You probably know you’re supposed to take at least one rest day away from the gym per week, but it’s not always easy to do it when you have your eyes on the prize — whether that’s a personal best or a goal weight. “In this day and age, more than ever, we need to take breaks from the adversities of life, including our workouts,” says Brian Nguyen, an Under Armour Performance trainer and CEO of Elementally Strong.
Though it can be tempting, once you accept the fact you really need a day off, spending that day TV-marathoning on the couch in the name of recovery is not exactly what experts recommend. “I believe the couch is a danger zone,” Nguyen says. “Most of us already spend way too much time sitting around, and most of the things done on a couch are really just strategies to ‘numb’ away reality. Motion creates emotion so, on rest days, move your way into feeling better,” he suggests.
Here, are five activities that will help you recover faster while still making the most of your day off:
1. FOAM ROLLING
You may already use self myofascial release (aka foam rolling) in your workout warmups or cooldowns, but a longer session tops the list as a trainer’s favorite rest day activity. “On your rest or active recovery days, you can opt for rolling out your body for 30–60 minutes and look at it like preventative maintenance,” says Marc Coronel, a personal trainer and Under Armour Training team member. “Decreased soreness as well as faster recovery are among the benefits.”
2. EASY OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
Take your recovery session outside to get twice the perks. “This way, not only are you rejuvenating your body, but you are also getting some fresh air and enjoying nature,” explains Rebecca Kordecki, master instructor at Burn 60. “The best types of rest day activities allow your body to recharge from your daily training demands, increase circulation and give your mind a chance to refocus.” A little easy outdoor activity accomplishes all three of these goals. “For example, find a relatively easy hike that is roughly 3 miles in length,” Kordecki suggests. “This should take around an hour to complete. Remember, this is not a hike with steep inclines; this is more of a nature hike. An easy way to determine the intensity level is to see if you can comfortably carry on a conversation with a friend.” If you can’t talk easily, lower the intensity.
Mindset plays an incredibly important role in performance, as well as how much you enjoy your workouts. That’s why Coronel swears by meditation — ideally every day, but especially on your rest days.“Meditating on mental strength or recovery can help you relax and even reduce stress in an area of your body,” he says. Of course, if you’re hoping to make physical improvements, you’ll need to put in physical work, but getting in the right headspace never hurts. Plus, he points out that science has shown meditating regularly can help relax the body, decrease your heart rate, lower blood pressure and help improve concentration — all things that ultimately benefit your health.
4. TRY A SPA DAY
It doesn’t matter whether you get a massage and facial at a fancy salon or you DIY a face mask and bubble bath at home, treating your body to a little special attention on your day off can work wonders. “I live not too far from a Korean spa,” says Nguyen, noting he often heads there on his day off from working out. “I can get a massage, use their cryotherapy chamber, get a facial, stretch in the steam room … you get the idea.” He treats it like motivation and recovery all wrapped up into one neat package: “When I go to the spa, I feel as if my body is getting a great tune-up and wash. I then approach the week with that energy of, ‘keep the heat turned up, and earn that body love at the spa on Saturday.’”
5. UNPLUG AND RECHARGE
Go do something totally off the grid on your off day with the people you love most. “As a father of an 11-year-old and a 4-month-old, I relish the quality time I get with my kiddos,” Nguyen says. “One of the biggest things I can do on a recovery day is shift my angers and frustrations into gratitude. When I am surrounded by the people that I care for most, there’s no need to look elsewhere for a laugh or a like; I am refueled by the love.” That way, you can head into your next workout feeling reinvigorated and refreshed.