“Steve, what am I supposed to do on days when I’m not training?”
We get this question all the time here at Nerd Fitness. Since we advise most people to train 3 days per week with full body strength training routines, many Rebels have a few off days each week.
When you complete a full body workout routine, or do lots of compound movements like squats, push-ups, overhead presses or deadlifts, our muscles get broken down. Then, over the next 24-48 hours hours, those muscles get rebuilt a tiny bit stronger.That’s why it doesn’t benefit us to work out every day; we don’t want to destroy our muscles without giving them a chance to grow back stronger.
That then begs the question: what are we supposed to do on those days? How can we keep up the habit of exercise and not let a day of non-training derail our progress?
Are there things we CAN do on our off days?
That’s why I’m here, my dear Rebel friend: you ask the questions, I answer them! You set em up, I knock ’em down!
So let’s dig into what you can do on a day “off” from training.
Plan Your Off Days Like a Training Day
The biggest problem most people have with off days is that they become cheat days! Because they’re not training, they’re not thinking about being fit and it’s much easier to slack off and lose momentum.
This is bad news bears.
Remember, exercise is probably 10-20% of the equation: how we eat and rest is the other 80-90%!
So plan your off days deliberately! They’re not off days, they’re rest days, and they serve a vital role in building an antifragile kickass body capable of fighting crime (or roughhousing with your kids in the backyard).
Whether it’s scheduling one of the activities below at the same time you normally train every day, or deliberately adding a morning mobility/stretching routine to your day, doing SOMETHING every day is a great way to remind ourselves “I am changing my life and I exercise daily.”
Personally, I know I am far less likely to eat poorly when I’m doing some active recovery than when I’m not doing anything deliberately. On days when I’m not training, I try to block off a similar amount of time to work on myself in some way to maintain momentum, and I encourage you to do the same if you struggle with losing momentum if even taking one day off.
It could be flexibility training, mobility training, meal prep, and more. I’ll cover these below! Whatever it is, do SOMETHING every day, even if it’s for just five minutes, to remind yourself that you are making progress towards your new life.
Let’s dive in to your off-day options!
Work on Mobility
We’ve all felt that soreness the day after (or two days after) strength training – our muscles have been broken down and are incredibly tight from all of the heavy lifting.
For that reason, one of the best things you can do on an off day is to work on your flexibility and mobility. After all, what good is strength if we can’t move our body properly to utilize it! Dynamic stretching and mobility work helps prepare our body for the rigors of strength training and keeps us injury free!
Regardless of whether or not you have a training day scheduled, start each morning with a mobility warm-up: a series of dynamic movements that gets your body activated and wakes up your muscles, joints, and tendons. If you live in an apartment or are just getting started, feel free to leave out the jumping jacks:
This gives us a chance every morning to check in with our bodies and reminds us mentally “I am leveling up physically, might as well eat right today too.”
Here’s another favorite mobility routine from my friend (and coach) Anthony Mychal. It says it’s a warm-up for tricking, but it’s quite helpful for those of us mere mortals:
If you spend all day at a desk, doing some basic mobility movements throughout the day can keep your hips loose and keep you thinking positively. Here’s an article on how to dominate posture at your desk job.
Do a Fun Activity
We are genetically designed to move, not sit on our asses for 60+ hours a week. Not only that, but we are genetically designed to have fun doing so too!
Which means we can spend time on our off days working on our happiness AND stay active at the same time.
This fun activity can mean something different for everybody:
- Go for a bike ride with your kids
- Go for a run around your neighborhood
- Play kickball in a city league (I play on Thursdays!)
- Play softball
- Go for a walk with your significant other
- Go rock climbing
- Learn martial arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Capoeira or Kung Fu
- Take a dance class
- Try Live Action Role-Playing (LARP!)
- Play on a playground
- Roll down a hill and run back up it
I honestly don’t care WHAT you do, as long as it’s something you truly enjoy doing – it puts a smile on your face, it gets your heart pumping. Exercise does not need to be exhausting or miserable. If you haven’t found an activity you enjoy yet, you haven’t tried enough new things.
The point is to get outside, remember it’s a damn good day to be alive, and that we are built to move.
Intervals, Sprints, Or Walking
“But Steve, I have this big party coming up and I really am trying to lose as much weight as possible.”
Okay okay, I hear you – if that’s the case, then 90% of the battle is going to be with your diet (which you can learn about here), but there are SOME things you can do on your off days that can help you burn more calories:
1) Interval Training – In interval training, you’ll be varying your running pace. This means you may switch between jogging and walking, or walking and sprinting (there are few different methods of interval training). This training style can help speed up your metabolism for the hours after you finish.
2) Sprinting – If you like the idea of burning extra calories and building explosive power and speed, check out our article on becoming the Flash. Find a hill, sprint up it, walk down, and repeat the process for 10-20 minutes. No need to overthink it!
3) Long walks – Walking is a low-impact activity that burns extra calories and doesn’t overly tax your body. What a “long walk” will be is different for everybody based on their level of fitness, but walking is one of the best things you can do for yourself!
If you want to take a more active recovery day, the most important thing is to listen to your body. Destroying ourselves for 6+ days a week can really wear us down, causing long term problems if we’re not careful.
Yoga for the win!
You might not realize it, but yoga is the perfect complement to strength training:
Strength training makes us stronger, but it can tighten up our muscles and make us sore.
Yoga, on the other hand, lengthens our muscles and tendons, aids in their recovery, and helps our body develop better mobility and flexibility.
It’s the perfect way to create a strong AND mobile body, ready for anything and everything we throw at it. It’s kind of like turning your body into a swiss-army knife: prepared to be strong, flexible enough to avoid injury, and truly antifragile.
Now, if you’ve never been to a yoga class before, it can certainly be intimidating, especially if you’re a ones-and-zeros programmer wary of the practice’s more spiritual aspects. That was my concern years ago before I got started with it; I had to muster up 20 seconds of courage to attend my first yoga class, and I’m so glad I did.
Here’s how to get started with Yoga!
- Nearly any commercial gym you join will have yoga classes.
- Most yoga studios have classes throughout the day.
- Follow a plethora of videos online if you want to get started at home.
- Check out Nerd Fitness Yoga launching soon!
Nerd Fitness Yoga is something we’ve been working on for months and I can’t wait to share it with you!
When you sign up for more information here we’ll be sharing a cool flexibility challenge to help you gauge just how flexible you are and how you can improve your flexibility.
what do you Do On Your Off Days?
As we know, a healthy body is made in the kitchen, not in the gym. It’s important to stay diligent with healthy nutrition even on days when you’re not hitting the gym.
One of the best ways to do that is to use one of your non-training days to prepare your meals for the week! NF Team Member Staci Ardison does all of her meal prep for the week on Sundays, and looks at it like an activity that is furthering her fitness journey.
I like to use one of my off days to break a mental sweat too! On Tuesdays, I take fiddle lessons, which is a mental workout so taxing that I can’t wait to get back to deadlifts!
Here’s another thing you can do on off days: Have fun.
Whether it’s playing a video game, getting caught up on a movie or TV show, or reading a book, it’s important for us to do the nerdy or fun things that make us who we are. As the Rules of the Rebellion state: fitness can become part of we do, but not at the expense of who we are!
I’m currently playing through Batman Arkham Knight (add me on PS4 and Xbox One: “RebelOneNF”!), and as I collect the Riddler Trophies, I think to myself: “I am rebuilding muscle like Batman.”
How do you stay on target even on days when you’re not “training?”
I’d love to hear from you – do you take the day off completely? Do you challenge yourself in a different way? Do you try to do something every day to keep the momentum up, or do you actually take days off?
Leave it in the comments!
PS: Speaking of flexibility, I’d love for you to join the Nerd Fitness mobility challenge that kicks off soon. We’ll be sending out an email series to all people on our Yoga Interest List with exercises, videos, and challenges to test your flexibility.
We put a lot of work into it and we can’t wait to help you get more limber!