So you want to get into the realm of doing some kind of training everyday, eh? Here's what you need to know so you don't implode your progress.
When does it hit me? I'm not sure…
Maybe when the rice is done cooking? Maybe when my meal is laid out before me? Maybe in the shower? Maybe when I pull my woolen comfy socks onto my feet?
Let’s just say somewhere in this sequence:
Stretching. Shower. Shorts. Shirt. Socks. Sustenance.
Ah, and it’s a good sequence too. It’s a sequence of relaxation—a feeling nothing quite compares to.
Truth be told—and this is a dirty confession, I suppose—I don’t bounce giddily into my garage to train. I’m much happier after the fact. And that feeling after….sometime within the “s” cascade…is the real reward for me. It’s a feeling I don’t get on rest days, even if I do the same “s” dance.
My corpse rots itself into a chair most days. It’s a disheartening side effect of producing fine content for your eyeballs to consume. Don't get me wrong, there are some days that I'd rather slouch around like a slug. But I always feel better after having mustered some movement. And I’m not talking any old movement. Mobility work doesn't do it. It’s gotta’ be decent muscular contractions through a full range of motion.
Since I usually have four “true” training days per week, this leaves me with three “rest” days — three days that I'd rather stimulate some blood flow through out my body. This brings about the idea of doing a little movement on a traditional “rest” day. I suppose it wouldn't be much of a “rest” day anymore though. But for reasons you'll soon see, I still think of them as “rest” days. This is already getting confusing, so let's clear the logistics.
There's a difference between training on a rest day, and doing some kind of daily high frequency training program. Training on a rest day means your program has inherent down time. So your stressful training takes place three or four days per week with rest days splattered in there for recovery. This means — usually, but not universally — that these three of four training days are of a higher intensity (neurally, muscularly, emotionally). In contrast, a deliberate daily high frequency program wouldn't have recovery days built in. Because of the higher frequency, one of or more of the intensity markers is usually sacrificed — the training isn't as demanding.
So the ideas below are suited to those on a “traditional” program that want to do a little movement on their off days.
The biggest problem from the get-go: rest days are built into programs for a reason. They promote regeneration of the tissues so that you can always perform at a high level. Training on a rest day can't interfere with this. Rest day training should never interfere with progress on main strength exercises, or “normal” training sessions.
So not imploding progress is the most important consideration. So here are five rest day training rules to obey. In a week or two (if I’m feeling generous) I’ll tell you how to use both high frequency training and rest day training to actually get better.
Let's start at the top.
Any time you train on a rest day—or do some kind of high frequency training program—three things can happen:
- You get worse
- You break even
- You get better
Let's classify “get better” and “break even.”
Breaking even simply means preventing your butt from melting into the fibers of your seat cushion. This is movement for the sake of movement. You aren't gaining anything, save for the mental clarity of moving — the feeling of blood coursing throughout dormant tissues.
Getting better implies some sort of goal, of which there may be many:
- To gain muscle
- To learn skills
- To get stronger
- To recover faster
And this list can go on, as all of these are possible…but only if you handle with care.
There's a fine line between getting better, breaking even, and getting worse. The line starts at the differentation between stimulating exercise and fatiguing exercise.
Rule #1 / If it's physically or emotionally fatiguing, don't do it
Physical fatigue is both muscular and neural. A set of pull-ups to strain is different than a set of deadlifts to strain is different than a set of push-ups to strain. “Strain” is universal from a muscular standpoint, but not so much from a neural standpoint. (This could branch into factors that make an exercise more neurally demanding like spinal loading, intensive gripping, or local muscular work capacity, but that's a bit more than what we need right now.)
The gist here is that effort should be stimulating, not fatiguing.
Don't even listen to music on rest days. Listen to an audiobook, an educational lecture, or nothing at all. Rest day training should have a relaxed tone. You should be able to yawn your way through if need be. You should breathe comfortably, even if what you're doing is mildly metabolically intensive.
No hype. No emotional investment.
So you need some wiggle room, as you never know how good you're going to feel on any given day. You need something easily adjustable — something with parameters, not necessarily absolutes.
Rule #2: If it's in the name of fat loss, don't do it
Never do rest day training in the name of fat loss. Some advanced high frequency training methods might deliver fat loss as a side effect, but it should never be sought as a main effect.
Fat loss is primarily a nutritional pursuit. And what your nutrition doesn't cover, your other “main” training sessions should. Let your rest days do their job. Don't pound extra activity in the name of calorie burning. It's a backwards mindset that almost always interferes with progress.
You can walk on a rest day, sure, but I don't consider this “training.” It wouldn't give me the wonderful feeling that normally falls in the “s” cascade. The lack of muscular contractions and range of motion don't do it for me.
Sprinting, HIIT, and other common fat loss activities aren't rest day training friendly. And now's a good time to move to the next rule.
Rule #3: If it’s explosive, don’t do it
One of the things I hate the most is putting sprinting on a “rest” day. It slaps the body in the face. Sprinting is one of the most neurally and muscularly demanding activities.
Any explosive training is neurally fatiguing, so save it for your main training days.
This means HIIT and the likes also fly down the tubes on rest days. HIIT may not be as neurally demanding, but it's one of the most metabolically and emotionally draining forms of training.
If you do either of these things — or much of any explosive training on your rest days — you're going to be hindering your strength and progress potential on your training days.
Rule #4 / If you don't want it specialized, don't do it
Consider rest days as “extra” training. You don't want to give “extra” training to things you don't want to improve. This sounds a bit weird, so consider your upper chest. If your upper chest is out of proportion, doing dips (or any other lower chest intensive movement) on rest days isn't a great idea. (If you don't know why, read The Best Damn Guide for Building Upper Chest Size and Strength.)
Rule #5 / If you have to warm-up, don’t do it
This is the best rule I have, and I'm mad at myself for saving it for last.
I'm a big fan of ditching any and all warm-ups on rest day training. If you're doing something that requires a huge warm-up, you're doing something that shouldn't be done on a rest day.
This also helps break the monotony of “training days” vs. “rest day training days.” If you do the same pre-training ritual seven days per week, it's going to get boring. I think the rest day flavor has to be completely different in form, function, and attitude. Nothing should be the same. Change the time you train. Change your shoes. Change everything you can.
This brings me to the most important element of rest day training: time.
Rest day training shouldn't take more than ten minutes. And if you're wondering the worth of getting to the gym for less than ten minutes, I'll remind you that every respectable human being should equip themselves with some kind of pull-up device (gymnastic rings are awesome) at the very least. A barbell is another nice addition. I would say it's your “right” to do this, but it's more like your responsibility.
So if you've been training on your rest days, be sure to heed the five rules above. And if you're in violation of any of the five rules, let me know so I can verbally chastise you. (You're sprinting on your rest day. Aren't you? AREN'T YOU@!!!@@#@$#$$? I know you're doing HIIT too. MY EYEEYEYESSSZZZZZ.!)