A Case Against “Active Rest” Days

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Without a doubt, one of the one of the biggest and hotly debated topics on the website, and one of the most frequent questions at LBEB seminars is the subject of “active rest” days and their role in a program. We have a very concrete outlook on active rest days and we catch a lot of flak for it, but we know what works for our athletes, clients, and ourselves: We don’t believe in active recovery.


 I feel very strongly that active recovery days do not have a role in a true strength program, especially a program for athletes that compete in strength sports. I have found that the Crossfit community is the biggest proponent of active recovery days, ironically, they are usually the athletes that need true recovery the most. let me break it down: The standard Crossfit weekly scheme is 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, one day off. These 2 “off days” are put in there in order for athletes to recover and grow from their workouts, while charging them up for the next few days of training. What we have found is that many gyms prescribe “active recovery” on these rest days. Because of this, athletes go into the box and “hit a quick 15 minute metcon” or “do snatch drills for an hour” (actual quotes). Does that sound like rest to you? 

 I am a firm believer that people do this two reasons. The first reason is that they are afraid that a day of actual rest will make them lose all of their gains. The second reason is that they do it to simply feed their exercise addiction. That is one of the differences between “exercising” and “training”. Exercising usually means you go to the gym and do what you feel like doing, whereas training is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Training involves structure and planning, and actual rest days are part of that plan.

Our most successful athletes and clients are those that can mentally take a break from the gym and be OK with it. We always say that if you WANT to go the gym on your rest days, you aren’t hitting it hard enough on your scheduled days. I personally look forward to days off as the week goes on, because I am beating the hell out of my body, and I want to continue to make progress. Some folks do active rest days to “keep their muscles fresh”, when in reality the opposite occurs. Your muscles are already beat up, adding more exercise will not make them more fresh, but you know what would? Eating and resting big!

 My biggest PR’s have come when I have taken days off from the gym, in fact when I went on a cruise in December,  I came back and added 25-55lbs to literally ALL of my lifts! That is what true rest can do for you, constantly battering your body and denying it of rest will not get you what you want. You need to become OK with not lifting every day in order to make yourself better.

Now to be clear, active rest is not the same as mobility, we do feel that mobility should be done every day, whether it involves lacrosse balls, foam rollers, flossing bands, or simple body stretches. For some, I recommend doing these at home simply because doing it in the gym is too much temptation and they give in to a workout, or their friends talk them into it (Friends don’t let friends skip rest day).

Now I am sure someone is going to come along and say “But but but Rich Froning something something Bulgarian Method”, and that’s great. Are you Rich Froning? Are you on the gear that the Bulgarians were on? Do you want your body to break? If not, try taking actual rest days in your training, we have all of our athletes and clients do it and it has never brought anything but bigger lifts and recharged bodies. I promise you that.

  • http://modernpaleodiet.com/ PaleoCookbook

    LOVE it! My friend keeps trying to get me to do “active” rest days, I refuse, and I have seen more gains in the past 2 months than he’s seen in the past 6!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10596102032016327431 Rana

    Fantastic post!!!

  • Anonymous

    Mostly tempted to agree, but I think walking, low-intensity sport, or maybe some light manual labor (assuming this is not your day job) is a great form of “active” rest that keeps within the spirit of the rest day!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16200948020141301476 Michael Wilken

    I’ve found that an easy 20-30 minutes of LIGHT stretching yoga is a nice way to stretch out and keep the mobility on a rest day as well. just my 2 cents.

  • Anonymous

    I used to take full rest days but recently began taking active rest days and I love it! For me, active rest works better than complete rest. If I truly feel that I need a day to just rest I will do that, but I typically don’t feel the need. And I don’t believe in overtraining. I enjoyed the article and it helped me to rethink my decision and determine whether I wanted to go back to full rest – at this time I will stay with active rest.

    One more thing… you might consider changing your format on the articles so the background is white and the print is black. The white on black can be difficult to read. Don’t change it on my account, just some food for thought.

  • eamonn harford

    hmmm i would agree but when i trained in westside barbell louie talked about only ever resting if really needed that additional workouts using a sled or bands is the best way to get stronger what are your thoughts on this?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02510148317860039601 Beth Roybal

    Hi there. Great article! I was wondering how some of the CF elite are able to compete with “1-3 days off per month” and “2 or more workouts 3 or more times a week.” That’s just crazy for us “non-elite” who hold down 40 hour a week jobs and have 2 kids and a house to take care of. It’s easy to forget, a lot of these athletes have a crew of trainers, coaches and entourage behind them getting them prepped for competition. They take ice baths, get massages, and have experts planning their training day in and out. The rest of us simply can’t afford that. Our bodies naturally break down from overworking them. Plain and simple. 99% of us aren’t training for competition so why do we continue to over-train like we are? I can speak from experience, you will continue to see gains by taking a day or 2 off per week and letting your body heal. I work out 5x a week (boxing 2 days, CF 2 days, interval training 1 day). It helped me lose 40 pounds in 6 months. I have kept it off for 9 months and even gained 5 pounds of muscle. I am okay with that and still a size 4. I can take 2 weeks off and lose weight which freaks me out! If I work out more than 5x a week or don’t eat enough, I feel like crap and my workouts suffer. I am at the point where I feel like my performance is more important than body image. If that means taking a rest and letting my body heal so I can come back stronger, then so be it! Again, great article!

  • Anonymous

    Good article. I do crossfit and a couple months ago I was pushing like crazy to get stronger for the Open. Result? Sore all of the time then injured. Cut back on things a bit, rested far more and now I feel far better plus I justed PR my clean by 15 lbs.
    Another thing, I’m 49 and as much as I like to think I can go as hard as I used to, my body just doesn’t recover the same. Rest is critical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16960612687738602305 Jared

    I completely agree. My LBEB secret sauce programming has me resting 3 days a week. I savor those rest days because I push myself hard in the gym when I’m there. Also to Brandon’s anecdote, I took the entire week off before starting my LBEB programming and was much stronger on all of my lifts a a result when I got back in the gym. I know next month I’ll have a week long overseas business trip so I’m already planning to have Brandon work in another full week of rest. Rest days are when the gains are realized.

  • Anonymous

    Personally, I believe in living life. Be fit, be healthy. Take a break, do something different on you rest day and your body and mind will thank-you- big time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00815380345584928117 justice peltier

    I’m on an acrobatic/cheerleading team and, as a base and depending on the intensity of the practice, can spend an hour or two tossing girls around. while this usually isn’t problematic,after 4 or 5 days of practice on top of training it feels like the programming (I do the LBEB 8 week general strength and conditioning right now) is too much to get a full recovery. I usually just Skip the metcon days. I know my sleep is crap but school can be crazy. Any ideas on how to change anything to get better recovery??

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04999986880645869269 Themistocles

    @ justice peltier:

    Sometimes you just have to force yourself to take those days off. I’m a proponent of semi-active rest days (LSD Runs, walks, swimming etc.), but I do take at least one full day off a week, and do nothing but stretch and eat junk food!

  • Anonymous

    I serve full time in the Army Special Forces. I’ve lived and breathed physical training for over ten years now and it’s become an absolute addiction. Like a lot of people I love to kick my own arse when I get to my training location (GYM, OUTDOORS, OCEAN). When I was younger rest was for the weak! As I’ve become older and a lot more tired, sore and discovered the lack of gains I’ve learnt to savour the rest days. When my week pans out correctly Saturdays (one of the rest days) is a challenge to see how much I can eat without getting off the couch…..brilliant. The only activity I’ll do is a walk to a cafe down the street for another meal.

  • Anonymous

    I plan my rest days like everything else, but I still feel guilty. Usually mine comes on Monday since Sunday is leg day.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t realize rest days were even a thing until I discovered them by accident. I was working out regularly for the first time in my life, but I did something unrelated and hurt my back. I had to take 2 whole weeks off to heal up and thought starting back up would be like starting at the beginning again. Instead I did more weight and more reps on everything. I was blown away and did some googling to research this phenomenon. I will now be incorporating some non-active rest days.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17566046903082560654 ThrashingBuddha

    well; i’m on the 5×5 program now and do it tuesday, thursday and saturday.
    But i wanna go to monday lifting, tuesday i have judo class, then wednesday and thursday lifting, friday judo class, and then saturday lifting and sundays no excercise at all.
    would you say this is good or still too much?