Rest is Not the Enemy



You don't get stronger in the gym, you get stronger when you rest
  • Strength doesn't disappear if you have one week off training
  • Rest will improve you strength progression due to a process called supercompensation
  • Be careful about becoming addicted to training
  • Plan scheduled rest into your short and medium term periodised plans


In his track ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’ Baz Luhrmann offers us his one piece of advice for the future. Whilst I am aware that adopting an appropriate strategy to combat the harmful UVA rays emmited by the sun is important, I would like to offer you my own ‘one tip for the future’. If I was to do that, and we were talking calisthenics, it would be this; Rest.

I doubt rest has ever been the cover story on a fitness magazine because it’s not very exciting. Doing more is the mantra that people want to hear. After all, that’s how you get results, right?


Here’s the headline: You’re not stronger when you leave the gym.

Your body is tired and beat up. The strength development only happens when you get chance to recover. And the reason that happens is not because your brain ‘wants’ to be stronger. It doesn’t. It simply wants to adapt to the stress it must endure. The stress that you place on it through training.

Now your body is a miraculous piece of kit, but it has limits. By neglecting rest, you’ll find some of these limits pretty quickly. They’re called injuries.


The best analogy I have heard is this; training is like digging a hole. Every session you do digs a little deeper. Put a ‘bro’ in a hole and he’ll apply the universally agreed principle that bigger is better, so he’ll dig and dig making his hole deeper and deeper. Sooner or later this same bro will be the guy in the gym complaining about how his shoulder hurts right after he just finished another set at ‘nuts out’ intensity. I know that because I am sometimes that bro.

What I have learnt is that I don’t need to train more, I need to train smarter.

In our analogy, getting out of the hole and throwing some dirt back in is akin to having some rest. It means that the hole fills up a bit and we can get back in and keep digging. Don’t get confused that this has got anything to do with who has the biggest hole. When it comes to long-term performance, all you’ll find at the bottom of the deepest hole is overtraining and that’s not something you should pursue. Unless you want 6 – 12 months off training entirely! The ideal is actually to put back a little more dirt than you took out so in time we’re standing on a mountain not in the depths of stupid hole.
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Calisthenics places a significant demand on parts of our bodies that, unless we grew up doing gymnastics, will not be accustomed to these extreme loads. Elbows, wrists, shoulders and the ligaments, tendons and connective tissue that supports them will get a hammering. These tissues also take much longer to recover and repair than muscle tissue.

Anyone who has started calisthenics and then trained regularly will tell you of their elbow pain experiences or the nervy burning they get in their forearms. The solution can often be simple. Focused mobility work to release tight tissue and some time off from training the patterns that caused the tissue overload in the first place. In other words, rest. You dug your hole too deep and now you have to put some dirt back in. If you get this right consistently on a weekly and monthly basis, these tissues will strengthen and adapt, meaning you can keep training and improving. Get it wrong and you might be forced to stop training any upper body movements as it can become difficult to avoid placing load on the affected area thus preventing its regeneration.


See if any of these resonate:

1. You think you will lose strength, muscle size or put on weight so you have to keep training
2. You want to improve
3. You’re addicted to training
4. You have a target event or competition with a deadline


 1. You won’t lose strength in 1 week, in fact you’ll gain it due to the adaptation process that occurs when you rest. The same applies for muscle mass. If you adapt your diet to match your energy requirements i.e. lower total energy intake on non-training days or weeks, your body mass will be fine.

2. You’ll actually improve more by implementing structured rest into your programme because your muscular and neural systems will recover and adapt to the stress you have been putting them under during recent weeks. This is called supercompensation. Simply put, the physiological response that makes you stronger than you were before.

3. Training addictions are dangerous, both psychologically and physically. You need time off training to enable your body to recover, but also to give perspective and balance in your psychological wellbeing.

4. When training for an event or sport, you need to plan your training programme properly with appropriate rest incorporated into it. Neglect this and you’ll dig yourself into a hole that will do nothing to help come competition day.


Think about the size of the hole you’re digging. The harder and more regularly you train the deeper it becomes. It’s logical that you will therefore need to adapt your recovery based on your training volume. As a general guide, you’re going to need to allocate rest days and de-load weeks.


These are days in the week when you don’t train at all and may need to be flexible. For example can you get away with only 1 rest day and 6 training days every week for 4 weeks? Or is that amount of recovery not enough? Think about when your rest days will be or what the ratio of ‘work : rest’ is that you will adopt. 2 days on, 1 day off. 1 day on, 1 day off. It’s up to you, your schedule, your lifestyle, your energy levels and your ability to recover. But don’t set it in stone, you might need to change it depending on how you feel and how well you have recovered.
It’s also worth remembering that a standard schedule used in bodybuilding may not be appropriate for the calisthenics beginner due to the additional time it takes the tendons and ligaments to recover. Longer periods between upper body sessions might be required to prevent niggles and injury.


If you read our blog about planning a calisthenics training programme you’ll remember we advised that you plan in 4-week blocks. If you have done some decent intensity and managed 4 or more sessions a week, you should think about week 4 being a de-load. That doesn’t mean you need to stop training completely, but instead maybe drop a couple of sessions that week and lower the volume (total sets) you do. The intensity should remain high as that will ensure you don’t lose anything but with the total amount of work done being lower it means less stress. Less time digging the hole and more time filling it in. You can use this additional time to focus on other things that are going to benefit your longer term performance. Mobility, flexibility and skill work are all good options and time spent here will spring board you into the following week.


Don’t see rest as the enemy. It’s a necessity and essential for your progression. Everyone’s recovery and rest strategies will differ. Your best option is to plan your rest days and de-load weeks then stick to them. That takes some discipline. If you can’t quite get to that point, just listen to your body and if performance in training sessions is stagnating and you feel smashed, take a de-load week and put some dirt back in the hole. This is not slacking or being soft. It is known as intelligent training. It’s the same way we train elite athletes. Their bodies can handle more load and stress than most, probably more than yours. De-load weeks are a permanent fixture in their training plan so if you’re training consistently and frequently, I’m pretty confident you need them in yours too.
I love this quote of Oscar Wilde:
‘Success is a science, if you create the conditions you get the result’.
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In calisthenics, rest is one of those conditions.

Enjoy the journey

If you can relate to this blog and know what it is like to neglect your rest days please share it. Others need to know so they too can keep progressing. 
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