Finding Balance with Rest and Recovery

By Vu Nguyen

When was the last time you heard, or used, the phrase “R & R”? For many of us, R & R, rest and relaxation (rest and recovery in the context of this article), is associated with a luscious getaway in the mountains or a lavish day at the spa. R & R tends to be a reward for an extended period of non-stop work and activity. Unfortunately, oftentimes, we wait until we’re at a point of exhaustion and fatigue before we give our mind and body the benefit of rest and recovery. It is important for us to remind ourselves that rest and recovery are important components of life; perhaps the most important.

This applies to fitness training as much as it does to day-to-day life; if not more so. In pursuit of our fitness goals, many of us (me included) have been, and will continue to be, absorbed into a vicious cycle of train, train, train, quick break, train. It is engrained into us that our success is correlated to the frequency of training; that is, the more you train, the better and faster the results. This couldn’t be more wrong!

The pursuit of our fitness goals is a balancing act; it is about finding a healthy balance between training, rest and recovery. By failing to find this balance, we will do more harm than good.

The Importance of Rest and Recovery

Before we delve into this, it is important to review the typical training process. Regardless of the end goal – building muscle, toning up, losing weight – the idea is to progressively put your body (and mind) under strategic stress and then to nourish it afterward to promote restoration and repair. Done right, we would all be achieving milestone after milestone. But it doesn’t seem to happen this way. The problem is that too much emphasis is placed on the training and not enough is placed on nourishing; in this case, the best nourishment comes in the form of rest and recovery. Should this be the case, illness and injury are right around the corner.

Enter rest and recovery. Simply put, rest and recovery is time spent not training. It includes low intensity activity such as sleeping, eating, flexibility and mobility training, heating, and icing. These activities are what cultivate an environment for restoration and repair after training.

Five Signs You’re Not Getting Enough R & R

As a society, we tend to be reactive rather than proactive. That is, we wait for the consequences to occur before we take action, rather than taking action to get ahead of the consequences. Especially as it relates to rest and recovery, the consequences of not getting enough far outweigh the benefits of the incremental, additional training. As suggested above, this vicious cycle can lead to illness and injury, which will, consequently, remove us from training for a much greater period than if we were to plan strategic rest and recovery days.

Have you ever been told to “listen to your body”? There’s logic to this. Your body is excellent at giving you signs well in advance of illness and injury. Here are five signs, in advance of illness and injury, that you’re not getting enough rest and recovery.

1) Lack of progress

Have you been training consistently with little to no progress? You’re sticking to a regimented program but you’re not lifting more, you don’t have increased endurance, or you’re not losing weight.

2) Prolonged period of soreness

Are you feeling sore for longer than usual? Yes, training and soreness go hand in hand – part of the training process is the micro-tearing of muscles fibres. But, without adequate rest and recovery, these muscle fibres won’t have an opportunity to recover.

3) Fatigue

Isn’t exercise supposed to make you feel good? Yes, it is! But, while training does produce endorphins, it also induces stress on the body. Consistent training without adequate periods of rest and recovery will create an environment of constant stress, leaving you tired (and even depressed).

4) Loss of enthusiasm

If you’re not excited about your training session when you generally would be, it’s a good idea to take time off. This is especially true if it begins to feel like a chore.

5) You think you need a break

Beyond all else, if instinctively you feel like you need rest… you need rest.

It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset that more is better. But, oftentimes, less is more. Let’s correct the mindset that training as much as possible is the best route to our fitness goals. In fact, correcting this mindset will not only help us prevent setbacks but also help us progress more efficiently. The best part is, your body gives you all the signs you need. The question is: will you listen to what it’s telling you?

Reward your training with nourishment. Reward your training with rest and recovery.


Vu is the founder of Calgary-based Evolution Health and Wellness, a company founded upon a vision of helping both clients and personal trainers succeed. He is an associate PRO Trainer, Professional Engineer, and is also the inventor of the Evolution, a functional movement training apparatus.