We’ve all been there: Just when you’re getting into the groove of your new workout obsession — wham! Suddenly your knee is killing you, or your quads are hurting in a way that just doesn’t feel right. Yep, you’ve over-worked yourself into an injury — and are suddenly wondering why you didn’t take a few more rest days along the way.
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So what gives? First, it’s important to understand physiologically, what happens when we exercise. “When you exercise, you’re causing a bit of trauma to the body,” says Noam Tamir, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and owner of TS Fitness New York City. Essentially, when you exercise, you create micro-tears in your muscles. Then, when your muscles repair, they grow stronger.
However, Tamir says, “The more you work, the more you train, the more stress you’re putting on the body. If you’re not allowing the body to recover, you’re causing yourself more harm than good.” After all, exercise doesn’t just impact your muscles — it impacts your digestion, kidney function, hormone regulation, and more. Before injury strikes, listen to these five signs that might indicate your body needs some time off.
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5 Signs Your Body Needs a Rest Day
1. You’re always sore.
Sure, a bit of muscle soreness after a particularly strenuous workout is totally normal, especially if you’re newer to exercise or you’re switching up your routine. But if you’re exercising regularly, you shouldn’t constantly be feeling sore, says Tamir. Depending on the muscle group, you should always give your muscles 24 to 48 hours to recover between training sessions, and if you still feel sore, it’s possible you’re overtraining. According to Rice University, “Overtraining can best be defined as the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery.” Persistent muscle soreness, getting sick more often, or frequent injuries are all physical symptoms of overtraining. Fortunately, recovery is simple — just take it easy for a few days!
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“It takes at least 45 minutes for the body to recover from even mild dehydration.”
2. You’re constantly tired or moody.
Moodiness, depression and fatigue are also indications that you might be overtraining. Most of us have heard that exercise is supposed to make us happier, thanks to a rush of endorphins — a stress-fighting chemical — in the brain. (Fun fact: Endorphins also help prevent you from noticing the pain of exercising. Thanks, brain!) However, those endorphins are also accompanied by cortisol, a stress hormone. And when cortisol levels remain high for an extended period, they take a toll on mental health.
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3. Your heart rate is abnormal.
One of the best ways to gauge if you’ve been overtraining is to check your heart rate, Tamir says. “I’ll take my resting heart rate in the morning. If I’m above my normal, then I know that my body is not really ready for a hard workout that day. That’s one of the best ways to judge your readiness to exercise.” Rice University notes that a lower-than-normal heart rate can indicate overtraining, too. Ready to experiment with this method? Try taking your resting heart rate daily to figure out what’s normal for you.
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4. You’re stiff all the time.
If a few too many days of pounding the pavement leaves you unable to bend over and pick up a penny off the sidewalk without creaking knees, it might be time to take it easy for a while. “If your body doesn’t have the proper mobility, you’re going to create dysfunction in your movement pattern,” Tamir says. In other words, doing the same activity over and over (running, cycling, lifting) without proper recovery is going to cause injury. Tamir recommends stretching and foam rolling on your recovery days to keep your body limber and prevent injury.
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5. Your pee is dark yellow.
Yep, we had to go there. While most people are more aware of the need to stay hydrated while exercising, says Tamir, many of us start to exercise when we’re already dehydrated. Urine is one easy indication that we’re too dehydrated to start working out. Common culprits include having a few drinks the night before exercising or getting up in the a.m. and drinking nothing but coffee. Think you can rehydrate while working out? Afraid not. It takes at least 45 minutes for the body to recover from even mild dehydration.
The best thing about noticing these symptoms? It’s a whole lot easier to relax, stretch and drink H2O than it is to recover from an injury or serious overtraining. A little R&R is just what your body ordered!
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Originally posted November 2015. Updated June 2016.