Since you’re reading this article, you may have already concluded that rest days are important. However, for those that are still uncertain, the general consensus (among climbing athletes and scientific studies) is that you should exercise/climb 3-6 days a week.
For the 1-4 days that you aren’t climbing, these days should be rest days (non-training days). Rest days are any days that are not dedicated to training and usually limit the physical work of muscles you trained. In the case of climbing, a full-body workout, that leaves very low impact workouts and no climbing training (hang boarding included).
Some people may think that rest days mean staying in bed or watching TV during your usual training segment of the day, however, this is not the case. To get the most out of your rest days and to achieve peak performance, here are seven things that you should be doing on rest days.
1. Foam Roll Your Muscles
Foam rolling your muscles is a great tool for recovery, injury prevention and even reducing fatigue-related muscle function issues. When I started doing research for this article, I was surprised how many studies have looked at the possible effects of foam rolling and I was overwhelmed by what these studies showed.
For example, one study suggested that foam rolling substantially reduced muscle soreness at all time points while substantially improving range of motion. The importance of range of motion in climbing is so substantial that I’m surprised I don’t see more climbers (myself included) “rolling out” at the gym.
Another study suggested that foam rolling is regenerative for the muscles and prevents muscle fatigue, which are two big reasons for rest days in the first place. This means that you can increase your muscle regeneration and fatigue prevention while on rest days even more.
Climbing is a mental-heavy sport and thus mental strength-training can be incredibly helpful for improving performance. Meditating is one exercise that is perfect for improving mental performance.
Though meditating is something you’d benefit from every day and not just training days, it is usually easier for climbers to introduce themselves to meditating a few times a week such as rest days and then work up to daily from there.
For climbing, meditating is a great way to train your brain to respond to different climbing scenarios the way you want it to respond. For example, if you frequently overgrip at 15 feet off the ground, meditating is a great way to work through that issue and create a new response that you can test on your next climbing training day.
3. Drink Water
It is no surprise that drinking water is important, however, with lactic acid build-up (what makes you sore) common in recovering muscles, water intake will help a lot with flushing out lactic acid.
Generally, you should be drinking 8 8oz glasses of water each day, though age and weight. Water will not only decrease soreness, but it can also help increase energy levels, help you lose weight, and improve performance.
4. Take Naps or Sleep In
Remember how I just said that you shouldn’t sleep all day or sit on the couch and watch TV? Studies have shown that excessive sleeping will decrease your ability to train, however it is still important to get the full amount of sleep that your body requires.
If you usually wake up an hour or two earlier in the morning when you train, consider sleeping in for half an hour or however long you need to get the full amount of sleep you need. If the morning isn’t an ideal time for sleeping, consider taking a nap or going to bed earlier.
Most adults need between 6-8 hours of sleep and if you don’t already know how much sleep you need, consider testing it out.
For 2 weeks, consider strictly getting 8 hours of sleep and record how you feel in the morning and at night before you go to bed. Then after 2 weeks consider strictly getting 7.5 hours, then 7 then 6.5 and 6. After 10 weeks, you should have a pretty good idea of how much sleep you need.
Yoga and climbing go hand-in-hand, not only because it is a great way to stretch your muscles and improve your flexibility/range of motion, it also helps with the mental focus required for climbing. This makes it one of the best ways of warming up your muscles and stretching them out on your rest days as well as give you some additional mental training that we can all benefit from.
Many people who don’t do yoga are frequently concerned with the flexibility required to do yoga but almost every yoga move can be modified and different yoga flows (routines) match different people’s strengths and weaknesses. This means that yoga can be for everyone.
6. Eat Protein
One of the most important things you can do while on rest day is to ensure that you are getting enough protein and maintaining a diet that will support muscle growth and recovery. Studies have shown that protein intake is most effective if you spread the protein intake at regular intervals (every 3 hours or so).
High-performing athletes usually decrease carbohydrate and protein intake on rest days compared to training days but they still consistently snack and eat meals throughout the day. This ensures that they not only are recovered from the previous training days but also ready to perform the following training day.
Cardio and climbing have a different relationship than most athletics. For example, cardio is popular for improving respiratory and heart function. While climbing helps with heart function, climbing doesn’t significantly increase respiratory rate and thus isn’t a popular exercise for respiratory health.
For this reason, it is important to supplement climbing with some sort of cardio exercise such as walking, running or cycling. Rest days are the perfect day to do this because it not only provides the respiratory training needed, it also helps warm up your body, which is good for muscle recovery.