If I had a dollar for every time I am confronted with this question… well, I’d have a lot of dollars. I’m sure almost everyone who trains regularly can empathize. Generally speaking, if your body is telling you it’s tired, you should probably take a break and not train that day. The problem is distinguishing between the actual signals your body is giving you versus the desire to be lazy and sit on the couch. Truth be told, missing one workout isn’t going to kill anyone. But you don’t want it to become the norm.
Which brings us back to the simple day-to-day question. To rest or to train? The best solution I have found is a two-step process. If either step indicates I need to rest, I rest.
Step 1: Document your training program. Write it down. That is to say, create a training schedule. If the schedule says Tuesday is leg day, it’s leg day. If Wednesday is a rest day, then it’s time to rest. Allow some flexibility for injury, other demands in life, etc. But having a written schedule removes a lot of the guesswork.
Step 2: Check your resting heart rate every morning when you wake up. Do this before you get out of bed or consume any food or coffee. Your resting heart rate is a very good indicator of whether you are overtraining or not. If your resting heart rate jumps up by 5 beats per minute, your body may be telling you to take a break. If your resting heart rate increases by 10 beats per minute, it is definitely time for a break. Take a day or two off. If your resting heart rate goes back down, you will know you were overtraining and needed a break.
Following a written schedule and tracking your day-to-day resting heart rate will take the guesswork out of the “To rest or to train?” conundrum. And over time, you will become much more aware of how your body feels and its recovery capabilities.