I recently got a refresher on the art of rest and recovery after I had to have a major surgery. If you know me, you know how much I value fitness. Strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are both essential to my life.
Before my surgery, doctors told me I couldn't do heavy lifting for four to six weeks post-op. That put a real damper on my daily routine and forced me to take it easy. You might have had this happen, too, especially right when you’ve found a good groove and are proud of the consistency you’ve maintained. Maybe you had surgery or an illness that took you out of commission for weeks. Or you went on an extended vacation, and fitness wasn't in your schedule.
Many women fear losing momentum during those times. They feel like taking a break will undo all their hard work. (Rest refers to periods of reduced physical activity, while recovery encompasses the body's processes for healing and rejuvenation after exercise.)
Let me ease your mind: you can always pick back up where you left off.
Others believe that achieving fitness goals requires constant, intense action. Again, not true. Overtraining, characterized by excessive exercise without adequate rest, is a one-way ticket to burnout and potential injury. Rest and recovery are the best ways to avoid overtraining and maintain momentum on your fitness journey.
Signs You Need to Rest
Pushing yourself to your limit can be great, but pushing yourself too far can backfire. How do you know the difference? Your body offers clues. Feeling tired is one of the most straightforward signals you need to rest. Think of constant fatigue as a warning light on a car dashboard indicating low fuel.
Soreness is another sign. After a challenging workout, feeling a little sore is normal. However, if that feeling lingers for an extended period, it's a sign that your muscles need more time to recover. Soreness is a message from your muscles telling you they need rest to repair and strengthen.
Feeling irritable or easily agitated are also signs of mental exhaustion and overtraining. Like your muscles, your brain needs time to recover from mental exertion. Ignoring irritability can lead to burnout, where you feel emotionally drained and less motivated to pursue your fitness goals.
The Science Behind Rest and Recovery
When you work out, you create tiny tears in your muscles, which are a part of getting stronger. When you rest, your body repairs those tiny tears. As your muscles heal, they become even stronger than before. Rest is a crucial step in building bigger, stronger muscles.
Rest extends into sleep. During deep sleep, your body goes into overdrive to repair and rebuild. Your muscles and tissues get a chance to recover from all the hard work you put them through during the day. Studies show that a single night of sleep deprivation can create anabolic resistance, which means you’re breaking down rather than building muscle.1
Your body doesn't just restore itself during sleep. It goes above and beyond. This process is called supercompensation, where your body returns to its previous state but becomes even stronger. This cycle of adaptation prepares you for better performance in subsequent workouts.2
Rest and Mental Health
Rest isn't just about physical recovery; it's also essential for mental well-being. Allowing space to recover allows you to recharge, stay motivated, and avoid burnout. Overtraining can lead to mental exhaustion, which can be just as harmful as physical exhaustion.
Mental stress, such as anxiety, worry, or high-pressure situations, can significantly impact your physical performance. When you're stressed, your body releases hormones like cortisol. Research shows that when this stress hormone stays elevated when it shouldn’t, muscle tension, muscle fatigue, and reduced focus can result.3
Even if you're physically capable, mental stress can hold you back during workouts or sports activities. When you're in a good mental state, you're more likely to have the energy, motivation, and focus needed to perform well in your fitness routines.
Your Body's Response to Illness
When you're sick, your body shifts its focus from everyday tasks to the crucial mission of healing. It mobilizes its resources to fight off the illness and repair any damage. As a result, you may have less energy for regular physical activities.
Trying to maintain your normal exercise routine while sick can not only prolong your recovery time but also make you feel worse. Staying home and resting proves a better strategy than “pushing through” with physical activity when you're ill.4 Rest and proper care help you recover quickly and regain your fitness routine in top form.
Momentum vs. Longevity
Don't fear losing momentum during rest periods. Rest is not the enemy of progress; it's an essential part. Rest and recovery allow your body to recharge, recover, and come back even stronger.
“No days off” might sound motivating, but it can be detrimental in the long run. Pushing yourself without adequate recovery time can lead to overtraining, burnout, and injuries.
Longevity in fitness means staying active and healthy over the long term, not just for a few weeks or months. Finding a balance between workout and rest days is the solution to allow your body to adapt, recover, and prevent overuse injuries.
Strategies for Maintaining Momentum During Rest
Rest doesn't mean sitting still all day. Instead, try these three activities:
- Engage in active recovery with light exercises, yoga, stretching, or leisurely walking. These activities can help maintain flexibility, improve blood flow, and reduce muscle soreness.
- Step up your mental game. Practice visualization, where you imagine yourself successfully achieving your fitness goals. Meditation can help you reduce stress and improve focus. So can emotional freedom technique (EFT) or tapping. Setting and refining your fitness goals during rest periods gives you direction and motivation.
- Use your downtime to learn new skills. Master a new exercise technique, understand nutrition better, or explore different workout styles.
Nutrient Support for Rest and Recovery
The right nutrition optimizes your body's healing processes. Adequate intake of essential nutrients like protein, vitamin C, glutamine, and creatine can speed up the process. Below are some of my favorite nutrients for rest and recovery. They enhance your body's ability to repair and strengthen tissues, reduce the risk of muscle breakdown, and promote overall well-being as you continue on your fitness journey.
Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. Consuming enough protein during rest periods provides the amino acids necessary for rebuilding and strengthening muscle tissues. Complete protein supports immune function, blood-sugar balance, appetite management, rest, recovery, and more.
Free-Form Amino Acids
When you're on bed rest, you start to lose muscle and become insulin-resistant. Free-form amino acids can help prevent muscle breakdown by providing the body with readily available amino acids that your muscle can quickly use. Unlike complete protein, which plays numerous roles throughout your body, free-form amino acids immediately support muscle synthesis and prevent breakdown. I recommend Amino Power Powder twice daily to aid healing and avoid losing muscle, especially if you need a longer recovery.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that supports the body's immune system. It plays a vital role in tissue repair and collagen formation, crucial for healing injuries and maintaining healthy connective tissues.5
Sparkling C Powder combines therapeutic doses of vitamin C and 3 bioflavonoids (quercetin, hesperidin, and rutin) and calcium, magnesium, and potassium for wide-ranging antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support.*
Glutamine helps maintain muscle tissue and supports the immune system. This multitasking amino acid aids in reducing muscle soreness and preventing muscle breakdown during rest periods.7
Glutamine Powder provides therapeutic amounts of this amino acid in a convenient unflavored powder form that mixes easily into your favorite liquid or loaded smoothie.*
Magnesium plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including muscle and nerve function. Magnesium also supports muscle recovery and energy metabolism.8
Magnesium Body Calm provides 300mg of highly bioavailable magnesium bisglycinate chelate, to support strong bones, a healthy heart, blood sugar balance, and much more.*
Creatine supports energy production and can help replenish muscle energy stores. During rest and recovery, maintaining adequate creatine levels supports energy availability for future workouts.9
Clean Creatine Powder contains just one ingredient: 100% pure creatine monohydrate. Every serving delivers an impressive 5 grams of micronized creatine for optimal absorption. The flavorless powder mixes easily into your loaded smoothie or favorite beverage, delivering all of creatine’s benefits.*
Easing Back Into Your Routine
When returning to your fitness routine after rest, it’s best to start slowly. Don't rush back into intense workouts. Re-evaluate your fitness goals to incorporate the rest period into your plan. Be flexible and adjust your routines for better, sustainable results.
After my recent surgery, my doctors told me that they didn't want me lifting anything over 10 pounds because they didn't want me to tear the stitches.
Instead, I used blood-flow restriction bands, which are specialized elastic bands or cuffs that you can apply to your arms or legs during physical training. These allow you to work out with much lighter weights while still working out your muscles.
Another thing I used is Electrical Muscle Stimulation, a technique that stimulates muscle contractions in a controlled and targeted manner through electrical impulses.
EMS devices typically consist of electrodes on your skin over the muscles you want to stimulate. When you apply those electrical impulses, your muscles contract. This process mimics the natural contraction during voluntary muscle movement. Physical therapy, rehabilitation, and athletic training often incorporate EMS. I combined EMS with TRX, moving my body weight through different exercises.
I also did walking and different types of at-home cardio, like my Peloton bike and Stairmaster, because my doctor approved me for cardio. The key is to keep moving because one of the things that can happen with bed rest is that, in just a week, you can become insulin-resistant.
You don’t need to do all those things. But you should schedule time for active recovery such as yoga, stretching, and walking. That way, you're still mentally setting aside time to move your body.
Rest is a necessary part of achieving fitness goals. Honor both your physical and mental needs. Remember that fitness is a journey, not a destination. Periodic rest is not only beneficial but essential for long-term success. By understanding and respecting the need for rest, you come out on the other side stronger and healthier.
Sleep: The Ultimate Rest and Recovery
During deep sleep, your body repairs and rebuilds muscle, restores energy levels, and balances hormones. Quality sleep ensures you get the full benefits of your workouts, prevents overtraining and injury, and helps you recover when you're sick.
Getting optimal sleep is essential for the body's healing processes. Aim for eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. During illness or other prolonged recovery periods, aim for nine hours.
A nighttime ritual can help you maintain good sleep. Turn off electronics an hour or two before bedtime, take a hot bath with chamomile tea, and practice deep breathing or light stretching. Find something that works for you. For almost everyone, sleep supplements are the key to consistently falling and staying asleep night after night.
The Optimal Sleep Kit contains three supplements (Sleep Candy™, Magnesium Body Calm, and All-In-One Shake) that help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep through the night, and wake up feeling rested.*
- Lamon S, Morabito A, Arentson-Lantz E, Knowles O, Vincent GE, Condo D, Alexander SE, Garnham A, Paddon-Jones D, Aisbett B. The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment. Physiol Rep. 2021 Jan;9(1):e14660. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14660. PMID: 33400856; PMCID: PMC7785053.
- Adidas Runtastic: Supercompensation and How to Avoid Overtraining
- Hannibal KE, Bishop MD. Chronic stress, cortisol dysfunction, and pain: a psychoneuroendocrine rationale for stress management in pain rehabilitation. Phys Ther. 2014 Dec;94(12):1816-25. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20130597. Epub 2014 Jul 17. PMID: 25035267; PMCID: PMC4263906.
- Orchard JW, Orchard JJ, Puranik R. ‘Stay home when sick' advice: implications for sport and exercise. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2021 Oct 12;7(4):e001227. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2021-001227. PMID: 34712490; PMCID: PMC8513267.
- Chambial S, Dwivedi S, Shukla KK, John PJ, Sharma P. Vitamin C in disease prevention and cure: an overview. Indian J Clin Biochem. 2013 Oct;28(4):314-28. doi: 10.1007/s12291-013-0375-3. Epub 2013 Sep 1. PMID: 24426232; PMCID: PMC3783921.
- Shrimanker I, Bhattarai S. Electrolytes. [Updated 2023 Jul 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541123/
- Córdova-Martínez A, Caballero-García A, Bello HJ, Pérez-Valdecantos D, Roche E. Effect of Glutamine Supplementation on Muscular Damage Biomarkers in Professional Basketball Players. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 17;13(6):2073. doi: 10.3390/nu13062073. PMID: 34204359; PMCID: PMC8234492.
- Fiorentini D, Cappadone C, Farruggia G, Prata C. Magnesium: Biochemistry, Nutrition, Detection, and Social Impact of Diseases Linked to Its Deficiency. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 30;13(4):1136. doi: 10.3390/nu13041136. PMID: 33808247; PMCID: PMC8065437.
- Healthline: How Creatine Boosts Exercise Performance
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.