Like most things, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to rest and recovery. Insufficient rest between workouts can lead to fatigue, soreness and even injury.
Rest days can sometimes seem like a wasted day, especially if you are working towards a goal and want to maximise your results. But rest days are actually a necessity if you want to grow and strengthen your muscles. Lifting weights or undertaking other physical exercise, damages the muscle fibres, causing pain and soreness in the days that follow. The muscles need to rest in order to rebuild themselves stronger and bigger.
Muscle soreness can peak two days post training session, this is known as DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness. This is very common when completing a heavy leg session, when it can become difficult to simply sit or bend down. There is a lot of different research that discusses the different timeframes required for optimal rest, generally between 24-72 hours. However, many things can effect your individual rest requirements. Here are a few things to consider:
Your training style
I undertake split-day training, which basically means I train 1-2 body parts each session. Something like this:
- Monday: Shoulders
- Tuesday: Chest
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Back
- Friday: Arms
Because I train a different body part each day, the muscles used have longer to recover because they won’t get used again for another week. Yes, they will be used as supplementary muscles to assist others, but the majority of their work is done. So after a big leg session, yes my legs will be sore, but they have lots of time to recover while I train other body parts. Training this way means I can workout 5 days straight, then have 2 rest days over the weekend, which is what I generally do.
But if you complete a total body workout everyday, you may find yourself needing more rest days between sessions, as you are working more muscles.
How long have you bee training
It you are someone that has never worked out, or been out of the gym for a while, it doesn’t make sense to jump straight into training 7 days a week. Doing this is likely to result in injury or body burn-out. The body needs time to adjust to the new routine, so undertaking 3 days a week with rest days in between, might be a good place to start.
For those who workout regularly, you are able to put the body under a bit more stress. In fact, if you have stopped progressing and you train 3 times a week, adding an extra session might be exactly what you need.
This is a big one for me, because depending on my training goals and style, my need for rest days can change. When I am completing a heavy lifting program, with the aim to build strength and size, occasionally I can only complete 4 days of training per week. This is because my muscles are experiencing the trauma of being put under a lot of stress in order to grow.
Like most things in life, the older we get, the less ability our body has to ‘bounce back.’ What you were able to do in your 20’s probably won’t work for you in your 50’s. For one, our muscle recovery slows down as we get older, meaning it needs longer to repair itself to avoid injury. Another reason to listen to your body and work within your parameters.
Keep in mind that a rest day doesn’t mean simply sitting in the couch and not moving. In fact, undertaking some light exercise can aid the recovery process. Going for a walk or a swim, helps the muscles to recover and can alleviate soreness. Others things you can do are going for a massage, using a foam roller and stretching.
As mentioned, for me I train 5 days a week and have 2 days off over the weekend. When I was training for a competition is the only time I worked out 6 days straight, however that was a long time ago…
The most important thing is to listen to your body and develop a healthy relationship between your training and your muscles. You need to know when to push yourself and when to give your body the rest it needs. This can be easier said than done…. Wanting maximum results, I recently pushed particularly hard on shoulder day, attempting to press the 22kg dumbbells. And whilst I succeeded, I strained the muscles in my shoulder because I wanted to complete more exercises, despite being in pain. I should have simply backed off and been happy with my progress, but that’s what happens when we don’t listen to our bodies.