The importance of recovery | Understanding the role of rest in any exercise plan

Taking time out of training can be difficult, especially when you’re enjoying your training. Whether you’re looking to build muscle or shave seconds off your 10km time, rest is a vital part of your training schedule.

The importance of rest and recovery within a well-structured training plan cannot be overlooked. It may come as a surprise to learn that you become fitter and stronger whilst resting between training sessions, not whilst exercising. Without adequate rest, you will be left feeling burnt out, tired, and lacking the motivation needed to continue training hard toward your goal.

Any good training plan will factor in enough rest days to allow your body the time it needs to repair itself. So with that in mind, relax, put your feet up and learn more about rest and recovery below.

What actually happens when I’m resting?

Resting gives your body the time it needs to repair. Your body will build back stronger whilst you’re resting and sleeping because the biological processes involved in exercising aren’t being called upon.

Burnout when training is common if you aren’t eating and resting well enough. Without rest, your body can’t keep up with training. This is when you’ll feel more tired than usual, or “over-trained”.

Am I getting enough rest?

A low level of tiredness and fatigue when you’re in the middle of an exercise plan is normal, especially when you first start out.

Your new training regime is putting your body under a new level of stress, so it’s normal to feel a little more tired than usual.

We advise limiting your training to no less than two consecutive days. This means you’ll feel fresh and ready to give maximum effort during your next session.

A great way to do this is to train on Monday and Tuesday, have a rest day in the middle of the week on Wednesday, then train on Thursday and Friday before resting over the weekend.

How does fatigue impact my training?

When we exercise we cause low levels of damage to the body. This allows it to build back stronger if we take the time to rest. If your muscles ache more than usual and you’re feeling fatigued, this is likely due to a build-up of cortisol in the blood. This is our body’s way of telling us to slow down.

The good news is that there’s a simple solution to overtraining. You can easily dial back your training programme to incorporate more rest days as and when you need to. Some signs that you aren’t resting enough include: 

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Increased irritability
  • Feeling stressed and sluggish
  • High levels of fatigue and tiredness
  • Low appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Brain fog and mental fatigue

How does a training plan help manage rest?

If you’re following a training plan, rest days will be built in to give your body the time it needs to repair and build muscle.

For beginners in any discipline, this rings true. It’s important to keep your training sessions under an hour to minimise the levels of cortisol (an anti-inflammatory stress hormone) in the body. As a beginner you are more prone to muscle tears and joint injury, so limiting the time you spend on a workout helps reduce this risk.

What if I feel restless when I'm relaxing?

It sounds silly, but resting isn’t always easy. The urge to train on a rest day can often feel overwhelming, especially if you’re committed to achieving a specific goal.

A great way to make rest days easier is to remind yourself of the value of giving your body some downtime. Important background processes including cell regeneration, muscle growth and the reduction of stress hormones like cortisol cannot occur if you’re training too hard without adequate rest.

It’s also important to remember that you will not be able to complete your next training session at a high intensity if you are tired, lethargic or over-trained. If you find yourself itching to stay active on rest days, take a walk or engage in some light active recovery (yoga and Pilates are great options).

Am I getting enough sleep?

The average human will spend around 1/3 of their life asleep, and for good reason. Sleep is where the most important recovery occurs as both mind and body can rest.

Whilst getting around 8 hours a night may not be practical for everything, using this as a healthy amount of sleep to aim for is a good place to start.

Last updated Monday 31 July 2023

First published on Thursday 20 July 2023