Why Rest Days Are Just as Important as Your Workouts

With the constant stream of workout “motivation” mantras that preach “no days off” and “every damn day,” it’s easy to guilt yourself into always going the extra mile. But when you continuously push yourself, that extra mile stops being extra and eventually becomes routine. That’s when injuries tend to happen. 

Regardless of what T-shirts and Instagram posts tell you, science says that rest days are important — and in more ways than one. According to new research presented at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting, proper recovery from workouts is good for your bone health and density.

Scientists from Brock University in Canada studied 15 elite female heavyweight rowers during their pre-Olympic training sessions to discern what combination of workout and rest was most beneficial to recovery. The researchers gathered blood samples from each of the athletes during their most intense weeks of training and again during recovery weeks, and what they found was what we already know — recovery is just as important as high-volume training when it comes to maximizing your workouts. 

The Olympic rowers who participated in the study had more inflammation and lower levels of the bone-building protein osteoprotegerin (OPG) in their blood during high-volume training weeks with no rest days when compared to recovery weeks that included days off. Additionally, the athletes also had higher levels of sclerostin (SOST) — a protein that hinders new bone formation — during the high intensity weeks, proving that not only does training “every damn day” keep your body from building new bone mass, but also prevents it from repairing the bone mass you already have.

Documenting the fluctuating levels in necessary rebuilding proteins proves that training without adequate recovery leads to repetitive-use injuries (such as stress fractures and arthritis) or bone loss, according to the study authors from Brock. And it doesn’t matter if you’re refueling properly with food if you aren’t taking a rest day here and there, your body can’t recover without nutrition and time. “We are learning that regardless of whether you eat well or not, the systemic inflammation of intense training, unless you bring it down from time to time, creates an issue for bone cells and all kinds of tissue,” says co-author Panagiota Klentrou, professor and associate dean in the department of kinesiology at Brock in a report from Time. “When you’re at peak training volume, you also have to incorporate time for the body to recover.”

It’s all about finding the right balance, especially since regular exercise — especially weight training and high-impact exercise — has been proven to actually promote good bone health.

So if giving your mind and your muscles isn’t a good enough reason for you to take a rest day once a week, do it for your bones.