It’s time for another installment of “Why Your Workout Isn’t Working”, our weekly guide to those of you struggling in the gym! My original intention with putting together this strand of postings was to help those of you that had great intentions, but for one reason or another just couldn’t get results from your exercise program. Over the years I’ve done a lot right on the workout front – but I’ve also made a LOT of mistakes – so I’m hoping you can benefit from my experience.
Previously we’ve discussed the importance of goal setting, correct exercise selection, consistency, and intensity (or how hard you bust your butt in the gym). Let’s assume you’ve taken my advice and you have all of these components in check. Yet still you just aren’t making the progress you’d like, or which you had expected. So, what gives? What now? Let me introduce you to the most overlooked and underrated component of many exercises programs – say hello to REST!
Most people fail to see exercise for what it really is – and that’s trauma. Yes, you read it right – exercise in part causes micro tears to your muscles and basically beats your body up. Each time you workout appropriately, your body recovers and recuperates from the experience you just put it through. But when exercise is regular and consistent, your body learns to expect for you to put it through the ringer once again, and in anticipation, heals itself and grows stronger. Once you grasp that analogy, you can fully understand just why consistency and intensity are so important when you train.
But you have to rest! You don’t get stronger, fitter, or even leaner in the gym – that’s just the stimulus. What you do outside of the gym, and how much rest you get is just as valuable as the workout itself. Many people believe “more is better” when it comes to exercise regimens, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s a delicate and individual balancing act between exercising enough to get results, and overtraining which can actually make you weaker (a very common rookie mistake). Overexercising and under-resting can potentially cause your body to produce more of the stress hormone called “cortisol”, which can make you fatter, weaker, and give you aches and pains all over. It can also make you irritable, sleepless, and really wreak havoc on how you function day to day. Trust me – I’ve been there and it’s no fun at all!
Hand in hand with proper rest periods is of course sleep. I’ve known people that say that they can “get by” on 4 hours of sleep a night. But the truth is most people need 7 – 8 hours per day to be fully rested, and especially when you’re exercising regularly, “getting by” isn’t going to cut it. I’m also a huge believer in naps, even if it’s just for 45 minutes in the afternoon. A full day is a long time to be mentally awake, and physically moving. If you look at other cultures, or even elsewhere in the animal kingdom there are few species that are on the go constantly on a daily basis, with only a rest period at night. Sleep isn’t just vital to rest your muscles, but your mind as well. It helps to “turn off” and let your brain recuperate, especially if your job or lifestyle involve a lot of brainpower and focus.
In addition to your daily sleep habits, you also need to take your ‘rest’ seriously. Some people become so addicted to exercise that even on their “off” days, they’re running miles, playing intense sports, and taking on other physically challenging tasks. I generally recommend that people have at least 2 full days where they don’t do much intense physical activity a week. A light walk, yard work, playing with the kids can all be considered active rest. But for you to truly maximize your benefits in the gym, you must also master your rest outside of it. Get it?
So remember the key point – you make most of your fitness and muscle gains when you’re NOT working out – not in the gym! Keep this in mind and don’t feel guilty about taking a couple of days off and truly chilling out.
But what do you think? Do you work out everyday and get great results? Do you agree with me? Start weighing in!