Hey guys, I’m coming to you with my first ever guest post on the SoheeFit blog (wipes tear).
I met Adam during my time at Peak Performance, and I’ve since gotten to know him as a budding fitness professional with one of the best attitudes out there. We got to talking a few months ago and I decided to reach out to him to be my first guest writer for the site.
He’s whipped up a quality piece for you guys on a topic that often gets overlooked: what to do on your off days. While taking up residence on the couch on days that you’re not killing it at the gym certainly isn’t the end of the world, there are some better ways that you can improve your performance in the gym without actually having to be there.
Hope you like this one!
Any training program worth doing has planned off days. That fact might initially seem counterintuitive and downright counterproductive, but the benefits of training are only achieved through adaptation, which requires rest. Well, “rest” isn’t completely accurate, actually. The key is allowing your body to spend time away from the same demands you place on it during training. The catch, though, is that on your “off days,” you have the opportunity to replace your training stimulus with a new stimulus.
It’s hard to deny the positive effects that being in the gym can have on life outside of the gym. Resistance training provides a continually novel challenge that can improve strength, body composition, and movement. But truth be told, sometimes being confined by the four walls of the gym can wear on your sanity.
The gym ideally should be your sanctuary – your playground – but that takes time. If you find yourself losing motivation to hit the weights day in and day out, spending your off days wisely can be just what you need to spark your drive to return to the gym and maybe even improve your workouts.
The objective on your off days should be to accomplish one, two, or ideally all three of these goals:
- Promote the recovery of your muscular system as well your nervous system
- Improve weak links in mobility, stability, and movement
- Have some good old-fashioned fun
Because you will most likely be spending your days away from a program that is either self-administered or carried out by your personal trainer, you are on your own. Being by yourself allows you more freedom, but with great freedom comes great responsibility. (Do you feel like a super hero now? Good. You should always feel like a superhero.)
Here are some things that you can do on your off days to recover, re-motivate, and continue improving.
The effects of a challenging training session can linger with you even on an off-day. As you contract your muscles against varying types and levels of resistance, you induce small amounts of damage that will eventually stimulate an adaptive response – but only if you give your body the opportunity to recover. This is where self-performed soft tissue work can help a great deal.
Some of the most common training-related complaints on off days are muscle soreness and tightness, making everyday life just a little bit more of a pain. Luckily, there are some strategies that you can implement yourself to address these issues and prime your body for the next training session. Enter the foam roller!
Foam Rolling is a widely used form of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) that is relatively simple, cheap, and effective. The benefits of foam rolling lie in its ability to stimulate a muscle relaxation response as well as a potential breakdown of adhesions caused by the previous day’s training and chronic training (1). It can be accomplished with a foam roller, a medicine ball, a stick, or maybe a lacrosse ball (note that the stiffer/harder/smaller the implement, the more uncomfortable it will be initially). Different implements can be used for different body parts and targeting needs. In general, foam rolling is a great place to start getting familiar with SMR.
This is a very simple protocol I use every time I foam roll. Perform 5 reps on each body part. Each rep is equivalent to rolling over the entire length of the muscle twice. Tailor it to your needs as you go. The whole thing should not take more than 5-10 minutes.
- IT Band
- Mid and Upper Back
Learn a New Move.
Growing up as a chubby kid, any activities that involved bodyweight were always quite daunting for me. It all started with the monkey bars, when I’d watch from the sidelines as the more athletic kids would swing effortlessly across the playground.
Now I see people standing on their hands, and still, I feel the itch to do what they do.
That’s why I decided a while back I would spend about 15 to 20 minutes twice a week on my off days learning how to do a handstand. The best part about my new inverted pursuit was that it required skills that helped me shore up previous weaknesses of mine like wrist flexibility, core strength, and shoulder stability. After about a month of handstand practice I was able to hold a free handstand for about 3 seconds, which felt like an eternity.
While I’m certainly not bound to be an Olympic gymnast, the feat gave me confidence and provided an enjoyable outlet for some extra energy I had on off days. A nice by-product of the handstand practice was the improved wrist, core, and shoulder function that carried over to my training sessions. It was a lot of #winning.
Handstands or not, but there are plenty of options such as cartwheels and bear crawls that are fun and challenging. Find some resources online and use the progressions provided. Don’t make the mistake of jumping into any of these movements without breaking them down and ensuring you have built up the capacity of individual joints and muscles to do them.
Here’s the link that I used to start my handstand training (even if you never end up doing a handstand, I’ve found that the preparation exercises are generally beneficial):
Take a Nap.
Depending on your sleep the night following your tough training session, perhaps the thought of extra physical movement makes your heart drop. If this is the case, maybe doing less is the answer.
Maybe you need to schedule a good old-fashioned nap time.
An afternoon slumber is not just reserved for toddlers without the endurance or attention span to make it through the day; you might need one as well.
The addition of an afternoon nap is one of my many strategies for coping with an increase in training volume or intensity. Before your head hits the bed, though, make sure you consider the duration of your planned respite.
Take too short of a nap and you won’t obtain the positive effects; take too long of a nap, and you might be groggy for the rest of the day.
Plan to take your off-day nap in the afternoon around 1-3 pm for about 20-30 minutes in a quiet, dark space (2). Scheduling a nap into your day is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s an indication that you have a solid understanding of the synergy between training and stress, recovery and adaptation.
Go for a walk.
Walking? Yes. Walking.
During my time as a student and professional in exercise science, if I had a nickel for every time that I have heard “walking is good for you,” I would have about 9 or 10 bucks.
Unfortunately, that advice didn’t sink in until this past year, when I began to use walking as part of my own physical activity and mental-sanity preservation routine.
Going for a walk provides a multitude of benefits that include useful energy expenditure, getting out of your home (and the food located within in), and improving your mood (3). And because walking is not very taxing on your body, you can recover from it without a problem.
Start with an easy 30-minute walk at a pleasant pace. The more comfortable you get with purposeful walking, the faster you can go. There is, after all, evidence that indicates that a faster walk is a healthier walk (4).
Sometimes, I’ll listen to my favorite music or an interesting podcast as I walk. Might as well get more bang for my walking buck, right? Additionally, walking is incredibly relaxing and provides a nice medium for spontaneity, allowing you to make every stroll unique enjoyable by taking different paths.
What the Perfect Off Day Looks Like.
The first two primary components of a perfect off-day should actually be present every day, and those are adequate sleep and proper nutrition. Without both of those factors in place, your off day battle plan will be far less effective. Here is what an ideal off day might look like:
- In the morning: foam roll
- In the afternoon: movement practice or a nap
- In the evening: go for a walk
Avoid recovery and you will most likely experience the accumulation of chronic aches and pains that can wear on you (mind and body), making training a pain. Instead, embrace these or other restorative recovery methods and make your training consistently enjoyable and effective.
About the Author
Adam Copeland is a senior at Penn State University and will be graduating this year with a B.S. in kinesiology. Next fall, he’ll begin his pursuit of a doctorate at Penn State in the same field.
His start in the fitness world came while interning at Peak Performance in New York City. During his time there, he got to experience first-hand the life-changing impact that nutrition and exercise can have on every single person.
He has an insatiable thirst to learn, and he jumps at any opportunity to help others become stronger, healthier, and happier through proper exercise prescription and nutrition advice.