What I Learned from a Rest Day

Rest days–the ultimate love-hate relationship. I always knew rest days were important to give your muscles and your body a break from the physical strain put on them by training or playing a sport. Actually in high school, I would look forward to them because it meant having time off, it meant taking a break. During my eating disorder this was not the case at all. I hated breaks and rest days because it meant I wasn’t being as active which meant that my body wasn’t burning as many calories. I saw rest days as a time to lower my calories even more because I had to eat less since I was doing less. I would try every way I could to get exercise in or not take too many rest days even when I was tired. I still took them because there were days I felt so tired and unmotivated that I couldn’t work out (probably because I didn’t take properly timed rest days and I wasn’t appropriately fueling my body).  I would find ways to eat less food, even if I felt hungry, or feel ashamed for eating something I wanted that wasn’t the healthiest because it was my rest day. I had the wrong mindset that exercise was only to burn off what I ate, especially if it was a “treat”. Even during recovery I struggled with this, heck even last week I struggled with this. However, that all changed yesterday and I have my body to thank for that.

Two days ago we had our spring tournament for collegiate volleyball–this is just our one day in the spring that we are allowed to play other schools and so we just scrimmage different teams. It was a long day and tiring, but nothing I couldn’t seem to handle. Then, when I woke up yesterday it hit me. First off, it was 7 am when I woke up and I laid in bed trying to go back to sleep to no avail. But when I tried to get up to start my day I couldn’t. It wasn’t like I was physically paralyzed or hurt (although I was a little sore and in pain), but it was this notion that had washed over me where I could not muster up enough energy, effort, or motivation to get up. I literally thought to myself I could lay here all day and not even care about getting up to eat or anything. And this is big because I love to eat, but at the moment my mind and body didn’t even care about eating the rest of the day. My stomach wasn’t growling either so I didn’t even have that to get me up to feed me. It was one of the worst feelings–I laid in bed almost 2 hours like this.

When I did finally manage to get up, I knew that it would be a much-needed rest day…but a different kind. Sunday was going to truly be a do-nothing-but-the-basics (laundry and grocery shopping) kind of day where I would literally rest and lay around and not feel guilty. My body needed it–I was so exhausted and tired that I knew my body was trying to tell me something and luckily, I received the message. From it, I learned some important things that I think everyone should hear not only about rest days, but about their health as well.

So…I learned to:

1. Listen to My Body

Seriously, it knows best! Now, there is a difference between feeling unmotivated and skipping several workouts and truly realizing that your body is dead tired from everything you’ve put it through and it needs a break! I learned that when my body is truly needing it, I will give myself a full and complete rest day to help my body and my health!

2. Listen to Cravings

A second part of listening to my body was food that it was craving. For some reason, the minute I got up I craved Panda Express’s orange chicken and chow mein–something I haven’t had in forever because I deemed it “unhealthy”. And while yes there are much healthier choices at Panda and I always choose those, there is nothing wrong with enjoying foods you crave every now and then. So for dinner, I got myself exactly that!! This was a big step for me too considering I had gone to Cici’s the night before and was treating myself to my favorite food truck later  in the week. For me, I usually only allow myself a treat meal out 1-2 times a week because that is what works best for me. But to fully respect my body and fight in recovery, I knew that I needed to listen to my cravings and realize that it is okay to have a few enjoyable, unhealthier meals out–it wasn’t going to harm my progress and would actually probably help it in the end.

3. Enjoy the Moments

My mom had told me to relax in bed, eat breakfast and then go out for a walk because the weather was so nice. Wow, do moms really know best. The weather was absolutely beautiful–sunny, clear, blue skies–and reminded my of Fall which made me super happy. (Now, I didn’t take the walk for exercise, I took it because I knew the air and the sunshine would be good for my relaxation and health!) During the walk, I realized just how enjoyable little moments are, such as the beautiful weather, the sunshine, nature, a relaxing walk, my health. In life, we often look for the big things, but those only make up a small portion of our moments; instead it’s the little things that really make life enjoyable. That short 10-minute walk made me enjoy so many things such as good food, my health, and even my rest day! I also found joy and pleasure in a short walk, something I wouldn’t normally do, but it really helped slow me down and turn my day around!

4. Not Let Tracking Control Me

Lately, I had gotten so caught up in my FitBit and its data. I would get mad that I didn’t hit my step goal because I couldn’t wear it to practice and so it missed all those steps–and same goes for the calories side. Especially on rest days, I would get upset by the lower calorie burn number. I would constantly be checking my watch and thinking in my head how I could get more steps or get more calories burn to show especially–I was obsessed in an unhealthy way. I let my life and my thoughts be dictated by a fitness tracker! I’m not saying they cannot be helpful nor that it’s not good to hit your steps goal, but just like the scale doesn’t define you, neither should these fitness trackers! Although I feel naked without it (yes, I did still check my wrist multiple times), I made the decision to go without it on my rest day. And I kinda enjoyed it. I felt free from the stress of tracking and I knew that I was still just as healthy as when I had it on, maybe even more so now mentally.

5. Actually Rest

Lastly, I learned that it is okay to actually rest on your rest days (novel concept, I know). It’s okay to have complete day of nothingness. In general, you want to live an active lifestyle, but there will be days when you just lay around and binge watch Criminal Minds all day (#noshame) and THAT’s OKAY!!

Despite the awful feeling of exhaustion I felt, I am grateful for it because I learned so many valuable things from a single day. If I’m gonna grow, I have to let my body recover so that it can continue to provide a healthy life for me.  It was uncomfortable at first, but I believe that I have made strides in my recovery and am on my way to living a happier, healthier life because growth happens outside your comfort zone!

Weightlifting Part 5: Tips for Maintaining

Once you get started lifting, you may never want to stop! However, there are times when life gets busy and chaotic and you may start to reconsider your workout plan. I get it, keeping any kind of plan, working out or not, can be difficult, especially if progress is slow (let me just say: goals take time!!). So I have put together some tips on how you can maintain that #liftinglife (it’s a thing) and continue with your healthy lifestyle!!

Tip #1: Be Patient

Patience is truly a virtue, especially when it comes to wanting to change something with exercise. I think all of us can say we are guilty of wanting that quick-fix, or that one exercise program that will get us to where we want in 2 weeks…well unfortunately that most likely will not happen. Change takes time, especially with your body whether that be gaining muscle, losing weight, changing your physique, etc. But, the good news is that fitness (especially weightlifting) isn’t just about end results, it’s about the journey you take through your transformation and growing to be better everyday. So don’t panic or ditch lifting if you don’t see progress that you want in a few weeks; it may take months or even more than a year to get where you want to be. But trust me, once you get there, you won’t want to stop and you’ll never look back!

Tip #2: Be Consistent

Along with being patient, consistency is key. You cannot expect results when you only stumble into the gym 4 days a month and sporadically at that. Your muscles and body needs routine, needs constant and consistent work (depending on your goals of course). It can be hard to continue and be consistent when you don’t happen to see “results”, but not being consistent won’t get you near those goals, consistency will. One way to combat this “lack of progress” is to take pictures along the way so that you can truly see yourself and the progress you’ve made. This will help you stay consistent with your lifting and workouts which will lead to better and more positive results.

Tip #3: Challenge Yourself

When you use the same weight week after week after week, especially if it’s light, it’s going to be hard to see progress. Now, I am not saying that using light weights to start with are a bad thing, or that you should throw yourself into lifting super heavy right at the start when you’re not ready. It’s important to use a safe weight until you can go up, but it’s also important that you go up in the weight you’re lifting over the weeks, that means you are getting stronger and seeing progress. The amount and the time are going to depend on the person. But, one way to maintain lifting is to challenge yourself to one more rep, or 5 pounds more than last week, or maybe even not to take any pauses/breaks during a set. Whatever it may look like for you, constantly challenging yourself in the gym will A) get results which will make you want to continue and B) allow you to have fun with your lifts because you’re always in there pushing yourself to become better.

Tip#4: Switch it Up

Another way to help you maintain lifting and not get bored by it, is to switch things up every now and then. While consistency with your routine is key, sometimes your body can get used to certain weights and movements, and you seem to have hit a plateau. If this happens, or if you’re just getting bored with your routine, don’t be afraid to change things up! Try circuit training, high rep/low weight or low rep/high weight. Try a new machine, do new exercises, or find a strength and toning class, if your gym has one. My point is that to keep things fun and interesting with your lifting and your progress, it’s okay to switch things up and find something new!

Tip #5: Have Fun

Lastly, I know I mentioned this before, but the most important thing to remember when lifting is this: make sure you are having fun and enjoying yourself. Working out and fitness shouldn’t be a “punishment” or “doing it because I have to” mentality. It should be you doing something you enjoy because you love it, the way it makes you feel and the healthy lifestyle it is helping you create. So if you start at lifting one way and it isn’t working for you, try a different way or type or style. Find the routine and the workout that you have fun and love doing! Because at the end of the day, lifting may not be for you, but living a fun and healthy lifestyle doing workouts you love while feeling good about bettering yourselfIS!

Weightlifting Part 4: How to Get Started

So now that you hopefully have learned some things about lifting, it’s time to get you started! If you remember from my story, I got started just from being an athlete. Maybe you used to be an athlete and you want to get back into lifting. Or maybe you have no experience and that’s okay too! Everyone starts somewhere different. But no matter what situation you’re coming from, here are some tips to get you started in the gym and on your way to a happier, healthier, stronger you!

1. Get the Gear

The first step to preparing to lift, is to make sure you have the correct gear and equipment! Get yourself some gym clothes whether that be shorts, leggings, tanks, spandex, sports bras, etc. that are comfy and allow you to move around and lift. Some gyms have rules as to what can and can’t be worn, so make sure you check with them before planning anything. Also, get a pair of athletic shoes (again your preference for brand and style). Another necessity: a good pair of headphones. My new favorites are the wireless kind so that you don’t have to bring your phone everywhere, but any pair will do. Music can be crucial to motivating you, keeping you going, and rocking your workout. Other things that are optional may be sweat towel, weightlifting gloves, gym bag, supplements, water or shaker bottle, etc.

2. Pick your Routine and Plan

Next up, it’s time to pick and plan your gym routine! Planning is key; you want to lay out a simple plan of what days you are lifting what and what exercises you’ll be doing. This will save you time and hassle at the gym. If you missed it, go back and read Part 3 to pick the best routine for you! There are apps you could use, or just get a journal or a Word document and plan out your lifting. Documenting it will also help you see your progress and improvement session to session, week to week.

3. Pick your exercises

Now that you know whether you’ll do full body or a 5-day split, it;s time to choose what exercises. There are many plans online that can help you (Bodybuilding has a lot of resources to help you) or you can ask friends, people at your gym or just experiment with the machines and weights at your gym! You can always mix it up and add in new exercises to switch hings up. As long as you find exercises that you enjoy and that work for you and are helping you get stronger and build muscle, that’s all that matters!

4. Have Confidence

It can be a little scary walking into a new gym to lift, especially if you’re a girl and new to lifting. It may seem intimidating or nerve-wracking because you’re being judged. But walk in the gym with confidence, like you own it. I can guarantee you that people aren’t going to look at you and judge you for trying new exercises or lifting weights. In fact, if they do look at it you, they’re probably just impressed that a girl is in the gym lifting weights to begin with. If you are nervous, this is where a good pair of headphones comes in. Pop those ear buds in, crank up your pump-up playlist and start doing your thing! Not only will you be motivated and have confidence, but you won’t even notice those around you. Until they’re hogging the machine you want to use that is…

5. Make sure you enjoy it

The last thing thats important to keep in mind is, make sure you enjoy what you’re doing. Lifting isn’t for everyone so if you’re dreading your workouts and hating every rep you do, then find something else! Try a new kind of lifting or a new workout routine. Fitness is all about bettering yourself because you love it, not because you’re punishing yourself or “just getting through”. Give lifting a chance, but tune in to how you’re feeling, physically and mentally, to make sure that you truly love what you’re doing!

Weightlifting Part 3: Routines: How to Find Yours

Okay, so now that you’ve hopefully learned some new things about weightlifting, and you’re thinking maybe I could give it a shot, it’s time to pick a routine style! And if you’re freaking out thinking what, I have to pick a type/style now, don’t worry. I’m going to go through the different ones here and tips for finding your best fit.

1. Full Body

The first type of lifting routine you could do is full body. This means that each lifting workout you do, you do exercises that hit all the muscles in your body. Basically, you’re not focusing on a single muscle group or groups. Each workout you want to hit legs, biceps, back, triceps, shoulders, and chest with rest in between days. It is very important to have rest days, especially when doing full body. This shouldn’t be an issue because typically you’ll only do 3 lifts a week, spaced out making sure you have 2-3 rest days in between each lift.

Pros:

  • Build a balanced body from hitting all muscles in your workout
  • If you miss a workout, it’s okay because you’ve already worked all your muscles that week.
  • Can maximize calorie burn from continuous movement

Cons: 

  • Can take longer amount of time
  • More difficult to focus on building/growing a single muscle group
  • Can lead to overtraining and putting intense fatigue on the body

Who this works for:

  • People with limited time to workout (only lifting 2-3 days a week)
  • Beginners
  • Athletic teams (allows them to work full body)
  • Those who love cardio, but want to start incorporating lifting

2. Split

Split routines focus generally focus on 2-3 muscle groups at a time (unless doing upper vs lower body). There are numerous ways to split up your routine based on what works and feels the best for you. Some of the possible splits are:

1) Two Day Split: Upper body/Lower body

2) 3 Day Split: Push day (chest, shoulders, triceps), Pull day (Back, biceps, forearms), Leg Day

3) 4 Day Split: Legs, Chest/Triceps, Back/Biceps, Shoulders and Abs

These are just ideas. It is still important to take rest days although the number of days will differ depending on your routine. Aim to allow 2-3 days in between working each muscle group. For example, when I was lifting on my own, I did 4 day split like this: Legs, Back/Biceps, Chest/Triceps/Shoulders, Legs. So yes I did legs twice because you know…booty is important. But seriously though. It is.

Pros:

  • Focus on shaping and growing certain muscles
  • Easier to switch up your routine
  • More manageable because you aren’t fatiguing your whole body at a time

Cons:

  • More difficult to miss a workout because you wont have worked all your muscles
  • Less calorie burn
  • Muscle and Strength imbalances more likely

Who this works for:

  • Advanced lifters who haven’t seen much progress/muscle growth or have seemed to hit a plateau
  • Bodybuilders/Fitness Competitors
  • Those looking to grow a specific muscle(s) or wanting to focus on more specific muscle growth

No matter which routine you decide is best for you, the important thing to know is that you’re getting stronger and bettering yourself and your healthy by lifting! Also, don’t be afraid to try different routines until you find what works best for you, and then even when you do, don’t be afraid to switch it up or add new exercises in. Also, it’s very important to make sure that you do not compare you lifting journey to anyone else’s. It can be easy to get caught up in the progress photos and looks you see on social media, but just remember that everyone started somewhere different and is currently at a different place in their journey than you. Weightlifting and fitness in general is all about continuing to grow and get better, so keep focusing on you and your workout and the results will come! And hopefully you too will fall in love with lifting the way that I and so many others have!

What strength training routines do you like best?