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How often do athletes take rest days?

Rest days are a crucial part of any athlete’s training regimen. Taking regular rest allows the body to recover from strenuous workouts and helps prevent overtraining, burnout, and injury. But how often should athletes actually take rest days? The optimal rest schedule depends on many factors.

Benefits of Rest Days

There are several key benefits to taking regular rest days as an athlete:

  • Allows the body to recover – Exercise causes microscopic tears in muscle fibers. Rest days give time for tissue repair and muscle growth.
  • Prevents overtraining – Too much exercise without adequate rest can lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and higher injury risk.
  • Allows energy restoration – Exercise depletes glycogen energy stores. Rest rebuilds those stores.
  • Provides mental recovery – Rest allows mental relaxation and focus to return.
  • Reduces risk of burnout – Rest prevents mental and physical burnout from constant training.

Guidelines for Rest Days

Most experts recommend 1-2 rest days per week for optimal recovery and performance. However, factors like age, sport, training load, and time of season can all impact ideal rest frequency. Here are some general guidelines:

1-2 Rest Days for Most Athletes

The average athlete training 4-6 times per week needs 1-2 dedicated rest days where they do no exercise. This allows for sufficient muscular and mental recovery.

Additional Rest During Off-Season

Athletes generally need more rest during off-season training compared to in-season. Off-season training focuses on building strength and endurance, so added rest aids muscle growth and recovery.

More Frequent Rest During Intense Training

During intense training cycles like competitive season or strength blocks, more frequent rest days may be needed. This prevents overtraining when exercise load is highest.

Rest Days Based on Type of Training

Training type also impacts rest needs. High intensity interval training requires more rest than lower intensity endurance training. Power and strength athletes need more recovery than low-impact endurance athletes.

Additional Rest as Needed

Athletes should take additional rest days when feeling excess fatigue, soreness, or mental burnout. Forcing exercise when the body needs recovery can cause injury or illness.

Active vs. Complete Rest

There are two main types of rest days:

  • Active rest – Light exercise like walking, yoga, or easy swimming.
  • Complete rest – No exercise. Often used 1-2 days before a major competition.

A combination of both active and complete rest days allows fitness to be maintained while still giving the body a chance to recover.

Rest Day Dos and Don’ts

Here are some dos and don’ts for making the most of rest days:

Do Don’t
– Engage in light active recovery – Do intense training
– Get plenty of sleep – Skimp on sleep
– Eat nutritious anti-inflammatory foods – Eat inflammatory foods like sugar, fried foods, alcohol
– Do mobility exercises – Skip stretching and mobility work
– Use massage or foam rolling – Push through pain or fatigue
– Stay hydrated – Become dehydrated

Rest Day Exercise Ideas

Here are some sample active rest day workouts:

Yoga or Pilates Session

Gentle, restorative yoga or Pilates provides active recovery. Focus on breathing, stretching, and mindfulness.

Light Cardio

Low intensity cardio like walking, easy spinning or swimming keeps blood pumping without fatigue.

Mobility Exercises

Spend time on self-massage, stretching, and joint mobility to address imbalances and soreness.

Low Weight Lifting

Use lighter weights and higher reps for an easy strength session. This maintains muscle without intense strain.


Rest and recovery are just as vital as training for optimal athletic performance. Most athletes require 1-2 dedicated rest days per week, but most should individualize their schedule based on sport demands, training load, and individual recovery needs. Rest days allow the muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems to regenerate after hard training. Both active and complete rest days play an important role in preventing burnout, overtraining, and injury. With proper rest and recovery, athletes can continue to adapt and perform at their best.