Yes, You Need Rest Days & Here's How to Spend Them
by Christopher Schafenacker
You know that it’s rest—not training—that makes you stronger, so you do take rest days…but you probably don’t like them very much. If you’re like so many of us, you rest out of duty, not desire…and, more often than you’d like to admit, you probably indulge and go hard when you really shouldn't. Climbing is fun, so is seeing friends, and feeling wrecked is kinda addictive. It’s easy to conflate trashing your body with training, and it doesn’t help that resting is as fun as watching paint dry.
Most climbers rest the same way they wash their bedsheets: not often enough. Designing a training plan and scheduling your sessions helps introduce restraint into your routine, but this is only sustainable if you can keep yourself occupied on the days you don't climb. Those with children or full-time jobs won’t struggle with this, but if you’ve ever hung out with climbers, you know that many have neither of those things. If you’re a member of the “all psych, no chill” club, here are a few things to keep you busy on your rest days, so that you don’t end up climbing when your body needs rest.
5 Rest Day Activities that Aid Recovery and Keep You Busy
1. Take Up Trail Running
A hard run will inhibit recovery, but research shows a soft jog in the woods can help return your muscles to fighting form. Easy movement increases blood flow, introducing new oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and helping clear out the metabolic waste accumulated during exercise.
Moreover, an hour or two in the woods will give you your nature fix and boost your mood. It’ll be easier to finally get around to, say, washing your sheets if you’ve spent some time outdoors and aren’t frothing that the mouth to inject a little bit of movement into your day.
2. Learn to Cook
Diet is a determining factor in recovery. Your muscles need fuel to bounce back from training. This means protein, yes, but it also means veggies, whole grains, loads of hydration, and appropriate crag snacks. Use rest days to cook up a storm, both for the joy of eating well and to facilitate meal prep for days at the crag or gym. A big pan of homemade lasagna today means not binging on nachos tomorrow when you arrive home famished from a long day of climbing.
3. Get After Antagonist Training
Resting is as much about injury prevention as about making gains. Your climbing muscles not only need time off to avoid getting hurt, but they also need balance. Use rest days to strengthen the antagonist muscles needed to bring climbing muscles into equilibrium. However, be wary of making this another training fixation. You do yourself no favors by blasting your antagonist muscles on every “rest” day. At least once a week you need to take a day to do no exercise at all, and on the rest days when you do train antagonists, you need to limit intensity and volume.
4. Use Your Noodle
Technique and strategy are as crucial to climbing hard as strength. And just like getting stronger, improving in these capacities takes time and conscious effort. Use your rest days to analyze training logs, set goals, review beta, think about how to address weaknesses, and design upcoming sessions so as to be able to make the most of them. Whenever possible, get footage of yourself climbing and watch it with a critical eye. When most of us see ourselves climb for the first time we’re shocked by how slow we are compared to the pros, how imprecise our footwork is, and how little we really rest when we find a good stance. Look out for these things, note them when they appear, and find ways to work on them during your sessions.
The only thing that matters more to recovery than nutrition and time off the wall is sleep. Sanctify getting at least 8 hours every night, and even take a nap on rest days. The Spanish climber harder than anyone, and it’s not just because they go a muerte; it’s also because they take siesta time quite seriously.
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