What Is The 5:2 Exercise Rule?

Many people are under the impression that more is better when it comes to exercise and fitness. Surely if you train for longer it has more benefits for your fitness and performance? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. 

We take a look at why the 5:2 rule is important for anyone engaging in intense exercise. But what is the 5:2 exercise rule? Well, we’re about to explain it to you so that you can benefit from it.  

What Is The 5:2 Exercise Rule?

Explaining The 5:2 Exercise Rule

The 5:2 rule as it applies to exercise means that you train for 5 days and then rest and recover for 2 days. 

A well planned fitness program for the days when you are training should include each of the four different types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. 

The days that you choose to rest will depend on your fitness routine for the 5 days.

There are two types of rest and recovery days. Active rest days can include some movement, but this should be gentle and for leisure, not for training purposes. 

The other rest day should be a complete break from any exercise. This gives your muscles time to repair themselves. It also replenishes your energy or glycogen stores.

Good quality sleep is also very important as part of your recovery process. 

Importance Of Rest & Recovery

Many athletes still hold to the idea of ‘no rest days’ when it comes to a fitness program. Instead they believe that training for 7 days a week will give faster muscle growth and increase fat loss. 

However, if you don’t get enough rest between training sessions you are at risk of negatively impacting your health. There can also be an associated drop in performance when you overtrain. 

But what is the benefit of rest and recovery for fitness performance and improvement? Having days away from fitness training gives your body time to repair, rebuild and regain strength between sessions. 

While there is no one standard for rest and recovery each individual will have to adjust it to suit their age, fitness level and schedule. 

How Does Rest & Recovery Work

To understand how rest and recovery works it is important to first understand what exercise and sport does to your body. 

Participating in sports or fitness training takes a lot out of your body, and we’re not just talking about sweat. 

The effort that you put into your session is breaking down your body. When you exercise intensely this activity is creating tiny tears in your muscles, among other things. 

When you rest it gives your muscles the opportunity to heal and repair themselves. This new muscle grows bigger and stronger.

So the days you take off from your training routine are just as important to improve your fitness level as the days when you are active. 

Signs Of Overtraining Syndrome

When you do not take time out to adequately recover from repetitive intense training you can experience something called overtraining syndrome.

This is a group of symptoms that can include fatigue, muscle soreness and a drop in performance. 

While many of these symptoms can be expected after a training session, overtraining syndrome is more persistent and has an impact not just on your training but on your life. 

What Is The 5:2 Exercise Rule?

Exercise Related Signs Of Overtraining

If you have muscle soreness that persists and doesn’t ease with continued training, or you are unable to work out or compete at a level that was previously manageable; these can be signs of overtraining. 

You may find that you are reaching plateaus or even declines in your performance.

Sometimes you may feel that your leg muscles are heavy even when exercising at low intensity, and you may take longer to recover from a workout. 

The symptoms can also include thoughts of cutting short exercise sessions or skipping them altogether. 

Lifestyle Signs Of Overtraining

Overtraining can affect your life outside of exercise. Feelings of anger, confusion, and tension can be signs that you need to incorporate rest and recovery days into your routine. 

You may find it difficult to sleep or relax and have a prolonged, general fatigue. From a psychological perspective you may have decreased motivation, and be prone to mood swings. 

If you have a lack of energy and are unable to feel good about things you once enjoyed you may be suffering from depression caused by overtraining.  

Effects Of Overtraining On Your Health

While you may dismiss some of the above symptoms as a passing phase or attribute them to other causes there are some symptoms you shouldn’t ignore. 

If you are experiencing more occurrences of illness, or specific issues such as an irregular menstrual cycle these could be signs of overtraining syndrome.

Other health issues such as increased blood pressure or at-rest heart rate can also be symptoms. 

Appetite and weight loss as well as changes in bowel habits may be related to overtraining. If you are unwell and unsure of the cause you should consult your doctor. 

Planning Your Fitness Week

Applying the 5:2 exercise rule can help you to avoid any of the symptoms of overtraining syndrome. So that you use this method as effectively as possible you should plan out your training schedule for the week. 

When you are compiling your schedule it’s important to consider the intensity of the exercises that you will be doing.

For example, if you intend to do a day of high intensity interval training or HIIT then schedule a rest day for the following day. 

This will give your muscles sufficient time to recover, but you will also experience the afterburn effect.

This refers to the fact that your body continues to burn calories for several hours after you have finished training. So your rest day is still very productive. 

You can devote one of your 2 rest and recovery days to active recovery. This involves doing very gentle activities but still keeping your body moving. 

Try to avoid scheduling 2 rest days consecutively unless you have taken part in a competition or have had a very intense exercise session. 

Example Of A 5:2 Exercise Plan

Below is an example of how you can plan out your 5:2 exercise program for the week. Obviously it can be adapted to suit your training needs and particular activities. 

But you need to include 2 days of rest and recovery, one which can be active recovery with gentle movements. 

  • Monday: Upper body strength training
  • Tuesday: Long endurance session (running, cycling, swimming, etc…)
  • Wednesday: Circuit training
  • Thursday: Rest and recovery day
  • Friday: Lower body strength training
  • Saturday: Long endurance training 
  • Sunday: Leisure activities with gentle movement, no training

Of course, your exercise plan will be completely dependent on your level of fitness, your age and the type of training you normally undertake. 

If you are not confident about planning your own 5:2 exercise plan you can consult a professional coach or personal trainer. 

Final Thoughts

Rest and recovery are an important part of your fitness routine and should be incorporated into your weekly schedule. 

In the long term it will help you achieve your fitness goals and improve your performance. 

Laura Simmons
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