Dear Mark: Rest Days

HammockHi Mark,

Do you ever take a rest day? I know Jack LaLanne claims he exercises even when tired and Art DeVany says you should do something every day. Spent last weekend splitting wood and lugging it into the barn and then Monday I did a 6 mile fall foliage hike in the mountains. Tuesday I was too tired to do anything. Today I took another rest day as I struggled getting up for work after 8 hours of sleep. I imagine Grok must have taken rest days where he dozed or just rested in camp after an especially grueling hunt. What’s your opinion on taking a day off?

Thanks to Peter for this week’s question. First, let me say that your long weekend describes the best of authentically primal exertion. Grok would be proud. And I imagine he’d tell you to enjoy your hiatus.

Last year I did a post on my typical weekly workout sequence. I had something on the docket for every day of the week – the switch off among sprints, strength training and fun stuff like a weekly Ultimate Frisbee match. A lot of weeks still resemble this plan, but many don’t. Sure, I usually do something fitness related each day, and if I need a lighter load day I’ll oftentimes opt for a good walk. However, there are other times when I just take a day off. Actually, I take rest days now a lot more than I used to. Generally unplanned, but never with guilt.

The fact is, if I can’t fit in a workout one day, I know I can hit it harder tomorrow. And I do. Once in a while even when I make it to the gym I’ll do some lifts or sprints on the Lifecycle and realize either my heart’s not in it or the energy just isn’t there to push through. In that case, I’ll pack up my stuff and head home. And, then there are days when I just flat out need a rest and recovery day – say, after a really hard game of Ultimate with my family or the occasional long and intense trail run/hike. (Yup, I do some long stuff once in a blue moon because it’s fun and my fitness level allows for it now and then.) After a good rest day I always find myself ready and motivated to get back on track, and I’m none the worse for it.

This is all possible because my diet ensures that I’m not losing muscle or storing fat if I miss a workout. If you remember, I was to a large extent laid up with that knee injury for twelve weeks earlier this year. (It was a “rest” period that felt like relative hibernation to someone like me, but I was still able to maintain the same body composition just through diet and a little upper body work…)

That’s the beauty of the Primal Blueprint in my view. While activity is a crucial part of the picture, ultimately the blueprint works as a whole design. Sure, I have no doubt that Grok took it plenty easy when he needed to, and that instinct, I’d argue, was an important adaptive trait. Working in rest days when you need them definitely fits good old Grok’s primal precedent. But it works for modern times as well – in the context of a diet and lifestyle that complements our long-standing physiology. Knowing you can give yourself that permission will let you push yourself in your workout routine (whether it’s weights or wood) once in a while, and that’s something worth doing. And, well, you’ll also be less hesitant to enjoy some of the more fun but exhausting challenges life presents. (Mountain hike, anyone?) Rest assured that doing a day off isn’t going to set you back when you’re taking care of yourself across the board.

What do you think? Have you found that once you zero in on the Primal Eating plan it is much easier to maintain body composition without incessant workouts?

Are your rest days planned or do you simply listen to your body and choose accordingly?

Captain Blackadder Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Beach Sprints Video

2 Minute Salad Video with Daily Caloric Breakdown

Low-Carb Diet Talk on LA Fox News

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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34 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Rest Days”

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  1. I have found that living primally, I listen to my body more. I usually do something every day, even if its only a walk but if I dont feel fully recoverd, I don’t hit another intense workout day until I do. This sometimes results in an extra “rest day” where I just take a walk or stretch or something but I have no guilt about it at all! In fact, I sometimes think of rest days as being more productive becaue the real benefit from excersize comes in the healing and recovery. If my body is stil sore, I am still benefiting from that rest day right? If I am way off here… feel free to correct me.

  2. I can feel for Peter. I spent a total of 12 hours cutting and hauling wood this weekend. Im totally drained. Im probably going to derer my training until tomorrow…maybe 😉

  3. It just makes total sense to take a day out of the week to rest. I mean, after all, think about it, we sleep at least 8 hours every night and get “rest” we need for “Good Health!” Rest is just part of keeping our bodies healthy. Now, i don’t do this on a schedule, just listen to what my body tells me. When that red light inside me goes off once a week and says stop and rest today, i do it that day. The rest of the week, it’s green light, GO!!! Yeah, i do believe in taking a once a week break when your body says to. This works for me.

  4. I agree with Son of Grok. I take a rest day, usually on Saturday only because I’ll be at a college football game during the day and watching the rest of the games at night. On Saturday, I know that I have earned my rest day because of my diligence towards a more active, primal focused lifestyle all that week.

    That being said, it doesn’t mean that you should always stick to a planned rest day. There are times when I end up going to the gym 4 days in a row without even noticing it and suddenly feel at a loss of energy. Then, it’s important to let the muscles recover so I might take another rest day.

    Thanks for the post!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

  5. It’s funny, I usually schedule my rest day on Sunday. And for some reason because it is a “rest” day, I always consider that to be the day I take care of the little unimportant chores like laundry, shopping, mowing the lawn. By the end of the day I realize I’ve spent most my day on my feet, walking around, lifting bags, and pushing a mower! Maybe I need to make rest day a Wednesday, the day I watch all my Tivo’d Soaps.

  6. Thoughts Mark, please? I struggle with this one a great deal from a different perspective, perhaps some others can relate. Everything I know, everything I have learned suggests that I need rest to maximize he investment of my eating and exercise. That said, I live with depression also, and my daily exercise helps keep me away from medications — in this sense, my exercise is my daily medication to combat depression. If I don’t do something — reasonably intense something, then I get very down and depression takes over. If I take no rest time, my body takes on the “broken” feeling. Right now I choose broken body over depressed mind. How can I reconcile this??? Thoughts from Mark or anyone else appreciated.

    1. Dear Kathy
      With depression you need to fight with every possible weapon available and use them ALL at once at any given time. I will give a few guidelines of what I do;
      1 I am 100% strict with primal eating during such times. Primal food is excellent in creating the neurotransmitters that helps to improve that feeling of brokenness.
      Absolutely no refined foods and sugars.I am becoming more and more convinced that depression is very closely related to eating foods that causes a drop in blood sugar levels. Therefore green fresh salads together with good fats helps a lot to stabilise it. I also eat the primal diet within the boundaries of my blood group food list.
      2 I use a herbal supplement consisting of a unique blend of Schizandra, royal jelly and other herbs which almost immediately relieves that down feeling.
      3 Together with this herb I take a good calcium and magnesium supplement chased down with a cup of cayenne tea.
      4 Then I take a very relaxed though brisk walk though brisk and dress warm – even in summer – to get my blood circulating and to raise body temperature.
      5 Then immediately into a very hot shower and – lo and behold – a cold one.
      6 Now it is time for another cup of cayenne which will give you a tremendous lift.
      7 Lie down in bed with a good book and music and just feel that incredible glow .

      Personally I find that after a very intense workout I have to give my nervous system a VERY good recovery time with total rest until I really feel like working out again.
      If the blues hits me during this time I follow the above regimen including many other things if needed.
      Hope this helps.

  7. Roy – When I talk about listening to my body it means more than just the physical aspect. As I mentioned in the post, sometimes I’ll skip out of a workout early if my heart’s not it it. By that I mean that there is a psychological factor at play as well. Though they’re fairly rare in my case, there are days that my body is ready to go but my mind isn’t. Listening to your body is by definition a very personal, subjective act. If you find that your body is telling you to get some activity on a daily basis and if that results in a brighter outlook and keeps you off medications you’d rather not be taking then this is your own personal analysis and I’d be hard pressed to suggest you take rest days.

    You said you are choosing broken body over depressed mind. How broken are we talking? Is there any way to scale a couple of your weekly workouts back a bit and still maintain the psychological benefits you are used to. How about an hour long walk on some nights? Nothing too intense, just nice and easy for at least an hour. You may find with a little experimenting that there is a way to balance your situation and to get the best of both worlds.

    I’d also add that you should make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Aim to get 8 hours of quality sleep each night. And if you’re dragging in the afternoon and have the luxury to do so, feel free to drop into a quick cat nap for rejuvenation. Grok certainly would have.

  8. Yoga, can be easily done everyday, especially alternating from mild to intense. I try to vary my routine so that I can do a little something each day. Sunday is typically my day of rest.

  9. I used to “workout” just about everyday. Talk about burnout. Now I do about two kettlebell workouts a week. Feel a lot better.

    Still active on non-workout days, usually just walking the dog.

  10. Thanks Mark. Depression is a real beast and the fear of it setting in can be intimidating. When it does set in, it is disruptive to every aspect of my life. Knowing that exercise keeps it at bay, I know I do overtrain but I’m not significantly broken. Will look more inelegantly at cutting workouts back, but scared to do so.

    Sleep, lack of sleep, is a factor for me also. I sleep about 6 hours per night — broken. Refuse, REFUSE to take any sleep aids, OTC or otherwise. The standard herbals haven’t worked for me. Any thoughts here? Thank you Mark — this site is required reading for me daily, and I recommend it to anyone who will listen.

  11. I use to push myself to workout (like running for long periods of time) everyday because, of course, running was “the best way to workout” and I had to everyday “to stay in shape”. This was obviously a terrible idea, especially because I’ve been struggling with knee problems for 11 years and after a week or 2 of my runs I would often end up bedridden for a day or so. I was so beyond thankful to come across this blog that recommends WALKING (something that can still be painful, but infinitely better) and listening to your body. I now listen much more to when I need to take breaks, not worrying that I’ll be out of shape the next day – its been over 2 months since I’ve been bedridden and I couldn’t be happier!

  12. I’m like Mark for the most part. There will be times I’m just not into it. Lack of sleep, work, etc.. may have a bearing on whether I work out or not, but typically it’s just decides the level of intensity of my activity. Like Mark, I will try to do some kind of activity everyday even if it’s just walking. I’m not an elite athlete so I don’t obsess and over-analyse my activities to the point of stressing myself out. My primal-based life style compensates for those days. I just took the weekend off from any intense activity because I felt burned out. Back in my office today I just did 5 sets of ten single leg pistols for each leg, and took a 20-min walk outside. Feeling pretty good today, once I get home I’ll probably be working the kettlebells pretty hard. A day or two here and there isn’t going to destroy all your hard work or throw you back to square one. Life isn’t a spreadsheet you have to follow, that’s a compulsion that I see a lot of gym goers obsess over. At nearly 49 years of age, I appreciate the ability to run all out for 200 yards, or do 20 pull ups on a whim, or bust out leg pistols whenever I feel like it. On the flip side, my wife’s a nurse in a PACU, and she regularly deals with 400-600 lb patients suffering from all sorts of metabolic ailments. On the whole I think we’re all doing ok.

  13. Roy,

    Just a thought… maybe you can switch out some of your workouts for hour long walks. I find that this kind of excercise does wonders for my mood and the primal bluebrint allows for plenty of walking without overtraining!

    As for sleeping, a lot of people will argue with me about this one but when I started eating an extremely large meal right before bed time, it fixed all of my sleep problems. Its like my body goes into digest mode and wants to shut down and sleep. I sleep like a baby now. I think I have read more saying DON’T eat right before bed time but it has proven to be the opposite for me.

  14. Roy,
    My late PM meal is usually my big meal… most people would call it dinner. I usually eat it about 8:30pm and go to bed at 9:30pm. Mostly fat and protien with some veggies. Example of this weeks menu.

    M- Green Chile Avacado Chicken with zuchini stir-fry
    T- Mustard salmon and mixed green salad
    W- Guacamole steak and eggs with mixed green salad
    Th- Coconut shrimp and veggies
    F- Buffalo green chile stew and mixed green salad
    Sa- Buffalo Chile and mixed green salad
    Su- Steak and veggies

    The “heavier” the meal, the better for me as it knocks me out like I was saying. Also like I said, this is what works for me to sleep best. I hope it helps you but if it doesnt work, don’t get stuck on it! I think of this as being the Grok siesta method of getting a good nights sleep. Many countries take a “siesta” period after lunch to nap as eating can make you tired. I personally think that Grok probably took a nap after a hard hunt or slept well after an evening of feasting to celebrate a big kill.

    1. i too have read articles indicaing that from an evolutionary standpoint predators and omnivores biologically tend to eat less in the morning and really chow down in the late evening which helps promote the natural circadian clock thus helping with sleeping patterns and as long as you’re eating good primal foods and controlling insulin while you’re konked out for the night then you don’t have to worry about the conventional wisdom standoint of eating before bed causing fat gains.. mark, have you heard anything like this?

  15. Son of Grok,
    My hairstylist tells me she does the very same thing. She says that she eats a HUGE dinner @ night. She describes it this way, it puts her in a “food coma” and feels like it knocks her down “unconscious about an hour after she eats and hurries off to bed. From what she tells me, i understand what you’re saying.

    Personally, myself, i eat early dinner and nothing after. Different things work for differnt people.

  16. Grok on! Will try similar course expecting no immediate results but hopefully in time. Many thanks.

  17. Roy,

    I know you said you’ve tried standard herbals for sleep. Our family has had good luck with a formula put out by Metagenics called MyoCalm P.M. It’s a combo of passionflower, hops, valerian, and lemon balm.

    In terms of other herbal/dietary options for emotional well-being, have you tried Mark’s Proloftin? I’d check it out on his site.

    All best to you!

  18. I have to second that, Jen. I spoke with a rep at Mark’s company at length about Proloftin before trying it. Proloftin is first and foremost an herbal remedy for stress relief. But I have found, and the rep concurred, that after taking it for a couple weeks my sleeping patterns became much more regular and normal and I even lost a few pounds. These are both positive side effects of mitigating the damage that cortisol does on your body. If you can get that right other things naturally fall into place.

  19. Hi Roy,
    Jen & Jerry are right!
    I have to 3rd it, I’ve taken Proloftin several times when i was under too much stress and it ALWAYS WORKED FOR ME! I highly recommend trying it, i believe you’d get the results your looking for. PROLOFTIN WORKS!!!! Proloftin has NEVER failed me, it’s “AWESOME!!”

  20. Mark,

    Firstly, thanks for a very readable and informative blog.

    This post prompted me to look at your posts on your exercise “routine”. Two questions sprang to mind:

    (i) You cetainly seem to be shorting in those beach runs. Have you any idea what sort of pace you reach; what sort of 100m time would it equate to. Does Eugene Boult need to sharpen up his training regime. I gather he trains on chicken McNuggets.

    (ii) What sort of weights do you list. Do you lift heavy to exhaustion?, in single or multiple sets?

    Do you think you might have achieved more as an athlete if you had lived a more primal lifestyle. As ana side (even more of a tangent) I tend to think that the reason African athletes dominate in middle and longer distance events has a lot to do with the dietary and training regimes followed by western athletes. I think it has to be more nurture and less with nature: otherwise second and third generation immigrants would feature in the medal lists. Perhaps African athletes benefit from a lack of advice from western trianers and dietitions.

    Paul Anderson

    Paul Anderson.

  21. Paul, I know I would have acheived more as an athlete had I known then what I know now. (“couldda been a contender”) The flip side is that getting out when I did (when there was still no real money to be made) allowed me to pursue a far more rewarding career as an educator and developer of supplements. And ultimately, I am healthier today than I would have been had I stayed an athlete and even if I had employed the knowledege I have today.

    As for my sprints, I have no idea what my speed is nor do I care as long as I know I am going full tilt for the final 20 strides. That means wickedly out of breath and needing the 45 seconds-to-a-minute to recover before the next one. As long as it feels fast, that’s all that matters. I do know that I am faster today than when I was a top endurance athlete in my 20’s simply because I do almost no distance running at all in training.

    As for my lifts, I do more compound lifts and bodyweight exercises now. Among other exercises, for instance, I did 10 sets of 10 wide grip pullups yesterday with declined crunches in between as “rest”. I used to lift heavy (I PR’d my bench press at 275 last year at age 54 and bodyweight 163) but the potential damage is too great anymore for me, so I do more for reps and the anaerobic effect (less rest in between)these days.

  22. Mark,

    Thanks for the comprehensive reply.

    A more rewarding career and being healthier is a pretty good outcome in anyone’s book.

    Being faster at 54 than in your 20’s is pretty good going. Isn’t it also, though, an indictment of your coaches in your “heyday”. Even in endurance events like marathons a quick finish often seaparates the medal winners from the pack.

    I would be very happy if I could lift anything like 275lbs.

    Out of interest, how tall are you? I am 5’9 and weigh around 173 lbs. I would like to lose around 14 lbs of fat. (at last count my BF was around 19%). I assume your bf is around or below 10% judging by your appearance.


  23. Hi, this response is for Roy. I loved what Mark told you,however I feel he left one important thing out: Start taking his Master Formula. I have been working out for Many years, but I have never felt as good as I do now. I started taking his master formula about 2 years ago. Wow! What a difference in my workouts and in how I look and Feel. I would highly recommend you try them. Do you follow his Primal Eating Plan? I would recommend that too… Good Luck!

  24. That’s impressive and something to aspire towards; although I might forgo the rack treatment. I’ll aim for 160 and settle for 5 ft 9. In any case I already look taller having lostmore than 35lb of fat. I consider myself a work in progress!

  25. Terrilee,

    Genrally I am wary of supplements and hold the view that a good diet, getting outdoors and a good exercise programme should suffice. That said, I take a multi vitamin, timed released vitamin C and cod liver oil daily. Certainly your comments on Mark’s supplements are food for thought.

    I have been following a very low carb diet for 30 months or so know – basically meat, fish, vegetables (not enough) and nuts. A little alcohol, and probably way too much dairy.

    I exercise about 14 hours a week – a mixture of running, spinning, weights (high reps) and flexibility.

    For just 1 week I have been moving towards higher intensity aerobics and I am trying to fit in heavier weights. I would say my diet is 80% primal, my exercise regime is about 20%. But even after a week I have seen changes and enjoyed the variety its offered. I also saw 12 stone 0 on the scales for teh first time since, well I can’t honestly remember – probably about 1990 – maybe earlier.



  26. Roy:

    My dh also likes MyoCalm and MyoCalm PM. Any formula that has a good dose of Magnesium in it can be very helpful for rest/relaxation (including ye olde fashioned bath in epsom salts). One of the reasons that the MyoCalm formulas help is precisely because of the magnesium, but I’ve also found relief from a straight up mag. supplement like “Calm” fizz powder or a liquid ionic mag. However, since you mention depression, I’d be careful about using the MyoCalm PM formula as it contains hops, and hops can aggravate depressive states in people that are prone to them. (Not saying it’s totally contraindicated for you, but if you take it and find the depression worsening, stop.)