“No pain, no gain.” One of the most flawed and unnecessarily reckless statements in fitness, in my opinion.
As a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and head trainer at MADabolic Charlotte, I am convinced that you don’t need to crush yourself every time you engage in physical activity (despite widespread belief in this practice). Furthermore, eliminating rest days entirely is a dangerous habit and an all-too-common oversight when it comes to achieving your performance, physique and overall wellness goals.
ENOUGH WITH THE TWO-A-DAYS!
Plot twist: unless you’re a competitive athlete or training for sport and eating the caloric quantities that two-a-days demand, you should avoid them entirely. The everyday fitness enthusiast looking to either shed a few pounds, gain some muscle or simply lead a healthier lifestyle is inflicting more harm than benefit by doubling up on workouts and skipping their (much-needed) rest days.
Consider this: your body cannot adapt to a stimulus (in this case, exercise) unless you give it a break from said stimulus. In layman’s terms, your muscles change and grow when they’re resting, not when they’re working. If you constantly shortchange your recovery efforts by eliminating rest days, your body cannot adapt and your muscles are constantly put under stress without being given the opportunity to repair.
As a fitness professional who works full time at a strength and conditioning facility, I train no more than four days per week (five max).
Some of you may find that surprising, but it’s true. I’ll take the occasional yoga or cycle class as a complement to my strength training, but you’ll never catch me working out twice a day anymore, and I’m borderline religious about my two precious rest days.
Overtraining used to be the name of my game. Even though I preached the value of recovery to my own clients, I was hard-headed in actually taking my own advice. Rarely did I take a rest day, and when I did, an overwhelming sense of guilt and fear washed over me. Silly Finley.
Not my proudest admittance, as I was basically shooting myself in the foot. Being constantly under-recovered compromised any chance of actually strengthening my performance and maximizing lean muscle mass. I was perpetually sore and felt like a hot plate of garbage all the time… most likely because I was constantly under physical stress and my adrenals were taxed, leading to an overproduction in cortisol levels.
Images: Henry Wynd
A WORD TO THE WISE: DON’T MESS WITH CORTISOL
When training past your body’s ability to recover, you trigger an excess release of the stress hormone cortisol. When properly regulated, cortisol favorably impacts your body’s ability to handle both physical and emotional stress, regulate blood sugar, optimize metabolic function, manage inflammation and so much more.
Cortisol’s role in recovery is complex, but for the sake of brevity, understand that chronically elevated cortisol levels (often induced by overtraining) dramatically impedes aesthetic and weight loss goals and exponentially increases your risk for overuse injuries.
Common indicators of cortisol imbalance include:
- Constant muscular fatigue
- Stubborn weight gain specifically in the face, upper back, and/or midsection
- Abnormal irritability
- High blood pressure
- Decline in concentration and productivity
While these items may overlap with other issues or conditions, if you’re experiencing any number of the above symptoms and you’re ALSO hard-pressed to take a day off from the gym, it may not be a coincidence.
You might want to consider backing off of the “no pain, no gain” train in favor of restoring your cortisol levels.
YOUR DIETARY AND MOVEMENT CHOICES ARE IMPACTFUL IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF YOUR HEALTH.
This is a no brainer. Focusing on regular (but not excessive) exercise, adequate protein intake (hot tip: don’t shy away from ONE Bars to help fill your protein needs), plenty of plant-based micronutrients, ample water intake and all that jazz is going to favorably impact your health and help you reach your goals. But by no means are they the only pieces of the puzzle. There are so many other components factoring into your health and aesthetic-driven goals that are largely overshadowed by the limited industry-wide fixation on what you eat and how often you exercise.
I strongly recommend that you resist the temptation to conflate rest days with laziness. On the contrary, rest days are just as important as your training days, and should be implemented regularly as you progress towards your goals!
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