If you’re working your body to the max, shredding calories and burning fat, that’s awesome! It’s so important to stay active! However, rest days are also super important. A lot of people feel like they have to work out every day of the week, even if they’re fatigued, to see weight loss results. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! Your body needs recovery days. And that recovery time will be different compared to others. In this post, LifeTime Senior Director of Nutrition & Weight Management, Tom Nikkola, shares his insight on why recovery is absolutely vital to weight loss.

woman bent over breathing after workout run tired sweaty

1. The severity of the stress to the body is not based on how intense the exercise is compared to other people. The severity of the stress is based on how intense the exercise (stress) is FOR YOU in your current condition.

If you start working out with a friend who’s been exercising five days per week for years, you can’t expect to handle the stress and recovery of that training frequency right out of the gates. You may need to limit yourself to one or two exercise sessions each week for the first few weeks to few months, depending on your level of fitness.

A single workout can cause damage to muscle tissue, reduce energy sources (called ATP) and generally fatigue the nervous system. The less prepared the body was for the workout, the more severe the stress will be. This principle is important for those who exercise regularly as much as for those who are just getting started. For those who’ve been exercising for quite some time, changing the type of exercise you do can be a major stressor as well.

If someone attempts to work out at the same level of performance before their body has recovered, his/her performance won’t likely live up to the first performance level.

2. Your ability to recover between workouts depends on your metabolism and genetics, sleep quality, stress levels, nutrition, and your level of movement throughout the day.

Again, you can’t compare your ability to recover with other people. It’s not a competition, and there’s no judgment involved here. You’re dealing with naturally unique circumstances, which must guide your decisions.

Assuming you provide the right environment for your body to recover, it actually achieves a state called supercompensation. Your body is pretty smart and doesn’t like to deal with unexpected stress. After you’ve done three sets of 20 walking lunges for the first time, it wants to be better prepared the next time around. With supercompensation, your body uses that pivotal recovery time to 1) build the right amount of muscle and supporting tissue and 2) prepare the nervous system to handle those three sets of 20 lunges with less relative effort the next time around. That’s why you have to do more lunges or carry some dumbbells next time — if you’ve allowed for proper recovery.

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If you allow sufficient time between workouts, you’re making the right choices for optimizing recovery, fitness and performance improvement.

However, if you don’t provide enough time between stressors, the body can regress. If that lasts too long, the repetitive stress and insufficient recovery can lead to over-training.

Did you know that adrenal fatigue (which is often related more to psychological stress) can contribute to over-training?

3. Someone dealing with a large amount of psychological stress, who takes on an exercise program, can quickly become mentally burned out. Someone who is on the verge of over-training and faces new challenges at work or home can find him- or herself in a state of over-training.

Let’s use the example of a boot camp program. Boot camp is often a high intensity, physically demanding exercise program. It can tap the reserves of the nervous system, cardiovascular system, muscular endurance system and the endocrine (hormonal) system. When you’re in the right level of conditioning to start a boot camp program (and allow adequate recovery between workouts), it can be an exhilarating way to exercise.

However, let’s say “Sue” decides to join her friends in the boot camp class they take part in five days per week. Traditionally, Sue has been more of a runner, though she only gets in a couple runs each week, which means she’s just been maintaining her fitness level for a while.

She joins her friends on Monday for class and has a blast. She comes back Tuesday, although she’s quite sore and stiff from the previous day. It takes a little while to get warmed up and moving, but she finds her groove and enjoys the class again. This process repeats through Friday, at which time she’s really feeling worn down. She takes the weekend off and feels almost back to normal by Monday. She does boot camp again the next week. Though she isn’t as sore as she was the first week, she also doesn’t have quite the spark she did the first few days.

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As time goes on, her body gets worn down. She gets sick about six weeks into it, as her immune system has become compromised. It’s her body’s way of forcing her to slow down. She takes the week off and is back at it with renewed vigor the next week.

What Sue doesn’t understand is that she isn’t ready for boot camp five days per week. If instead, she would have started with just two days per week for the first month, then added another day the second month, and slowly worked her way up to five days per week, she could have gotten a lot out of the program. Instead, she prevented her body from recovering properly, and her performance regressed each week.

From my own personal experience, I start to notice that I’m heading toward over-training based on my sleep, my performance and my enthusiasm for my workouts. With my sleep, I notice that I wake up more frequently during the night. Since I’ve been using my Zeo, I also notice a drop in REM and “deep sleep,” which is bad news because deep sleep is when the body recovers and REM is when the mind recovers.

My performance hits a plateau or regresses. I can’t do quite as many repetitions with the same weight, or I actually have to back off with the weight. It’s difficult to notice this with bodyweight movements but is quickly evident with dumbbells, barbells and machine-based movements. Finally, I notice that I begin to dread the effort my workout will require before it begins. Each person is different, but for me, these are signs that it’s time to change up my routine or look into other ways to improve my rate of recovery.

It sounds simple at first. Work out, recover and work out again. It’s easy when the workout is properly designed, and when you follow good nutrition and lifestyle habits consistently. The faster you can recover, the sooner you can do another workout and the faster your fitness levels improve.

Once you understand how critical the recovery process is, it becomes obvious how important each component of a fitness or weight management program becomes.

If your goal is to lose weight, your exercise program should be an appropriately designed “trigger” for that change. As I mentioned, the real magic happens in the recovery periods. Learn to appreciate rest!

>> Read more: The 1 Thing You’re Not Doing to Make Your Workouts SO Much Better

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