You’ve likely heard that it’s important to rest between your exercise sessions. This should also make some intuitive sense; after an intense workout, the last thing you want to do is repeat the process with your tired muscles.
But how much rest do you really need between your workouts? And how can you tell whether you’re getting enough?
Why Is Rest Important?
We’ll start with the basics. Why is rest a necessity when following a strict fitness regimen?
There are several independent reasons:
- Muscle protein synthesis. When you exercise, your muscles experience micro-tears. This is a good thing; it’s an important step in the process of muscle strengthening. When you lift a sufficiently challenging amount of weight, your muscles are pushed to the brink and are subtly damaged. Then, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) kicks in. The torn muscle fibers send a signal to your brain that they need repair, and your body takes its time repairing those muscle tissues back to full health. The repair process also makes your muscles bigger and stronger with the right support.
- Glycogen restoration. When you’re working out, your muscles need energy. That energy usually comes from stores of glycogen, which are held in your muscle tissue. Once this glycogen is depleted, you’ll feel tired and you won’t have enough energy to do other demanding tasks. The rest period is also valuable for restoring glycogen with adequate nutritional intake.
- Fluid restoration. If you’re working hard in the gym, you’re probably sweating a lot and losing a lot of fluids. That’s one reason why it’s important to keep drinking water while you’re exercising. But your rest period will also be valuable for replenishing whatever fluids you’re still missing.
- Mental and emotional preparation. Don’t forget that there’s a psychological element to resting as well. If you push yourself too far or if you work out too frequently, eventually you’ll lose your motivation and you’ll have a much higher likelihood of burnout.
What Is “Rest,” Anyway?
What do we mean by rest?
We mean a combination of things. In its simplest form, rest is simply not participating in the specific activity that caused your strain in the first place. If you had an intense running session, rest means not running for a specific period after that session; you’re welcome to participate in low-intensity exercises like walking or exercises that don’t involve those muscle groups, such as push-ups or sit-ups.
For many people, it’s a good idea to abstain from any moderate or intense exercise as part of your rest. This will make it easier for your body to replenish its fluids and nutrients, and will provide some measure of psychological relief.
However, to get the most out of your rest period, you’ll need more than just abstaining from a specific exercise. For example, sleep is a critical period for your body’s recovery; If you want to recover in full from your exercise, you’ll need to get plenty of sleep. You also need to make sure that you have adequate nutritional intake, drinking plenty of water, consuming plenty of protein, and getting a nice balance of carbohydrates, fats, and micronutrients.
General Recommendations for Rest Between Workouts
What’s the bottom line here? How long should you be resting between your workouts?
That’s a hard question to answer. As we will see, there are many variables that affect how long you should be waiting between different workouts.
That said, you should count on at least a 24-hour period between your intense exercise sessions. If you’re focusing on specific muscle groups in your body and you’re working out intensely, you may need 48 hours or more between sessions involving those muscle groups.
If you feel persistent muscle soreness, or if you still feel fatigued, you may need even more time to recover. Listen to your body more than any specific numerical recommendation on the internet. Even better, enlist the help of a personal trainer who can help you identify your body type and your personal path to recovery.
Variables to Factor In
All of these variables can influence how long you should be resting between your workouts. Make sure you factor them into your decisions.
- Type of exercise. The type of exercise you participate in should affect your rest period. Resistance exercise tends to focus on pushing muscle groups to their limits, and therefore generally needs more of a rest period than cardiovascular exercises.
- Intensity of exercise. You also need to consider the intensity of the exercise. Going for a brisk, one-mile walk while barely breaking a sweat may require no rest period whatsoever. Going for a personal record with a one-mile sprint may require you to take a day or two of total rest. Even though you’re covering the same distance, the more intense exercise is much more demanding.
- Age. Age is also a factor. The older you are, the more time you’re going to need to recover.
- Current conditioning. If you’ve lived a sedentary lifestyle most of your life, your first few workouts are going to be exhausting, and they’re going to leave you with lots of muscle soreness. By contrast, if your body has acclimated to the stress of working out, you probably won’t need as much time to recover.
- Diet. How you eat will also play a role in how you’re able to recover. Eating plenty of protein means your body will be much more efficient at repairing muscle tissue, and eating sufficient complex carbohydrates will ensure that your glycogen levels are replenished faster.
- Sleep. You need to get plenty of sleep to properly recover. It may be 48 hours since your last workout session, but if you weren’t able to get good sleep in the past couple of nights, your muscles may still be sore, and you may not be ready for another workout session.
- Stress. Studies show that psychological stress has an inhibitive impact on muscle recovery. The more stressed you are, the more fatigue you’re going to feel, and the more difficult it will be for your body to recover.
- Individual differences. Aside from these variables, there are multitudes of individual differences that can also play a role in your recovery.
Are you unsure how much rest you need between workouts? Or are you new to working out in general? If so, you can benefit from having an experienced teacher at your side. If you’re ready to start your personal fitness journey, or if you just need someone to help you hit your biggest fitness goals, contact me for a free consultation today!
Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, Utah State University, and the ISSA College of Exercise Science.
Nathan has 20 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.
To work with Nathan directly on your personal training goals, contact him today!