How to Know When You Need a Rest Day (or Week!)

Morning friends! I’m off on a press trip this morning (to a super cool spot… you can see a preview of what I’m up to on Instagram!), so I’ve asked blogger and personal trainer Taylor Ryan of Lifting Revolution to pop in to share a guest post with you all today. One thing I’ve been working a lot with my AnneTheRD clients on lately is taking care of themselves. In some cases, that means encouraging the client to add exercise in as their “me time” – their alone time to de-stress from their hectic lives. For other clients, that means encouraging them to take a step back from intense workouts; to remember that rest days are just as important as workout days as far as your training is concerned. I’m a big believer in the importance of the rest day – not only in being sure to take one every single week, but also in adding on additional days as necessary. I felt wiped earlier this week, actually, and took Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday off. Listen to your body, my friends!

That said, I’m happy to have Taylor here today to share more information about why it’s so important to honor the rest day, and how to know when to take a bigger step back every once in awhile, too.

How to Know When You Need a Rest Day (or Week!)
by: Taylor Ryan


I want to thank Anne for asking me to drop in today and share my passion for fitness! I’m Taylor Ryan, and I blog over at Lifting Revolution. I’ve been a personal trainer for 7 years now and can’t imagine doing anything else! Though I won’t lie, following Anne as she was on her journey to become an RD almost had me convinced to go back to school!


So since I am still a personal trainer (and not an RD), Anne asked if I would share some tips and cues on how to know when your body needs (not wants, but requires) a rest. Namely:

  • How do you know when you need to take an extra day off?
  • Is doing “a little something actually better than doing nothing at all?
  • And what is more important that exercise?

First things first…

We live in an age of over abundance. Moderation? Ha! That’s tough for our society.

When it comes to exercise, we’ve been led to think that if a little exercise is good, then a lot of exercise must be fabulous.


But that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

There is no denying that exercise becomes addicting. Maybe not at first, but once it has become a part of our daily life, it becomes something we crave. We want more, and we (yes, especially me) feel guilty if we don’t get a sweat session in. Just the idea of taking a unplanned day off from the gym is enough to cause heart palpitations and sweaty palms.

But guess what? Sometimes we need to take a step back and say “enough right now, I need a break.” Even if that break is just a day.

What’s amazing is that taking a day off, or even a week, won’t change your body. You won’t wake up 10 pounds heavier or look in the mirror to see your tone has melted away like hot wax dripping down the side of a candle.

Ask any great athlete and they will confirm this. In fact, they’ll agree that around every 12 weeks, they take a full recovery week. The body is able to handle about 12 weeks of focused, hard training before saying enough is enough (source). It’s at this point that the body can turn on itself and all these amazing results you were achieving just freeze or even reverse.

And if it hasn’t been 12 weeks? It doesn’t matter, sometimes you just have an off week and you need to back off.

The problem is that some of us don’t realize we’re in a state of overtraining until it’s too late. Here are some potential signs of overtraining:

  • You used to sleep like a baby; now suddenly you can’t remember the last time you got a solid night’s sleep.
  • Irritability, tiredness, or a change in appetite – these can be caused by hormonal changes triggered by poor recovery.
  • Changes in or absence of your menstrual cycle.
  • Decreases in your athletic performance, like feeling sluggish or overly tired during workouts.

Plus, overtraining can wreak havoc on your musculoskeletal system, resulting in injuries such as stress fractures, inflamed tendons, ligament strains or tears, and more. In this case, you won’t be taking just a day or week off; you could be sidelined for months.

I know all of these symptoms far too well. I’ve been there and I know it’s absolutely no fun. At. All.


Don’t wait until you get injured – take care of yourself now. Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself to determine if you need to take an extra rest day.

5 Ways To Know If You Need To Take A Rest Day From Exercise

1. Are you sore?

We all love waking up with a little big of muscle soreness as a sign that we worked hard and had an effective workout. A little bit of soreness is fine, but if you are sore to the point that you’re experiencing limited range of motion or doing simple movements causes discomfort, take a rest day. Go for several light walks, take a very light yoga class and hydrate to help the muscles recover.

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) can cause injuries due to poor form and limited range of motion. Sometimes, it’s just not worth pushing through the pain.

2. Did you get a restless night of sleep?

Results from a workout don’t happen during a workout – they happen during sleep! A restless night can cause havoc on hormones, alertness and fitness performance. A new study confirmed that people with sleep apnea have an “impaired fitness capacity” compared with that of healthy sleepers.

In our go-go-go society, 3 out of every 10 Americans get less than the recommended 6-8 hours of sleep per night. While one night of bad sleep may not affect you, if you have had a couple of rough nights, skip the workout and use that hour to gain an extra hour (or two) of sleep.

3. Do you feel weak or “off”?

This is personally my best indicator. I’m not often sore yet sometimes I start into a workout and feel as if every move takes 10 times the amount of energy than it should. Doing a simple push-up feels as if I am sporting a weighted vest, and jogging 200 meters feels like a mile. This feeling normally comes after I’ve had 2-3 really strong workouts within the past 4 days.

What do I do? I shrug it off, stop the workout and change it on the spot. A walk, a yoga class, or even a trip by to my car to go home. Seriously, there is nothing wrong at all with listening to your body and cutting a workout short.

4. Is Your Resting Heart Rate Up?

I love quantifiable data. I’m a numbers person and I love when numbers can show us what we need to know. It’s one thing to think we are over doing it, it’s another to actually know we are. And your heart rate can do just that (so can your blood pressure, but who has a blood pressure cuff at home?). If your resting heart rate is up then it’s likely your body hasn’t fully recovered yet. Of course there are a few rules for this test to work:

  • You have to know your true resting heart rate. Take your heart rate 3-4 mornings in a row, right after you wake up (without an alarm clock preferred) and still in bed. It’s best to do this on a week where workouts aren’t strenuous. I use an app called Instant Heart Rate on my iPhone.


  • Once you’ve established your true resting heart rate, you can test out the theory.
  • If you wake up and your heart rate is 10+ beats faster then normal, it’s likely you’re in a state of overtraining or under recovered. Scale back on your workouts and focus on relaxation and stretching to aid in faster recovery!

5. Are you just not that into it?

Exercise is supposed to add to our lives. It’s supposed to make it better and it’s something we should look forward to. If you normally do love getting in a sweat, but wake up one day feeling as if a trip to the dentist’s office sounds better than going to the gym, then take that as a sign that you need a break for the day. Guilt-free. We all deserve a break and even if it says “SPIN CLASS” on your calendar, break your date.

Changes brought on by exercise such as hormone levels, inflammation and muscle fatigue all play a role in this feeling. It’s your body’s way of telling you to chill out for a day. Listen to it. If you don’t want to workout one day, don’t. Maybe the idea of going on a bike ride with a friend, or walking the block with your dogs sounds better.


Does this all make sense?

Of course there are other signs for long term over-training because each of us reacts differently; lack of sexual desire, depression, and loss of hair come to mind, just to name a few more. But the point is to pick up on the signs and symptoms before over training becomes a problem. If you do, you’ll remain in a healthy place with your fitness and your body.

So: if you haven’t taken a break from training (4+ workouts/week) for at least 12 weeks, it’s time. Enjoy a complete week off from structured workouts! And at the very least, make sure you are always taking 1 full rest day per week – and additional ones as necessary, per the guidelines above.

And what about exercise guilt?

Push it out of your mind. Realize that more important than exercise is sleep and food. Sixty percent (estimated) of your results comes from the food you eat. So focus on following Anne’s intuitive nutrition advice, listen to your body for your workouts and you will be great.

One missed workout or even a week of missed workouts won’t change where you are. It takes roughly 1-2 weeks to lose cardiovascular fitness (due to a decrease in mitochondria and VO2 Max). But even if you do feel “out of shape,” the body remembers where you were and will get you back to that level within just a few workouts. But the really great part will be that you’ll feel fresh and recovered, allowing you to push beyond that previous level to become even stronger.


Listen to your body! It will tell you what it needs. It took me years to listen, but after stress fractures and exercise anxiety, I finally learned to stop ignoring it and I hope you do too!

Thanks so much again for letting me pop in today! Feel free to get more exercise tips and workouts over at my blog, Lifting Revolution! Have a wonderful day!


  1. 1

    I really enjoyed this post! I agree that in our society, moderation is really hard. It seems like people are either all in or all out, and it’s hard to find that middle ground.

  2. 3

    This is such a timely post for me! Although I love running and working out, I was feeling really burned out for awhile. Now I’m focusing on listening to my body and running purely for the love of running.

  3. 4

    Agreed! I love how she says that you won’t gain 10 pounds if you miss a day. I don’t know why I sometimes think silly things like that, but it’s just my brain playing with me. You know, I’ve taken lots of days off, at least 1 or 2 every week, and I’m still the same size I was 6 months ago, give or take. ;-P

  4. 5

    LOVE this post- its just such sound advice! I’ve only recently gotten better about listening to my body… I try to eat intuitively and work out intuitively as well!

  5. 6

    Thanks for this! I recently went to visit family in CA for 5 days and used that as a rest period. I teach/take HIIT classes a couple days a week and during those 5 CA days I did one pilates and one yoga class. It was so nice to not be constantly stressing my body. I definitely ate too much, but I dont think my body minded that either :)

  6. 8

    Such a great post! I used to really bad at taking a day off or stopping a workout but recently I have started listening to my body. I can tell when I need a rest day or when I need to stop my workout. It’s actually so liberating to know it’s ok! x

  7. 9

    What a great post about an important topic! I identify with a lot of what you wrote about – once you get “addicted” to exercise it’s hard to imagine even a week without it.

    Which is what brings me to my question. I always take at least one day off a week, but I pretty much never take a whole week off unless I am out for the count with the flu or on a vacation (and even then I usually manage to exercise). I can’t imagine taking a week off every 12 weeks – does that seem like a lot to anyone else??

    Anne, you are someone I very much admire for her balance, especially in food. But you do seem to workout hard and more than 4x/week, and I don’t see you taking a week off. What are your thoughts on that suggestion? As someone who sits at a desk all day, it just doesn’t feel practical to me – I would go crazy!

    Thank you both for a very thoughtful post!

    • 10

      Thanks for the questioning, and that’s what this great blog world is all about sharing opinions! I agree it’s tough but it’s much on a person to person level. I workout during training times (like right now I am training for a 50K and a kettlebell course) so the workouts are intense and hard on my body with very little recovery time. On something like this, a week off when it’s all over is going to be vital. If you’re just in a fitness groove, I don’t think a whole week is needed, but definitely more than a single rest day at some point around 12 weeks… even 3 days (which I know Anne just did this week). My husband has a crazy memory and every few months reminds me I should take a few easy days off. It works wonders!

    • 11

      I had actually not heard of this whole week off every 12 weeks suggestion until this guest post! Hence me taking 4 days off this week (yesterday’s yoga class was basically a nap, super easy, so I’m counting that, too). I don’t see myself doing a full week off every 12 weeks, but I’m thinking it might be a good idea to do “step down” weeks about that often, where I just do basic yoga and walks for the week. That way I’m still moving around a bit so I’m not going insane, but I’m not doing anything intense or taxing. We’ll see! I always get 1 rest day full week, and 2 of the other days are usually more low key (yoga or a swim), but it might be worth adding another full on rest day more frequently!

      • 12

        Thanks Anne and Taylor! This post obviously rang true for me because believe it or not, I took an unplanned rest day today! I went to bed early last night and was still feeling sluggish when my gym alarm went off at 5:30, so I decided to heed your advice and listen to my body for once! Yesterday was a planned rest day, so it’s unheard of for me to take two days off in a row…but I’m learning that an unplanned rest day here and there is not only not OK, it’s probably GOOD for me.

        Thanks for the thoughtful replies!

  8. 13

    this is a great post, but I have a few questions. It was my new years resolution to take more rest days, but this is difficult for me for several reasons. First, I am a first thing in the morning exerciser, and when I dont do any exercise, I feel really sluggish all day. Second, I rarely feel tired or sore. I am a marathon runner, but I do hard runs maybe 3 days a week. The other days I alternate between spinning, jillian michaels dvds, and swimming. i do about 1.5-2 hrs of some kind of activity per day, but do consciously take “easy” days.

    That being said, do I really need to take full rest days? I feel great, sometimes tired, but never feel like it affects my workouts, and get plenty of sleep. According to your criteria, I dont ever need a rest day? It is rare that I have a day where Im just “not feeling it”. Can you advise? Please!

    • 14

      Yes! I definitely recomment at least a single FULL rest day. I’m the same way. I work hard and rarely feel down but I know that that doesn’t mean I need to continue to push. Going hard non stop will eventually catch up, unfortunately which is why that rest day is so important. Go for a walk, take a yoga day, etc instead.

      • 15

        Thank you so much for clearing this up! I have been wondering this for a long time. I know it is good to take rest days, but sometimes it is so hard when I really don’t feel tired or worn out! I’m going to stick with my resolution to take them more often!

        • 16

          You aren’t alone, Barbara! A lot of people struggle to work out at all and I am like you, rarely feeling the need to take a day *off* (especially when working out DOES feel make me feel good). To me, even hiking or walking is like a rest day or just normal activity so the thought of doing nothing is almost overwhelming…I know that is bad!!!! I’m going to try to take this advice to heart. SO many years of telling myself I’ll get fat or lose fitness if I take time off is hard to shake. I will think of you, Barbara, when I’m fighting myself to take a day off and know someone else is making a commitment to be mindful of it as well :)

  9. 17

    Thanks – great post! Maybe we should call it ‘intuitive exercising’! :)

  10. 19

    Hi Taylor! Great post! I’m a trainer too, and I agree that you have to take rest days and rest weeks. I usually take a couple weeks off a year around travel or holidays. And always take a rest day once a week to reset. I actually feel best in my workouts right after a rest day, so I know it helps. I appreciate how you’ve discussed all the symptoms of overtraining, outside of just being sore, because those are the ones people wouldn’t think to notice. Good post!

  11. 20

    Super post!
    I know the guilty feeling damn too well.. I need to stop that!

  12. 21

    I really enjoyed this post and agree with with everything you said, but I do have one question…
    I run 6X/week, usually 3-4 miles with 1 longer run. I also do a mix of strength training about 3X/week. But I often struggle with being able to tell when my body is feeling fatigued due to how hard I’m pushing myself during that particular workout and when its been worked a little much overall for the week and I should stop. Any suggestions for how to make that distinction? Because mentally, I know I CAN finish the workout, which always seems to be what trips me up.

  13. 22

    This is an awesome post that you don’t normally get to see in fitness articles. There IS such a thing as pushing too hard! Thanks for sharing all of this information.

  14. 23

    This is really something we can’t be reminded of enough! Those of us who exercise regularly are probably the types to blow off initial signs that we need to cut back. We totally need to break that more is always better mentality, because often more will really hurt.

  15. 24

    Great post! Listen to one’s body, indeed!

  16. 25

    Wow I needed to read this today! It was my boyfriend’s birthday yesterday and we had a really busy weekend and I felt myself coming down with a cold this morning.
    I missed two workouts this weekend being away (I usually exercise every day except Friday) but when I woke up this morning I just didn’t feel good. I got my workout DVD ready and then decided to head back to bed.
    I have a 10K race on Sunday so it’s difficult for me to take a rest before a race but I know my body needs a bit of a break, and hopefully if I have a few days off I’ll be ready to nail my race on Sunday!

    Thanks so much!

    Charlotte x

  17. 26

    I really, really loved this post! I struggle with exercise guilt more than I want to admit and with the advent of spring and seeing things like “Summer bodies are made in winter” I have a tendency to want to push myself to do even more, even when the thought of a workout makes me cringe. Thank you for including the emotional aspects of exercise in this article, Taylor. This was great and I’m going to come back to it every time I feel bad about taking a rest day.

  18. 27

    Thank you so much for facilitating this post, Anne and Taylor. I too struggle with exercise guilt, though I always allow myself 1 rest day per week.

    Here’s my question .. and maybe there is no specific answer. But how do you differentiate between listening to your body and just making excuses? We’re hammered with messages that tell us to GET UP & GO work out. Don’t be lazy. Put the work in, etc. But some mornings I just want to hit snooze and sleep in. Is it because I’m worn out — or being a bum? Who knows. This is the biggest challenge for me.

    • 28

      Honestly, I have a hard time with this, too! But in general, I feel like you can tell if you are seriously full on exhausted and if you just don’t want to get out of bed – even if only by counting the hours of sleep you got that night (and the previous nights). It also helps to look back at your week – has it been an intense one, workout-wise? Sometimes what I’ll do is swap a workout for an easier, more low key one if I’m feeling tired but still want to move a little!

  19. 29

    Thank you .that’s what I was thinking, now I don’t feel like a failure, ……


  1. […] Doing the KIND thing for our bodies will look different every day, and I’m a big fan of using an intuitive exercise approach (just like with intuitive eating). Ask yourself: what form of movement will serve me best today? Some days, this means getting in a sweaty, heart pounding workout. Another day, it might mean a restorative yoga class. Yet another day, it might mean some fresh air in the form of a social or solo run, or a casual walk. Just like with food, we should aim for variety in our fitness endeavors – and that includes rest days, too. Those are just as important – both mentally and physically – as active days! (See also: How to Know When You Need a Rest Day) […]

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