What is Active Rest?


Ratherbeeating Stairs

“Exercise is hard” is one half of my motto. Of course, I believe in hard work, but everyone needs a break sometimes. We schedule meetings and workouts and all sorts of things in our busy lives, but making time for rest is just as important, so why not schedule that as well? In fact, NOT resting can be a major reason why you aren’t reaching your fitness goals, since rest is crucial to muscle growth/regeneration and fat loss.

If you’re anything like me, though, you might find it hard to just sit still and take a whole day off. This is where the idea of active rest comes in. Basically, active rest is taking an “easy” day. You’re still getting out there to get moving and be active, but at a lesser rate. This allows your body to recover from it’s normal vigorous schedule while still getting your heart going a bit.

Finding the best type of active rest activity for you will depend on what your normal activity level is and what type of exercise you normally do. For example, a bodybuilder may choose to do a full-body HIIT workout, or a lower-impact circuit training on rest day. Or perhaps they might stick to some low impact cardio. Whereas an endurance athlete like a runner may choose to still run, but at a slower pace and shorter distance than usual, or to do some sprints instead of their usual long distance running.

No matter what activity you choose, you should keep your active rest plan below your normal level of exertion so that your body can recover from its normal rigorous training routine.


Lyle McDonald at BodyComposition.com offers some excellent rules to guide you through planning your active recovery days:

1. Volume (length of time) should be 1/2-2/3 of a normal workout.

2. Intensity should be about 60 percent of maximum heart rate for endurance athletes and up to 75 percent of 1RM for weight trainers.

3. You should finish the workout feeling better than you did when you started.

This means that you should plan to do a workout that is considerably less intense than your usual workout. It also means that you should focus on finding ways to build areas that you don’t normally target such as flexibility and agility, can be a great way to not only recover, but to build as well. Read more of Lyle’s recommendations for active vs. passive recovery here.

Active Rest Activity Options

MOM3 Pilates-1 Hiking 3

walking-with-dogWalking/Running (at a lesser pace/distance than normal)


cyclist-silhouetteA Leisurely Bike Ride


Keep busy on your rest day with healthy activities is a great way to burn a few extra calories and still give your body the recovery period it really needs. A leisurely walk/jog in the park, a yoga or pilates class to stretch tired muscles, a bike ride to see the city, or good old-fashioned sleep are all great ways to recharge. The key is to make it both rejuvenating and FUN.

Eating on Rest Days


I know this is not what you want to hear, but rest days should NOT be the time for cheating on your meal plan! Think about it. You are doing much less activity than a normal, active day. So, what happens when you then add extra calories, fat, carbs, etc. for your body to process? Backsliding, that’s what.

While we are on the topic, it should be said that “cheat DAYS” in general are a no-no. When looking to build lean muscle and reduce fat, think in terms of cheat MEALS instead. A whole day of cheating on your healthy diet can derail weeks of progress. Don’t set yourself up for failure!

Livestrong.com offers several effective ways to approach how you should schedule cheat meals: single cheat meals, a 90/10 plan, an 80/20 plan, etc. Each plan should vary depending on your current physical state and your fitness goals. What is consistent for each of these plans, however, is that extra calories before and after designated cheat times are kept to a minimum, and they usually fall on your HEAVIEST exercise day. Think heavy lifting and rigorous, extended cardio.

In another Livestrong.com article, “The Best Routine to Do on a Cheat Day“, certified nutritionist Lau Hanly states that “training with heavy weights on your cheat day improves your muscles’ ability to absorb carbohydrates in the hours following your workout.”

All of this reinforces the idea that you do not want to use rest days to take on those extra calories. It’s a sure fail and will ruin weeks of hard work.

What is your favorite rest day activity? Be sure to comment and let me know!

active rest waterfront ratherbeeating

Related Posts:
Getting Back on the Fitness Wagon
Is Sugar Powering Your Workday?
10 Fitness Rewards that Don’t Include Food

Lead photo and waterfront photos by Osiris Azar
Activity photos from my Instagram @ratherbeeating
Burger by stu_spivack is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY
Icons made by Scott de Jonge from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

What is active rest and why do I need it? via Ratherbeeating.net