In my very early twenties exercise was a little bit of an unhealthy obsession for me. I felt like I needed to workout every single day in order to allow myself to eat normally. If I was taking a day off I would try and restrict the amount of calories that I was eating and the majority of days I would try and fit exercise in somehow whether this meant early morning runs or late night exercise DVD’s. It meant that working out really controlled my life and was no longer something that I did because I enjoyed it, it was more a compulsion. I felt like if I hadn’t done any form of exercise I looked ‘bigger’ and I felt ‘fat’. Completely ridiculous but I think it’s actually quite common when you are following a fitness regime and you start seeing changes in your body to want to push yourself harder and make sure you aren’t taking steps backwards.
Obviously falling pregnant meant that taking things easy was more important. I still worked out through the duration of my pregnancy and remained active right up until Rafe was born. I feel like exercise during pregnancy is really important and I firmly believe that it has been the reason that my body recovered so quickly. Even though I was still being active my fitness goals definitely took a backseat and my main priority was having a healthy baby. I think pregnancy teaches you a lot about your own body. Firstly exactly what it’s capable of, because making and carrying a child to term and then producing what is needed to provide complete nutrition for that baby for their first months is actually amazing when you really think about it. Secondly pregnancy is likely to be the time when most of us are at our largest, and seeing how our bodies can change so much and then go back to near enough exactly how they were before pregnancy really puts things into perspective in terms of how taking the occasional rest day or week really isn’t going to impact progress that much. If anything it’s actually likely to be beneficial.
Rest days can help to prevent injuries by allowing your muscles and joints to thoroughly recover. Overworking joints and tendons in particular can lead to strains and pain which could actually inhibit progress from any fitness regime if you find yourself having to completely rest up in order to heal. Also resistance training such as weight lifting, with the objective to tone up and build muscle works by creating little tears in the muscles, rest days give your body a chance to repair itself which potentially means you will feel stronger and be able to life heavier when you next train that area. Basically taking rest days can actually improve performance and progress. There is evidence to suggest that overtraining and not taking adequate rest periods can cause problems with sleep. This in turn will lead to exhaustion if you keep trying to train while not getting enough shut eye at night.
Mentally not taking rest days and feeling like you ‘must’ exercise every. single. day can mean that you lose the enjoyment that you once had for training. If you start to feel as if you are being controlled by a compulsion to exercise a certain amount or you start to feel guilty at times when you are unable to, or simply are too tired to get your workout in, then the chances are you are no longer working out for the right reasons. Keeping fit should be a fun activity that we fit into our lives because we want to do it and because it makes us feel good. If it becomes a chore then we will lose all passion for something that should provide enjoyment.
Of course there are the days when we are not exhausted at all, when we don’t need to take a rest day we simply need a kick up the backside and to get our trainers on and get our workout done. It’s important to be honest with ourselves as to whether our bodies genuinely need to rest or whether we are simply feeling a bit lazy. There’s not harm in taking a break from an exercise regime if you find you are no longer enjoying your training. But sometimes a change is as good as a rest. If you do a lot of cardio maybe switch to weight training or try a new class or type of exercise. But above all truly listen to your body and if you feel like you need to rest then allow it.
I am currently in a far more positive mindset when it comes to exercise. I am completing Kayla Itsines Bbg guide alongside my own kettlebell HIIT training and plenty of LISS in the form of regular walks with my son, with either the Baby Bjorn carrier or the pushchair for a bit more resistance. I no longer feel that compulsion to train every day and I tend to take two rest days per week now, but I would comfortably take more if I felt that I needed them. I am also breastfeeding so there is no calorie restriction in my diet anymore, and I make sure that I am eating really well every day, including rest days. I have a much healthier attitude to exercise and it’s now just a small part of my day that I really look forward to and enjoy, rather than a compulsion that controls how I feel about myself.
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