How to Structure a Rest Day

Rest days- do you love them or hate them? Either way, if you are training hard enough, you will need a rest day. This will give your CNS time to recover, prevent overuse injuries, provide a mental break and give the muscles all important time to grow and repair. Whether you take rest days intuitively, have allocated days off, or work on a cycle (such as 2 days on, 1 day off) most people performing heavy resistance exercise will benefit from around 2 days away from the weights section a week.

Now that you’re sold on the importance of a rest day… what should you actually do on them? When time in the gym usually takes up a couple of hours of your day, you might feel agitated and restless on a day off. Fight those feelings and learn to embrace the recovery time! For this reason, some people position rest days on their busiest days of the week, but ideally you will allow a day for complete rest and relaxation, to give body and mind time in a non-sympathetic state.

The two divisions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS):

Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS):

  • Control the body's response while at rest
  • Actives rest and digest response
  • Lowers heart rate
  • Muscles relax
  • Stomach secretions increase

We want to activate this as soon as possible after training, before bed and at other times of recovery and relaxation.


Sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

  • Control the body's response during perceived stress
  • Activates flight/fight response
  • Increases heart rate
  • Muscles tense
  • Adrenaline released

We want to activate this system during training (caffeine or a certain genre of music can help) or during times of threat.



Many people reduce carbohydrates on rest days as there is less demand for muscle glycogen, and replace these with fats, to support healthy hormones among many, many other benefits.

There are two stances regarding calories:

  • The same amount of calories are needed to recover adequately
  • Not as many calories are needed as expenditure is decreased

Try both and see which you recovery, energy and appetite respond best to. Ultimately, your weekly calorie intake is what will control weight, but the option is there to fine tune macronutrient timing for extra performance and recovery benefits.


Rest day supplementation shouldn't really be any different to training days, minus a pre and intra workout. Turmeric, omega 3s, greens and ZMAs are some that might promote recovery and wellness.



Rest days can be a good time to position any scheduled cardio as this will have less detriment on performance than say doing it the morning of a heavy leg day. Low intensity steady state may actually aid performance by increasing blood flow and clearing waste from the muscles. Higher intensity cardio may have greater fat loss and heart health effects, but make sure that your programming for the rest of the week accounts for how taxing it can be on the body.


Rest, Rest, Rest

This day is all about priming yourself for subsequent sessions. Do what you can to get into a ‘rest and digest’ state. Some of our favorites are: foam rolling, static stretching, fresh air, Epsom salt baths and meditation.


The perfect rest day

Sleep in

Perform some LISS cardio or go for a walk

Fast until first meal

Eat lots of healthy fats and protein

Spend some time stretching or foam rolling

Take a warm epsom salt bath on the evening

Read or meditate before bed

Have an early night


Of course, this is a very ideal situation! But take what points you can and implement them into your next rest day.

About the Author

Savannah Westerby. BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Instagram: @savannahwesterby

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