Rest, doing nothing, chilling out, even sleeping; perhaps not words one would necessarily associate with training and the ‘more is better’ mentality of the fitness industry in general, but without which all your hard effort will ultimately go to waste.
The reason we train is of course to better ourselves, whether that be for aesthetics or performance, and improvements can only occur when we place stress on the body and adaptations occur. This stress takes the form of training whereby we push our bodies to better times or personal best lifts (progressive overload) resulting in increased muscle damage, depletion of energy and the accumulation of fatigue, and this represents the first stage of General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which when handled correctly is how we improve.
Following the alarm stage when performance is temporarily decreased post session, the body enters the recovery stage where the body begins to mend itself, and it is here that rest becomes all important.
If we look at the graph above, the dots represent the training session and it can be seen that immediately following this there is a drop off in performance (alarm stage), before the body enters the recovery and then adaptation stages of GAS, and it is here that improvements are made as can be seen (the dotted lines represent detraining which is loss of training adaptations when training discontinues). Without sufficient rest for these stages to occur, maximal adaptation cannot occur and the gains we worked so hard for just will not materialise. Whilst the hardcore trainer will insist that rest days are wasted days, and that working through a body part split training week will negate this, the importance of rest and recovery can be clearly seen for the everyday gym goer.
So how much rest do we need between sessions (or body part sessions for the more dedicated)? Rest periods may be determined by the fitness level of the athlete and also the nutrition practised, but may vary from less than 12 hours to 3 full days . Excess calories are a prerequisite for growth and also replenishment of spent energy, and so nutrition is also an essential ingredient in the recovery process, but that is another topic for another blog. Essentially, the more intense the training session, and hence the bigger the potential adaptation, the greater the damage incurred will be and hence the longer the recovery period needs to be.
Without these rest periods, overtraining can easily occur whereby fatigue accumulates and performance is effected detrimentally for some time, even months in extreme cases, and so the use of deload weeks every 3-4 weeks is recommended for those training hard. Rather than stopping training when detraining may occur, a deload week consists of a week or so of reduced training volume allowing the body to fully recuperate before returning to previous levels of intensity/rest allowing adaptations to continue. Lift heavy/train hard, rest, repeat; simple really, but please don’t neglect the easy bit as believe it or not it’s the resting that ultimately makes us stronger!