Whether you’re training for a marathon or hitting the gym regularly to lose some weight, you need a day off. It may sound counterintuitive, but rest days are just as important as the days you work out. Rest days, also known as “recovery days” or “off days,” allow your body to take the time it needs to repair itself.

Ben Welker, an outreach athletic trainer for ATI Sports Medicine, joins us to talk about rest days – what they are, how often you need them, and why they really make a difference in your training.

“Everybody has different needs when it comes to rest days,” Ben says. “To figure out what your body needs, start with the F.I.T.T. principle.”

The F.I.T.T. principle helps you determine how strenuous your exercise program is and therefore what type of rest your body needs.

- Frequency: How many times per week?

- Intensity: What is my heart rate during the activity?

- Time: How long do I exercise for?

- Type of exercise: What kind of exercise am I doing – running, lifting, biking, using the elliptical, participating in Zumba class, etc.?

Ben notes that beginners need to start slower and plan more rest days than an individual who exercises regularly. He recommends the following for developing an exercise program with proper recovery time:

- For beginners: Aim to exercise 3 to 4 days per week with adequate rest in between

- For regular exercisers: Aim to exercise anywhere from 4 to 6 days per week, ensuring that you have off at least one day per week for recovery.

- For strength training: Limit yourself to working a particular body part to two times per week. Work your legs, chest, core, and shoulders different days of the week so that each muscle group has proper recovery time.   

On your rest days, it’s important to take it easy, but you can still incorporate some light activity, such as walking or stretching.

“People usually neglect stretching more so than anything else,” Ben says. “Flexibility is important, so exercisers need to do their best to do a 15-20 minute stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds three times in a row.”  

No matter what type of exercise you do or how much experience you have, it’s important to find an activity you actually enjoy doing.

 “You don’t want to dread a workout every day, but rather look forward to it,” Ben says. “Therefore, find something that you love to do, and you’ll succeed.”