts are generally longer in duration. A 3- to 5-mile-run takes 20 to 45 minutes, but a typical bike training ride (25-60 miles) lasts for an hour and a half to four hours or more.
Kerry Ryan, owner of Action Sports, veteran cyclist and four-time participant in Race Across America agrees that training every day, varying the intensity and objective, is optimal, but not realistic for most people. “Aim for seven days a week and you might get five or six. Aim for five days and you might only get three or four. Life gets in the way,” he said.
He recommends a day of low-cadence climbing to develop power, a one- to two-hour ride that includes several hard one- to four-minute intervals to improve speed and acceleration and a day where you ride as long as time permits to train your body to utilize stored fat for energy. Off days are best spent spinning easy at a high cadence to flush lactic acid from your system and speed recovery.
Improving your fitness can make every part of your life better, but it’s easy to go overboard. Building in rest days and listening to your body are essential to the success of any workout program. ￼