Question: "Should you schedule in rest days in your training program or just listen to your body?"
Both approaches can be effective with training. A certain number of rest days or active recovery days per week are necessary. The number is dependent on several factors, including training maturity, injury status, time of training year:
- Training maturity: in general, someone who has more training years under their belt (i.e. higher training maturity) would have a better understanding of how their body recovers and responds to a given training stimulus. Thus, they would be more likely to be able to simply “listen to their body” in order to determine when to rest from intense training. On the other hand, someone with a lower training maturity would be advised to schedule in rest days because they do not have as good of an understanding of how their body recovers and responds to a given training stimulus.
- Injury status: Injuries, whether acute or chronic, may require that you listen to your body more than usual in order to determine when to rest from intense training. Often the recovery and rehab process from an injury is not entirely predictable. Therefore, the trainee simply has to approach rest days on a day-to-day basis, depending on how their body is recovering.
- Time of training year: In general, it is usually pretty effective to schedule rest days in the off-season when no competitions are in sight. This is because training in a completely recovered state is not necessary in the off-season and it is completely acceptable to train with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), in the off-season, play with the hand you are dealt, and just plow through your training, even if you don’t feel great on a given day. On the other hand, if you are training for a competition (especially as you get closer to the competition), you want to train in as recovered a state as possible. The reason for this is twofold: A. Performance is optimal in a recovered state, and you need to be executing your training at a very high level before a competition; B. Perfecting technique in training is very important before a competition and it is very difficult to execute good technique when a lot of DOMS is present.
Aside from this, my general advice would be to start your training plan by scheduling in rest days. More rest days are better to start. It is more effective to train very fresh and then subtract rest days than to overtrain or get injured and then have to add rest days. As your training maturity increases and you have a gradually increasing understanding of how your body responds to training, experiment with listening to your body to determine when to rest.
- Bryan Dermody, Powerlifter/Former Strength & Conditioning Coach