The perfect number of rest days in a workout routine is a widely discussed topic in the web.
This is also not surprising considering the fact that taking days off heavily depends on multiple factors such as the individual fitness level, different fitness goals and different workout schedules.
While there might not be a right or wrong answer for the exact number of rest days, it is a common understanding that rest days play a crucial role in the process of getting fit.
Pay attention to the next few lines where I will highlight the importance of rest days in more detail.
What is a rest day?
Simply spoken, a rest day is a day when you take a break from your general fitness routine.
During a rest you therefore focus on recovering your body from days with high muscular activity.
Thereby, recovery can happen passively or actively.
During passive recovery you will take an entire break from your usual fitness activity.
In contrast to that, active recovery includes lighter exercises or stretching to mobilize your body and stimulate blood flow.
You will learn more about what you can do on a rest day in the respective paragraph below.
The importance of rest days
Resting might not be on top of your mind when thinking about growing muscles or getting fitter.
You might think that in order to build up muscles or increase cardio performance, maximizing the number of trainings would be the way to success.
However, rest days play a crucial role in your fitness routine and are essential to make progress.
The following 3 reasons shall highlight the importance of rest days.
- Prevention of injuries
- The supercompensation model
- Overcoming the mental challenge
In the following, you will find an explanation why these three reasons are crucial when it comes to recovery.
Prevention of injuries
When working out, muscles and your cardio system can get strained quite heavily depending on your training intensity.
Sometimes, the tension of your muscles during your exercises is so strong that small fibers inside of your muscles tear.
While this is nothing that should make you worry (this is why your muscles are sore), some large fibers and ligaments can be overstrained from time to time as well.
In order to avoid this, integrating a resting phase in your workout routine enables your muscles to recover and to get charged with energy again.
The supercompensation model
Supercompensation describes the internationally recognized phase after a workout when the performance level of your muscles is higher than it was before your last workout.
Looking at it from a broader perspective, there are 4 phases a body enters when working out.
Figure 1: Supercompensation Model (by trainerroad.com)
Phase #1 contains the training itself, when muscles get exhausted.
You might have experienced the drop in performance level yourself already.
Typically, at the end of your workout, your are not capable of lifting the same weight anymore as you could in the beginning of the training.
Phase #2 is recovery from your workout.
During that stage, the muscles recover and the performance level increases again.
Phase #3 is the so-called supercompensation phase, which is described as the phase when muscles reach a performance level higher than before the training.
This is typically the time when you should start your next workout again because it enables you to build up muscles and increase performance.
Because the starting point of your muscular ability is higher than it was before.
The time it takes for your body to enter the supercompensation phase depends on your fitness level and training intensity.
Usually, this will happen somewhere between 1-4 days after your training.
Phase #4 is related to a declining performance level of your muscles after the supercompensation phase.
A decline in performance does seem natural as we all know the feeling when we haven’t trained for a longer time.
Typically, exercising feels much harder the longer you wait for your next workout.
Overcoming the mental challenge
Working out every day without breaks can be quite challenging from a mental perspective.
There will be days when your body feels tired or your motivation is low.
At those days, you would need to force yourself to workout.
While this can be kept up sometimes, there will be days when you simply need a break in order not to lose your motivation for good.
A major aspect about fitness training is the fun related to exercising.
By not giving your soul the required breaks you might risk losing your motivation which will potentially end up in stopping your fitness routine entirely.
Indicators for more rest days
To help you understand the signs of your body that call for more rest days, I am providing common indicators in the following list to you:
- Muscle soreness persists even after several days
- Training performance is steadily declining
- Even with enough sleep you do not feel rested
- You feel an inner unrest and a constantly bad mood
- Persistent body aches and muscle pain
- You are very susceptible to infection
- Your body simply feels tired
Oftentimes, it is only yourself who can say whether more rest days are needed or not.
My recommendation is to listen to your body and adapt your fitness routine accordingly.
If you are a beginner, I advice you to start with only 2-3 workouts a week.
Because it gives you enough flexibility to shift planned trainings from one day to another.
Once you plan to workout 5-6 days per week, there is basically no room to shift your workout session to a different weekday anymore.
What to do on a rest day?
A rest day is the perfect time for your body to not be active at all.
It is the chance to give your body a full break from your fitness activities.
On those days, warming your muscles (e.g. through warming cushions or a hot bath tub) can increase the relaxation process of your muscles.
But, as stated above, resting does not necessarily mean to do “nothing”.
While passive resting (=doing nothing) is one legit way to rest, an active recovery might also be beneficial for your muscles.
In the following, I want to highlight 3 of the most common opportunities for active resting.
- Working out different muscle groups
- Do stretching or yoga sessions
- Moderate cardio training
Below you will find an explanation why these three active resting options are helpful.
Working out different muscle group
Many fitness enthusiasts use rest days for a selected muscle group as a chance to train another muscle group.
If you want do that, you typically train more than 4 times a week and split individual training sessions by different muscle groups.
For example, you can focus your training chest and arms on Mondays and Thursdays and on back and legs on Tuesdays and Fridays.
This does, as stated above, only make sense if you train often enough to keep stimulating each muscle group at the top of their supercompensation (read paragraph above to understand why).
Do stretching or yoga session
This type of active recovery is great to mobilize your muscles and joints.
An active stretching session is important to counteract the contraction of your muscles during and after your workouts.
Therefore, it is a relevant part to prevent injuries during your workout routine.
Read more about how a stretching routine for beginners can look like in my article here:
If you choose to integrate a yoga session, make sure to pick the right yoga classes.
Typically, yoga classes can differ quite a bit in terms of intensity.
Since the goal of your rest day is not to overstrain your muscles, you should focus on classes that focus on stretching and mobility.
Moderate Cardio Sessions
You can counteract sore muscles with a light cardio session as it loosens the muscles and promotes regeneration.
One of the easiest ways to do this type of active rest day is a short and moderate run.
Thereby, the run should not be longer than 30 minutes and preferably on a flat terrain.
The goal of that run is really not to get your body massively exhausted, but to get your muscles and joints to move.
If you are a beginner or have some trouble getting started with running, we have gather helpful tips to begin running:
How often to take rest day?
As a general recommendation I would try to avoid training the same muscle groups on two consecutive days (That being said, smaller muscles like abs might be an exception to this rule).
This means that you should rest single muscle groups for at least 1 day after you have trained.
While advanced fitness enthusiasts might follow this resting time, I definitely advise beginners to take at least 2-3 days off before stimulating the muscle again.
Moreover, the number of resting days heavily depend on your fitness targets.
If you plan to build up muscles and improve your performance, you should make sure to stimulate your muscles during the supercompensation phase (see paragraph above).
This implies that the number of resting days during a week should be limited to what is necessary for muscle recovery but should not exceed the time it takes to get into the decreasing phase of muscle performance.
Moreover, if your body feels the need of a resting day (see indicators in the paragraph above) you should also be flexible enough to integrate a resting day in your fitness routine whenever necessary.
Integrating resting days into your fitness routine is a crucial part to achieve your fitness goals.
It helps you prevent injuries, build up muscles and make sure that you do not lose motivation in working out.
Thereby, you can choose between a passive (a day when you are not active) and an active rest day (e.g. training different muscle groups, stretching, yoga).
Personally, I prefer to integrate both, a passive and an active recovery into my fitness routine.
In reality, there are simply days when I my body feels tired and requires a passive recovery day.
On other days, I am feeling ready for an active resting day although I have planned not to be active at all.
Therefore, integrating passive and active rest days gives me sufficient flexibility to alter my fitness routine when needed.
I hope you enjoyed reading my article. Please leave a review in case you want to share opinions and/or questions.