Written by Adam Tzur, founder of Sci-Fit and Allan Bacon, founder of Maui Athletics. Contributions by Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, Professor of Exercise Science and Brandon Roberts, PhD, Captain & Research Physiologist. Scientific review by Lee Bell, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science.
Published: February 9, 2023.
Learn how many rest days you need as an athlete, gym goer, or beginner.
1️⃣ As a rule of thumb, you should take 1-2 rest days a week.
2️⃣ Training too much and recovering too little will negatively affect your progress.
3️⃣ How much rest you need depends on your training goals, how trained you are, and how hard you train.
The Importance of Rest Days
You need rest to recover from working out. Whether it is strength training, cardio, or sports. All challenging exercise requires recovery.
Exercise leads to muscle damage
Whenever you do challenging exercise, your body is exposed to stress. This stress causes muscle damage and inflammation. While these things may sound dramatic, it is normal. In fact, the body becomes stronger and more resilient because of this process    .
Let’s say you’re strength training and lifting weights:
- Under the load of the weights, your muscles sustain damage 
- This muscle damage leads to inflammation which makes your muscles swell  
- The day after your workout, you may feel muscle soreness (DOMS)  
- You muscles may feel tight, and have limited range of motion 
- Short-term strength loss is normal if you trained hard    
In other words, you are breaking your muscles down. Muscle recovery begins after the training session. Your cells need to repair the damage they have been exposed to. It is during this recovery phase that your body grows stronger and faster    .
Recovery leads to better performance
Recovery means getting enough sleep, food, water, and rest from strenuous activity. It is necessary to make progress and avoid overtraining.
As covered above, challenging exercise is catabolic because it breaks down muscles.
After every workout, your performance goes down. Once you recover, you are a little bit stronger, faster or bigger. You make progress as your performance improves over time.
Think about the first time you went to the gym, started a new sport or did high intensity training. The first weeks were hard on your body, and you probably felt stale and sore.
Overtraining can take months if not years of intense training, and requires about the same length of time to fully recover .
You are most likely not at risk of overtraining, unless you do intense exercise on a daily basis for months and years.
Not recovering properly is just as damaging as excessive exercise. Under recovery means not resting, sleeping, drinking or eating enough.
If you combine excessive training with under recovery, you are more likely to become overtrained.
Overtraining can present itself as inflammation. It has effects on the central nervous system including depressed mood and fatigue .
The most common symptoms of overtraining are:
- Lasting fatigue
- Weakness and decreased athletic performance
- Sleep issues
- Mood issues
If you feel these on a regular basis, you should consider taking a break from training.
Types of Recovery
During your rest day, you have the choice between two recovery types: passive and active. Below is a brief description of what they are and how you can use them.
Passive recovery is a type of recovery that involves little or no physical activity. It’s a good way to recover from intense exercise.
You are typically not moving much during passive rest. You may be reading, watching TV, or listening to music.
Things to avoid during passive recovery:
- Strenuous tasks and activities (like moving furniture)
Things that can reduce muscle soreness during passive recovery:
- Massage  
- Compression clothes 
- Cryotherapy and cold water immersion: This technique could come at the cost of muscle and strength gains, so we do not recommend it as a part of standard training    
- Warm baths 
If you find passive recovery to be boring, then active recovery is a good option.
During active recovery, you are doing light cardio, such as cycling, jogging, or swimming. You typically do it on the day after intense exercise.
Just make sure to not overdo it in duration or intensity.
The research on active recovery concludes:
- Active recovery can reduce muscle soreness 
- Active recovery increase recovery of athletic performance 
- Some studies say the effect is small 
- One review found that the largest recovery benefit is achieved with only 6-10 minutes of active recovery 
In our own experience, going for a short nature walk, jog or hike is a great way to recover. We feel mentally prepared and alert for the next training session. Interestingly, mental fatigue can reduce physical strength . For us, nature walks clear our minds.
We recommend active recovery on rest days. It will help alleviate muscle soreness. There may be some improvement in physical performance, but the effect is small.
How Many Rest Days You Need (Advice from Experts and Studies)
1-2 rest days are considered a minimum for most people. Our recommendations depend on which training goals you have, and your personal recovery needs.
How many rest days a week to build muscle
How much recovery you need from lifting weights, depends on your training level. Beginners can take 4-5 rest days, intermediates 2-4, while advanced lifters can take 0-3.
*The original recommendations included a 3 to 4 day training week for Intermediates. But we felt 5 days was more than reasonable for the large majority of intermediates assuming proper programming that includes volume and load management.
"To optimize muscle building, most individuals should take 1-2 rest days from strength training. Beginners have more flexibility as they adapt well to less training. Hence, they can have more rest days. However, intermediate and advanced lifters need to train more to gain muscle."
Brandon Roberts, PhD.
Captain & Research Physiologist, US Army.
The main goal for a muscle building program is to maximize gains while achieving proper recovery.
According to current research, training volume is closely linked to muscle hypertrophy. There is a dose-response relationship, where more volume means more muscle growth  ).
As a general recommendation, aim for 10-20 working sets per muscle group per week     . Benefits may continue up to around 20 sets per muscle group per week. After that, you’re highly likely to see diminishing returns  .
It’s important to note that training volume affects recovery. And there is also individual variation. Some people respond better to high volume than others.
Regardless, getting in your training volume is the most important factor for gaining muscle . As long as you’re getting in enough volume, research finds no differences between training a muscle one time or three times a week        .
This is good news, as it means training frequency is largely up to your preference .
Does that mean you can go to the gym only once a week?
You could, but it’s impractical. You would need to squeeze in all of your exercises into one session.
If you’re training with high volumes, you should consider spreading it out. We asked Brad Schoenfeld his thoughts on training frequency:
“The preliminary evidence seems to show that when using higher volumes it's beneficial to spread out the volume across more days per week."
Brad Schoenfeld, PhD.
Professor of Exercise Science at Lehman College.
With this in mind, hitting a muscle group 2-4x per week may make sense, because it allows for more training volume.
“If you are performing 16 sets for the pecs per week, two sessions of 8 sets per workout will derive better hypertrophy than one session of 16 sets. I'd emphasize that the strength of evidence on the topic is rather weak due to relatively few studies."
Brad Schoenfeld, PhD.
Professor of Exercise Science at Lehman College.
- Training volume is a cornerstone for building muscle  
- It’s easier to do more volume when you spread it across the week 
- Spreading the training volume across several days let’s your muscles recover
- Frequent training allows for shorter, focused sessions
How many rest days a week for general athletic performance
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends taking a full rest day every 7-10 days . The European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least one rest day per week .
This is the minimum amount of rest you should take to avoid overtraining.
"Those who have multiple fitness goals should take 2-3 rest days. It's also important to consider individual recovery time to avoid overtraining or injury."
Brandon Roberts, PhD.
Captain & Research Physiologist, US Army.
We recommend 1-3 days of rest per week as a rule of thumb. This is based on the current research, expert opinion and extensive anecdote.
You will need to adapt this number for you specifically based on the 5 steps listed further down.
How many rest days per week for weight loss
For weight loss, take at least 1-2 days off training.
Weight loss is driven by how many calories you eat, and how many calories you burn. This principle is called energy balance, and it determines how much weight you lose .
In that sense, you may feel the need to burn as many calories as possible by training as much as possible. While this idea might seem appealing at first glance, there are some things you need to know:
The first point is that exercise itself can lead to weight loss, but it is a much smaller part of the equation compared to nutrition. When comparing the effectiveness of diet alone versus diet + training, one study found that diet accounted for nearly 75% of total fat loss .
The second point is that healthy weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. What matters is your ability to go down in weight, and keep it off over time.
The third point is that whenever you are losing weight, you are in a calorie deficit. This means you expend more calories than you consume. Your recovery may be limited during calorie deficits. Hence, you may need more rest days.
The answer is therefore: if your main goal is to lose fat, figure out how many days you can sustainably train and eat in a calorie deficit. Adapt your rest days to fit your recovery. If you want to maintain or gain muscle, you should do at least 4 sets per muscle group per week .
5 Steps to Figure out your Recovery Needs
Follow these 5 steps to figure out how many rest days you should take per week:
Step 1: What are your goals?
First, you need to decide what your goals are.
If your goal is muscle gain, then you can be flexible in how many days you want to train.
As long as you are adequately recovering from session to session, you’re good to go.
Three to five training days per week (2-4 rest days) is a solid goal for the majority of lifters.
If your goal is to become the best at your sport, then your recovery needs will depend on how intense your specific sport is. You also must take into account whether you are “in-season” or “off-season”.
If your goal is maximal weight (read: fat) loss, then dietary adherence is going to be more important than how many rest days you take. Most of the weight loss will come from diet rather than exercise.
When considering the best number of rest days for you, ask yourself what schedule will allow you to meal prep adequately, manage stress, cope emotionally and psychologically, and what is a sustainable schedule for you long-term?
Step 2: How hard do you train and which exercises do you do?
Some things that cause extra muscle damage include:
- Eccentric training
- High volume training
- New training methods that you are not accustomed to yet
Consider an example of a trained powerlifter in a competition setting compared to a beginner bodybuilder in their first week of training. The trained powerlifter is experienced, using mostly concentric force, and training at low volumes.
The bodybuilder on the other hand is new to training, is incorporating eccentric work, and is working at medium to high volumes.
Because of all of these factors, and assuming the powerlifter remains injury-free, the beginner bodybuilder will likely need to be more thoughtful in how they plan their recovery for the rest of the week.
Therefore, you should consider how impactful an exercise or sport is on your body.
Cycling and swimming do not cause as much muscle damage, because they mostly use concentric movements. But downhill running or strength training cause more muscle damage through eccentric training .
Some factors that determine how demanding your training is:
- Exercise type: cardio, team sports, strength training, etc.
- Training intensity: e.g. lifting to muscle failure versus having reps left in the tank, or sprints versus jogging
- Training volume: e.g. how many sets and reps do you do per training session? Or how many miles do you run at once?
- Training frequency: how often do you train?
- Training duration: how long are your training sessions?
|Example of a light workout
You jog for 30 minutes followed by doing 20 push-ups, and some stretching.
This example will require minimal recovery. You could theoretically do it daily.
|Example of an intense workout schedule
You go to the gym, and do 12 different exercises. You do 8 sets of 10 reps per exercise, and all sets are taken to muscle failure. You spend 3 hours in the gym, 5 times per week.
After every workout you sprint back home, 5 miles, uphill, in the rain, wearing a weight vest.
This example will be hard to recover from and may lead to overtraining.
Step 3: How trained are you?
Your ability to recover depends on how trained you are . If you are a beginner, you are more susceptible to muscle damage and soreness. As such, you may want to take extra recovery days during the first weeks of starting a new sport or training program.
Beginners may need to take more rest days than advanced athletes, per the recommendations from The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)  .
Step 4: Your individual recovery needs
Several factors affect your recovery and performance:
- Nutrition: recovery is enhanced in a fed state and more modest in a calorie deficit.
- Occupation: physically demanding jobs add an extra layer of fatigue on top of your exercise endeavors.
- Hydration status: Dehydration could impair recovery. Research suggest dehydration leads to decreased performance and increased muscle soreness    
- Sleep status: sleep disturbances can have profound effects on hormonal and metabolic profiles . Contrary to the popular belief, the often touted 7 hours per night may be suboptimal for many trainees. Some studies suggest intensely training athletes may require up to 9 hours of sleep nightly to optimize recovery and performance . Furthermore, one night of compromised sleep may not be immediately problematic, but more extreme sleep loss or accumulated sleep debt may have severe consequences for both psychomotor skills and athletic performance .
- Stress levels: high, prolonged emotional or psychological stress can lead to impaired recovery, metabolic disturbances, loss of strength, and even muscle loss  .
- Age: Older adults may need more recovery compared to their young counterparts. One day of rest should be taken between strength training workouts, according to The International Exercise Recommendations in Older Adults .
- Gender: Some evidence suggests women recover quicker than men , while other evidence suggests women recover more slowly from the performance-decreasing effects of peak torque even though recovery from soreness is similar between genders .
- Individual variations in recovery: This depends on your personal training protocol and recovery capacity.
- Genetics  
Step 5: Your own experience and preference
Ultimately, you have to decide based on your own experiences and preference.
- What motivates you?
- What fits into your lifestyle?
- What number of rest days allows you to feel recovered both mentally and physically?
- What schedule is sustainable?
If you enjoy training often, then do so…as long as you are able to recover. If you find taking an extra rest day or two will allow you to make a commitment long-term, and you are still able to progress, then that is the right choice for you.
General recommendations will work well for most athletes. But they are only guidelines. Your personal preference and individual needs will allow you to find what works for you over time.
Planning Rest Days in your Training Program
Where you place your rest days is one part science and one part art.
"I schedule rest days with the goal of making my training program more convenient and aligning it with my lifestyle.
For example, if I want to improve my cardio or engage in other fitness activities, I'll take 3 rest days. If my focus is on muscle hypertrophy, I'll only take 1 rest day."
Brandon Roberts, PhD.
Captain & Research Physiologist, US Army.
How much rest you need between workouts
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 48 hours of rest between strength workouts .
But you can still train two days in a row. Several studies find that training with 24h rest versus 48h rest gives similar results in terms of muscle and strength gains  . This suggests we have freedom in how we set up our training program.
“There are many ways to structure a training program. The frequency of training will be dependent on how other variables are changed"
Brad Schoenfeld, PhD.
Professor of Exercise Science at Lehman College.
All things being equal, shooting for 48-72 hours before working the same muscle group is likely a smart recommendation, but if your schedule or preferences do not allow this, setting up your program with the best chance of recovery for that muscle group then becomes the goal.
Lastly, many trainees experience guilt from taking 2 rest days in a row. With many of the most popular training splits, this can happen…and is particularly common on the weekends. These days often present the perfect opportunity for either active recovery, working on cardiovascular health, or staying active in some other way that enriches your life and relieves stress (hiking with friends comes to mind).
Take heart in knowing that 2 consecutive days of rest won’t somehow reverse your progress. It has been shown in the literature that muscle loss does not even begin until around 3 weeks after cessation of training . This means that extra day of self-care on the weekend will fit into your programming just fine.
You can also choose to cut rest days when you intensify your training program. This is planned overreaching which can boost your performance if done properly 
|Example of a muscle building training plan
If hypertrophy is our main goal, then programming that both fully stimulates specific muscle groups and maximizes their recovery is key. The most straight-forward game plan would be to train a single or small number of muscle groups in a particular day, then allow those previously worked groups to rest in the succeeding day or two.
The following day(s) would then be composed of either rest or a focus on training musculature that was not worked on the preceding day of training.
This could look like a full-body 3-day per week split with a single rest day in between each training day. A 4-day split where Day 1 and Day 2 work separate or antagonistic muscle groups, followed by a rest, then the cycle repeats (e.g. Upper/Lower or Push/Pull). Or a 5-day split where 2 heavier lifting days precede a rest day, and are then followed by 3 moderate intensity, higher volume hypertrophy-focused days (e.g. various powerbuilding splits).
Of course optimal and do-able may be different things in the real world. What is optimal on paper may not fit into your lifestyle. Luckily, having two days of training that work similar muscle groups is not a death sentence for your progress 
Frequently Asked Questions
Do muscles only grow on rest days?
The answer to this question is no.
Muscles both grow and are broken down at the same time. This is known as muscle protein synthesis and breakdown .
What matters is the balance between muscle protein breakdown and synthesis. You gain muscle mass if your net protein balance is positive. That means your protein synthesis outpaces protein breakdown .
Things that increase muscle protein synthesis include:
How does this connect to rest days?
Rest days are anabolic because you are resting, eating food and hopefully sleeping well. By doing this, your muscles can recover and grow.
What are the signs I need to take a break?
It is unlikely that most people will ever reach the point of overtraining.
It is most common with extremely high volume weight training, endurance training, or simply never taking a rest day.
Here are some signs to help you monitor your recovery :
- Performance dramatically declines over an extended period
- You are becoming sick or injury-prone
- A sudden decline in motivation or enthusiasm
- Problems with concentration
- Persistent feelings of fatigue or exhaustion
- Mood changes
- Aches and pains in your joints and bones
Keep in mind, an off week is not a cause for concern. Sometimes life crops up and we have social, school, or work stress that drains our energy. If you are noticing one or more of these signs lasting 3 weeks or more, it may be time for some quality rest and recovery
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