The Importance of Rest Days for Athletes

Article by: Margarita Te

Tasked with maintaining busy training schedules for their respective sports teams, students view the weekend and days with no practice as opportunities to take a break. However, are days solely dedicated to resting necessarily a requisite for maximum athletic performance?

At ISM, students would apparently concur; it is a universal belief that rest days are essential. Katie G., a junior on the varsity volleyball team, “only [has] one rest day throughout the school week” and “can’t imagine how sore and worn out” she’d be without it.

“They’re also really helpful for students to focus on academics and catch up on homework which relieves stress and helps my athletic performance,” she says.

Moreover, according to sophomore Charlotte W., JV soccer team trainings are scheduled on three consecutive days. As a result of “using [her] body and energy constantly,” Charlotte says she “needs a couple days where [she doesn’t] train or exercise, unless it’s low-intensity,” so that her body can rehabilitate and return to optimal condition for the following weeks of training and competitive matches.

Meanwhile, senior Chris T., a cross country runner, says that “during intense practices, it’s almost like you’re ripping those muscles apart—that’s what it feels like.” Thus, he agrees that “rest days are necessary because you need to let growth happen outside of practice; your muscles grow bigger, and you get stronger.”

Looking at specific research, professionals on the American Council on Exercise (ACE) state that progress is made not while exercising, but during recovery. “The workout is the stimulus, while recovery and improvement is the physical response.” Additionally, rest days are defined as “non-training days where you remove the challenge of hard exercise.” This, however, doesn’t mean one should remain sedentary for an entire day, as recuperation periods are “characterized by a need for some movement.” Regarding the ideal workout program, “every day of the week should contain decent amounts of movement,” while individual and nonconsecutive days contain challenging workouts. They “might even include some exercise-type activities, provided the intensity is manipulated to avoid providing a physical demand that is at or above current abilities,” says Jonathan Ross, a health and fitness specialist from the ACE.

Furthermore, the ISM coaches hold similar opinions. Cross country and varsity softball coach, Ms. Respecki, says that “depending on the sport, [rest days] are just as important as the actual workout days. The body and muscles need time to rebuild and replenish.” Cross country training at ISM includes brief high-intensity workouts, accompanied by prolonged “flush out sessions” to expel any buildup of lactic acid.

In contrast, varsity volleyball head coach, Mr. Berg, says that in the case of the ISM boys volleyball team, rest days are not totally necessary because they’re only practicing for two hours, with frequent breaks, three to four times a week.

“If the duration of training were four to six intense hours, then that would render the need for rest days,” said Mr. Berg.

Ultimately, rest days with some activity or, perhaps, a low-intensity workout, depending on the person and the intensity of their training, is necessary to optimize one’s overall fitness and athletic performance.