What to do with your day off from the gym to promote recovery and maximize gains.
Browse through most fitness related blogs, and you'll find countless articles on nutrition, lifting weights, maximizing your squats and what supplements you should be using. But how many times have you read an article detailing what you should be doing OUTSIDE of the gym?
If we break it down, it really makes sense to focus not only on our time working out, but on our recovery periods as well. This includes stretching, eating and sleeping, but it also includes your one or two days off from the gym per week.
The big boys here at Gunsmith don't approve of the term 'off days', because if you're serious about this thing of ours, you'll know there are no true days off. Besides, when people hear 'off day' they'll often envision sitting around on the couch, playing video games and drinking beer. Rather, we prefer 'recovery days', because it changes the way you mentally view the day.
Your body absolutely loves movement, and despises inactivity and lethargy. Instead of laying around on your recovery days, plan to throw in some physical activities that will keep you moving and get your heart rate up, while not overworking your muscles, cardiovascular system and central nervous system.
Follow along, and we'll give you the scoop on how often you should have a recovery day, and a few good exercises that you can throw in that your body will thank you for.
How much rest
One of the biggest debates in the fitness community revolves around how much rest we should take, both in regards to time between sets, time between workouts and days off between gym days.
The common consensus as of late is to take a rest day every 3 to 5 days. Some people will stay to the shorter side, working 3 days and having one day off between, while others work 5 days straight and then take two days off. This is often a great schedule for people with a regular 9-5 job, because it mirrors their work schedule and they get the weekends totally free.
Regardless of how you decide to structure your gym schedule, you should aim to have around 2-3 recovery days per week.
Why you should take recovery days
While the amount of rest you should take is still up for debate, one thing has definitely been settled: you NEED to take regular rest days from you normal routine. If you're hitting the weights heavy at least 3 days a week, you're placing your muscle tissue under a lot of stress.
When muscle tissue is stressed hard enough, it actually tears. After 1-2 days, the torn muscles start to repair and actually grow back stronger. This is the foundation of bodybuilding: we are tearing the muscles down in the gym so that they can grow back bigger and stronger during the next few days.
If we don't give our muscles time to recover, not only will they not get stronger but you can actually seriously injure yourself.
Best Activities and Exercises for Active Recovery
With the 'what' and the 'why' out of the way, let's get into the 'how'. These are some of the best activities that we've found for your recovery days, which will keep you active and moving without putting too much stress on your muscles.
Walking is probably the most underrated exercise of all time (for this article, we're going to consider hiking as simply 'walking on a trail', rather than backpacking or mountain climbing).
Many weightlifters and bodybuilders write off walking as something that's 'too easy', but there are many physical and mental benefits of walking. In fact, Aristotle was said to walk while teaching. Aristotle believed that walking facilitates talking and thinking. Many other philosophers have agreed, claiming to have done most of their thinking while walking.
Walking is also known to improve your mood and reduce stress, and some studies claim that regular walking can actually reduce your risk of death by up to 39%!
Walking is also a great social activity as long as you can find someone to walk with you. Since we know you spend every second of your gym session with your earphones in, walking is a good way to also work on your social skills.
We get it, you hate cardio. So does everyone else in the gym, usually because they think that performing any kind of cardio exercise is going to sap them of all their hard-earned muscle gains.
Let us dispense with that myth right now: the right amount of cardio isn't going to make you lose any muscle mass. If anything, getting your heart rate up, especially on days when you're not lifting, will help keep your metabolism burning fat.
Cardio can include anything that increases your heart rate, from walking to running, rowing, riding a bike or even doing yard work.
To sum it up, just because you're lifting weights doesn't mean you should avoid doing your cardio. Consider supplementing certain activities with cardio. Maybe instead of driving to the gym, you can ride your bike.
Yes, you read that right: we said yoga.
Yoga has so many benefits that it would take an entire other article to go over them all. Not only will you be stretching, which we know you're not doing enough of, but it's also a great cardio workout (see above).
Yoga is also a very meditative exercise, requiring intense focus to be able to hold specific poses for a certain period of time. It's also great for learning to control your breathing, which is helpful when lifting weights. Yoga will help you reduce stress while clearing your mind and increasing your range of motion.
Long story short: do yoga. Most gyms even offer yoga classes, so you don't have to pay anything extra.
The health benefits of saunas have been widely studied, and there's one thing for certain: THIS SH*T WORKS.
Regular sauna use can help your heart, clear your skin out, improve circulation and about a million other things.
The heat in the sauna can improve blood flow, which will help your muscles repair themselves. It's also very relaxing, and since you can't really bring your phone in with you, it's great for clearing your mind and reducing stress.
Many people also recommend slowly stretching when in the sauna, as the heat helps to relax your muscles. If you're new to the sauna, be sure to start slow. 15 minute sessions would be a good place to start, and make sure you're drinking plenty of water.
If you can, try to find a gym nearby that also offers a sauna or steam room. They're usually included in the monthly price, so you'll save some money while reaping the benefits of heat.
If you're properly obsessed with lifting weights and getting stronger, you probably hate taking a day off from the gym. One of the best uses of your time outside of the gym is preparing yourself for your next session, and meal prep fits right into that category.
Meal prep doesn't have to be boring or incredibly time consuming. By using certain kitchen appliances, such as an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker, you can quickly cook a lot of food without much supervision.
One of our favorite instant pot recipes is chili with ground beef. This has plenty of protein, fiber, fat and carbs to keep your body fueled for your next workout.
Preparing your meals in advance during one or two days of the week can end up saving you a lot of time, and removes the uncertainty of what you're going to eat during the rest of the week. Having a well-stocked fridge of healthy, pre-cooked meals removes the stress of having to make up a meal after your workout.
Play A Sport
Another great activity for the days where you're not lifting is getting outside and playing a sport. Sports are a great way to keep your body moving and getting your heart rate up, while not putting too much stress on your muscles.
Not only are sports great for your body, but they're a lot of fun and will reduce mental stress. They're also great at stimulating your mind and keeping you sharp.
Lifting weights naturally builds a mind/body connection, so don't be surprised if you pick up other physical skills very quickly. Some of our favorite sports for recovery are surfing, frisbee golf, softball, rock climbing and swimming.
Whatever you decide to play, make sure it's not too difficult, drink plenty of water and stretch before or after playing. What you definitely DON'T want to do is inure yourself outside of the gym.
Use a Foam Roller
When people talk about using a foam roller, you'll often hear them use the term 'self-myofascial release'. This is just fancy talk for 'giving yourself a massage'.
The key takeaway from foam roller massage is that it's been proven to reduce muscle soreness, and it also feels good. This makes it a great activity to use during your active recovery days.
Get a Mental Workout in
While it's certainly true that you want to look like a meathead, you don't actually want your IQ to drop down to room temperature. So why not engage in some mental exercises on your days away from the gym?
This doesn't mean that you have to sit around doing math problems (although that would help), but you can do any number of activities that will improve your mental abilities. Some of us like reading, or doing sudoku puzzles. Even video games, if challenging enough, can be a great workout for your brain.
Two of our favorite mental exercises are learning an instrument and practicing a new language. Both of these will keep your mind sharp, and also have real-world applications.
Having a few days out of the gym per week isn't just recommended, it's absolutely necessary to your strength gains and muscular development. But just because you're not lifting weights doesn't mean you shouldn't stay active.
Instead of looking at them as "off days", look at your time out of the gym as Active Recovery Days. There are a lot of exercises and activities that you can do while you're away from the gym, that will help prepare you for your next workout.