Human beings love to take a mile when you present them with an inch. Surplus is always a good thing in our minds. So, naturally when CrossFit came along, if doing one or more workouts in a day was good then doing that EVERY DAY was even better. MORE IS NOT BETTER, BETTER IS BETTER. Just because you work out every day DOES NOT mean you’re going to get better at a movement. You have to pay attention to the details of the movement and perform it better in order to get better at it. But, I digress. The point of this blog is to discuss exactly why it’s important to take rest days and I don’t mean “active recovery.” What does that even mean? You don’t actively sleep or actively sit. A rest day is by definition a day without doing ANYTHING. If you want to go for a leisure walk, I’m all for that but otherwise you’re still working out.
The reason rest days are important is because there’s a very specific hormone that gets released into your bloodstream every time you workout. This hormone helps facilitate the activity indirectly but still has a lasting effect on your body. That hormone is cortisol. It’s also your stress hormone. That’s right. STRESS. It’s your body’s fight or flight hormone. When we workout our body doesn’t necessarily know that we’re exercising. It just knows you’re doing something strenuous. We didn’t evolve working out. We evolved running away from something or someone trying to eat or kill us. We evolved moving heavy things that prevented us from getting somewhere. My body wouldn’t know the difference from picking up a heavy barbell or heavy boulder. It’s all the same and it would still send back the same feedback to the brain in order to kick start the same involuntary actions that help keep us alive. For example, you aren’t actively telling your body to breathe as you read this, you’re just doing it. The same goes for your body’s reaction to working out. You work out and the cortisol, your fight or flight hormone, helps push you through the challenge.
Now, cortisol, like any other hormone has its time and place in our body. If it’s constantly elevated, you could run into some problems. For example, chronically elevated cortisol levels have been shown to kill brain cells, cause premature aging in the brain, weaken the immune system, as well as cause a heightened craving for sugar and caffeine. This is why people who sleep so little and don’t recover properly always crave a pastry and coffee in the morning. So, if you aren’t sleeping much and are working out every day or more than once a day, you are flooding your bloodstream and brain with consistently elevated levels of cortisol.
Taking a day off and making sure you get to bed EARLY can really aid in the recovery process and allow you to hit the next day’s workout even harder. At some point, the workouts are ALWAYS going to win. You cannot go as hard as possible EVERY DAY. It just isn’t sustainable. And, if you’re still coming into the gym and just going through the motions there is no benefit to that. You will NOT lose any progress from taking ONE day off. Get your rest, your body needs it!