What is a Rest Day? The Key To Unlocking Your Progress

One of the hardest things to communicate to our dancers at Dancers Who Lift is how productive a rest day is. 

 

I had an old teacher who used to say,

“There is someone out there working harder and longer than you, and when they meet you they will beat you.”

 

This mentality not only made sense to me but added an immense amount of pressure to my training schedule. 

And while this sentence has some truth in it, what “they” are working harder on could be better defined.

You see, I thought it meant more hours in the studio, more hours spent on nutrition, more hours spent in the gym, more hours spent practicing, more hours auditioning. 

But when someone is training at an elite level, they are incredibly intentional about rest. They take rest days and active recovery days. They have a consistent nighttime routine to help them get quality sleep. These athletes care deeply about rest because they recognize that it directly impacts their performance. 

Now, with dancers, rest is particularly important because, unlike other athletes, we don’t have a “season” in which our training is focused.

No. Auditions happen year-round. Opportunities to perform crop up left and right and remaining ready is a big part of our reality. That’s why being intentional about rest is so important. Because life without rest is not sustainable. It will surely lead to burn-out, illness, or even injury.

Studies have shown that it is integral to an athlete’s success to have a detailed recovery plan that balances, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and physical and psychological rest. 

So let’s talk a bit about the different kinds of rest days and how you listen to your body to determine which kind of rest it needs. 

 

Active Recovery Days

This, we have found, is a dancer’s favorite kind of rest – because, well, it’s not passive. 

Active recovery days are days in which you still move your body, and you might even exercise, but the intensity and intention of the workout are not the same. Workout days have the focus of increasing your heart rate, burning calories, and building muscle. Active rest days have the goal of increasing blood flow, decreasing physical stress, and muscle recovery.

Examples of an active rest day are:

Taking an extra long walk, taking an easy ride on your bike, doing yoga, or a mobility flow. 

Examples of things that might look like active rest days but are not are:

Taking a pilates/core power/SLT class, taking a hot yoga class, or taking a spin/SoulCycle class.

 

Yes, these things might be lower intensity than your other workouts, but they are still, in fact, workouts designed to put your body under physical stress as a means of training. 

Active recovery days are incredibly important for muscle recovery. Studies have shown that engaging in active rest days can decrease recovery time in muscle groups. This means that taking an active rest day between workouts could help you perform better during your next workout!

Not only that but the activities associated with an active rest day (walking, gentle cycling, yoga) are also associated with positive mental health. 

So – to recap, active rest days promote muscle recovery and a positive mental state.

Sound good to you? Same.  

 

 

mindfulness for self-care, mental health support for injury recovery

 

 

 

Then, What Is A Rest Day?

After hearing all those positives about active rest days you might be wondering, why take a rest day? Moving my body every day is good, right?

Well, yes.  We want to get our bodies moving a little bit each day. But every day does not have to be active. 

Like anything, too much of a good thing is still too much. Constantly being active places our bodies in a state of chronic stress. Being in a state of chronic stress increases a hormone called Cortisol, the primary stress hormone. This causes an increase in sugar, also called glucose, in the bloodstream. Cortisol slows functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation- changing immune system responses and suppressing the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. 

What does this mean? It means that if your body perceives that it won’t get a break, it will be more susceptible to illness and injury, and will slow down the muscle growth process (it won’t recover well between workouts.)

If you are someone looking to reach a fitness, physique, or training goal, that is bad news. 

The remedy? Take a rest day. 

A rest day is comprised of leisurely movement like a stroll through the park or a stretch session. But mostly, a true rest day consists of restorative activities like reading a book, watching a movie, sharing a meal with loved ones, or being creative in a way that is separate from your profession. 

I can hear it now, 

“BuT, I fEeL LaZY WhEn I dO NoThING.”

 

If you are saying this, then this is an even bigger signal that learning to rest should be a top priority.  Because, if you are constantly worried during your rest day that you’re losing progress by resting, then you aren’t really resting at all. 

Emotional health plays a big role in our physical health. If we are emotionally stressed, eventually that stress will manifest physically in some way. 

Just because you are physically resting does not mean you’re giving your body the rest it needs. To recover, you need to also rest your mind. Release your worry and unplug. 

It may take time to discover what you need in order to fully relax. 

For me, I need my space to be tidy. If my space is a mess, my mind will be too. But if I take a few minutes even just to tidy up the mess a little, I find it much easier to relax.

So, take some time to reflect on what it is you need to do to properly take a rest day and do it. Then, bask in the relief of true and total rest. And do so knowing that you are making progress because of it!

Rest days are integral in muscle recovery and growth. Rest days prevent injury, and burn-out, and promote better sleep. 

 

How Do I Know When to Rest?

Learning to listen to your body and deduce what it needs can take time. 

Generally, if you’re feeling extra sore or tired, that’s a signal that your body might need an active recovery day. Active recovery is perfect for days when you’re feeling sore because the movement will help alleviate the soreness and the rest will give your energy levels a chance to rebalance. 

Now, if you’re feeling exhausted, you “tweaked” something yesterday, or mentally you need a break, take a full rest day. Give your mind something completely new to focus on like a good book or show. Meet up with a friend and laugh. Listen to your favorite song. Bake your favorite recipe or meal prep for the week. Anything to give your mind and body a break from what you’ve been focused on. 

Dedication > Motivation. But only if you are giving yourself time to recover. If you’ve been hitting them and rehearsing and auditioning and learning scenes for an acting class, and, and, and… 

Then your lack of motivation might be your body asking for a much-deserved break. Listen to it and honor it. 

 

So, when was the last time you took a true rest day?

Will you take one this week? You should! We suggest our dancers get at least one true rest day and one or two active rest days each week.

Give it a try this week and let us know how your next workout feels. My guess? You’ll be able to run farther, lift more, and dance longer than if you had skipped your day off. 

 

Want more tips for performing optimally? Give these a read: Eight Ways to Promote Faster Recovery, Overcoming Plateaus and Setbacks, 10 Exercises For Dancers That Will Transform Your Technique

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