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Don’t pay attention to the gym bros. What you do away from the machines is as vital as what you do on them


Music is the space between the notes,” runs a quote credited to the French composer Claude Debussy. It’s sort of the same with fitness if you want to fine-tune your body and make exercise more effective, it’s time to ponder the space between workouts. Think of a comprehensive healthy body plan as having three pillars: exercise, nutrition and rest. Each has an important part to play. When it comes to wellbeing, what you do outside the gym is just as significant as what you do inside it. And while it may seem counterintuitive, more training doesn’t equal more gains. Without recovery, you can become tired and your muscles don’t get the chance to repair and grow.


The great news is that means you can take time off without feeling remorseful. But that’s not to advise rest days can involve scoffing cheeseburgers in bed while watching three screens. From eating correctly to sleeping well and stretching generously, there are a few things you should do to make the most of recovery. Here are seven expert-recommended methods to ensure downtime doesn’t turn into wasted time.


Don't Be. Become.

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We all have demanding lives, with many goings-on and people pushing for our valuable time, so it’s vital that workouts don’t take up more of it than they need to. Track your progress with an old-fashioned notebook, not your phone (the enticement to check emails and Instagram between squats is too great). Log weights, sets and reps. Don’t just show up and see how you feel. Plot your session with exercises that will keep working for you after you’ve left the gym (the so-called “afterburn” effect) anything that involves big, vigorous movements, such as lower-body-upper-body supersets or Hiit training. Train with different stimuli on different days. Don’t just always sprint, say, or lift heavy weights. And whatever it is you do, keep the intensity levels up so your resting metabolic rate stays high throughout the next 12 to 24 hours.




It’s crucial to present a perspective on your plan. Not one person wants to become a gym bore, but the explosion of information surrounding the fitness industry means it’s easy to fall into a black hole of confusing stats, ascetic diets and conflicting advice from fellow gym-goers. Save you are a professional athlete (we’re assuming you’re not), your exercise routine should be maintainable and your targets should slot in around your life, not the other way. So, on rest days, have some fun. Visit that lido you’ve always been wishing to go to for a stress-busting outdoor swim or take on a bike ride along the river with a pitstop at a decent café. Movement doesn’t always have to be rigorous, efficient or tracked to be worthwhile.






We’ve all had our post-workout disrupted by that machine-gun rattle of shaker bottles in the changing room. The notion we need protein straight after training is prevalent but overstated. Recovery days are all about the chance for your body to repair itself and rebuild strong, functional tissue. Keep protein intake steady (the same quantities you’re eating when you train) and base the rest around plenty of nourishing, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods full of healing micronutrients. Bright colours in natural foods tend to signify different types of antioxidants, which can enhance the healing progression, so fill up on beetroot, broccoli, turmeric, ginger, lemon, brussels sprouts, carrot, pineapple and squash. They’re all brilliant anti-inflammatories and sources of vitamin C. And go for healthy omega-3 and B vitamins from foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed and cauliflower.





Do sleep and the quality thereof have an immediate result on athletic performance? Well, good sleep brings good daytime wellbeing, which affects energy, concentration and mood. In terms of quality of life, no aspect of daily working is unaffected by sleep. Missing it leads to fatigue, low vitality and that overwhelming urge to body swerve the gym. The point of a rest day is recovery, and the average adult needs seven hours every night, training day or rest day, to stay in peak condition. Plus, well-spent time in the gym leads to well-spent time in bed. Getting frequent exercise helps improve your sleep. Fit people generally sleep better than those who are unfit, and some studies have found that the time spent in the deeper stages of sleep increases after exercise.




The route between the lockers and the weights room at your gym may be so well-trodden you can really do it with your eyes closed. But next time, stop and look at all that other stuff your membership fees are also paying for. Using a foam roller on a rest day for 30-45 seconds on major muscles (hamstrings, piriformis, quads, for example) aids muscle recovery and improves mobility. A tennis ball can loosen up target points more intensively. A TRX suspension system isn’t just for tiring your core. Because it can unload bodyweight or add resistance to a stretch, it’s ideal for improving functional flexibility and mobility. And if all that active recovery just seems too active, studies have shown that an infrared sauna after training can assist neuromuscular recovery, as well as being relaxing. Your muscles will thank you next time you’re staring down at that barbell.





Most professionals concur that active recovery brings more advantages than passive recovery. In other words, include some movement into your downtime as opposed to doing, well, nothing. Active recovery is good as it allows blood to continue to flow to working muscles and doesn’t let the body cool down too much or return to. So, don’t just crash out on a mat between sets. Jog lightly around the room. And instead of jumping on the Tube after the gym, a short walk will increase blood flow around the body and reduce muscle stiffness. Swimming, or any steady cardio activity that doesn’t raise the heart rate too much, is an ideal rest-day active recovery exercise because it’s low-impact and works almost the whole body.




In a world where social media sometimes seems to exist only to make us jealous of other people’s He-Man abs, it’s easy to feel like we’re just not working hard enough. But before you take up lasting residency at the gym, stop being so firm on yourself. Overtraining can lead to exhaustion both mentally as well as physically. If exercise is someone’s life, the last thing they want to hear is that they train too much. The key to dodging overtraining is to think quality, not quantity. A mindful tactic to exercise means tuning out the noise, listening to your body, concentrating on the task at hand. Use rest days to focus on other things than training. It will help you get motivated when you’re back at the rack.

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Donald Anthony

I M A G E 
Donald Anthony

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