Nowadays, pushing yourself during training is glorified while taking a break is often shamed as a sign of weakness. This is sometimes seen in fitness as well: we are often told to push ourselves beyond our limits to improve our strength and stamina, and that rest is for the weak. However, this is an extremely dangerous mindset, especially when it concerns health and well-being.
While increasing your exercise intensity is important for training to be progressive, it can also be counter-productive when overdone. One important concept to remember is that our body constantly seeks balance — a state known as homeostasis. The common belief is that we build muscle when we train, and we lose them if we stop for prolonged periods of time. This might encourage people to train continuously to build muscles. However, the truth is that muscle is built during recovery from intense training. if we push ourselves too hard, our muscles might break down in order to maintain homeostasis – a means of metabolic overcompensation while also “forcing” the body to slow down. As such, training ceaselessly is more counter-productive then scheduling planned breaks.
When to rest?
Everybody's physical body is different and we have our own capacities and limitations. It is thus nearly impossible to create a hard and fast rule for a work-rest schedule/ratio. The best advice is to keep an eye out for signs from your body. For example, constant muscle cramps and soreness are signs that your body would benefit from a break. It might take some time to find your sweet spot and this might even change over time. Always be alert to what your body is telling you to reap the benefits of training while minimising harm to your body.
How to rest?
Does rest necessarily mean cessation of all physical exercise? Should rest days occur every alternate day? Once again, different people might have different standards for rest and you should follow whatever suits you best. Some people rest by taking a break from high-intensity interval training and opt for low-intensity alternatives instead. Others simply cease physical activity altogether and take an ice bath. Either is fine, as long as it allows you to recover both physically and mentally. If you're going into your next training session with a heavy sense of dread or fatigue, you probably didn't do right by your recovery!
Bear in mind that getting tired is not a sign of laziness nor a sign that you're slacking. Rather, it can be a sign from your own body that it could do with some additional rest. Even the hardest of athletes take an off-day, so why shouldn't you?