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How often do I need a rest day?

Taking rest days is crucial for muscle recovery and preventing overtraining when strength training. But how often should you take a day off from lifting weights? The optimal rest day frequency depends on several factors like your training volume, intensity, splits, and individual recovery capacity.

How Many Rest Days Per Week?

Most experts recommend taking 1-2 rest days per week when strength training. Here are some general guidelines:

  • For total body or upper/lower body splits, take 1-2 rest days per week.
  • For body part splits hitting each muscle group 1-2x per week, take 1 rest day per week.
  • For high frequency programs like PPL 6 days per week, take 1 dedicated rest day.

So in general, most people do best with full rest days somewhere between 1-2 times per week. Taking regular rest allows your muscles to fully recover, rebuild, and adapt to the training stimuli.

Factors That Influence Optimal Rest Day Frequency

Several variables can impact your individual recovery needs and optimal rest day schedule:

Training Volume & Intensity

Higher training volumes and intensities require more frequent rest. For example, high volume hypertrophy programs with lots of challenging sets require more regular rest than low volume strength focused routines.

Muscle Groups Trained

Smaller muscle groups like biceps can be trained more frequently than larger groups like legs. You back squat twice a week, but could curl 3-4 days.

Exercise Selection & Type

Multi-joint exercises like squats need more recovery time than isolation moves like leg extensions. Compound lifts use more muscle groups and are more taxing.

Your Recovery Capacity

Some people recover quicker than others. Factors like genetics, diet, sleep, and stress affect individual recovery abilities. Faster recovery means less frequent rest days required.

Training Phase & Periodization

During intense strength or peaking training phases you’ll need more rest. During easier high volume hypertrophy phases you can train more often with less rest.

How to Determine Your Optimal Rest Days

Here are some signs that indicate you may need more rest days in your program:

  • Muscle soreness lasting more than 48 hours after training
  • Lack of progress on lifts over several weeks
  • Inability to complete your planned reps or lifts during workouts
  • Feeling drained, sluggish, and low energy frequently
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Elevated resting heart rate

If you are experiencing any of those symptoms frequently, consider adding an extra rest day into your current split.

Benefits of Rest Days

Here are some of the key benefits of taking regular rest days:

  • Muscle Recovery: Rest allows time for muscle protein synthesis and rebuilding damaged fibers.
  • CNS Recovery: The central nervous system needs breaks from heavy loading to regenerate.
  • Joint Relief: Rest provides relief for connective tissues like tendons and ligaments.
  • Hormone Regulation: Rest days allow hormone levels like cortisol and testosterone to balance out.
  • Prevent Overtraining: Rest helps avoid chronic fatigue, strength loss, and burnout.
  • Maximizes Adaptation: Proper rest enhances your body’s training adaptations.

Without adequate rest, all of those recovery processes get disrupted. Taking regular time off leads to better progress and helps prevent injury and illness.

Active vs Passive Rest Days

Not all rest days need to be completely passive. You can incorporate different levels of activity:

  • Passive rest: No exercise. Ideal after very intense training.
  • Active recovery: Low intensity cardio like walking. Helps improve blood flow.
  • Light training: Reduce volume on secondary lifts or muscle groups.

Active rest days help facilitate recovery while still providing some activity. Completely passive rest may be better after heavy lifting to allow your body to fully recover.

Rest Day Workout Examples

On rest days you’ll want to reduce your normal volume and intensity significantly. Here are some example light workout options:

  • Leisurely cardio for 45-60 minutes – walking, cycling, rowing, swimming etc.
  • Light yoga or stretching sessions
  • Low intensity supersets with mini-bands or bodyweight
  • Joint mobility drills and foam rolling

The goal is to do some activity to enhance blood flow without taxing your recovery abilities. Keep effort levels low and avoid heavy lifts, plyos, or HIIT style training on rest days.

Rest Day Nutrition

Nutrition on rest days should support muscle recovery while reducing inflammation:

  • Focus on hitting protein intake goals – 0.8-1g per pound daily.
  • Increase healthy carb sources to restore glycogen.
  • Eat plenty of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Stay well hydrated with adequate fluid intake.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake that can impair recovery.

Good food sources include lean proteins, veggies, fruits, whole grains, berries and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish.

Rest Day Recovery Tips

Here are some additional rest day tips to maximize your recovery:

  • Get at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
  • Take a nap or get some extra sleep if needed.
  • Avoid stressful activities and allow time to relax.
  • Focus on proper hydration and electrolyte balance.
  • Consider contrast showers or baths to boost blood flow.
  • Schedule a sports massage if needed.

Proper rest, nutrition, and recovery practices during time off from the gym will leave you feeling rejuvenated for your next workout.

Sample Rest Day Splits

Here are some sample splits showing different rest day options:

Total Body – 2 days lifting, 1-2 days off

  • Monday: Total body workout A
  • Tuesday: Off or active recovery
  • Wednesday: Total body workout B
  • Thursday: Off or active recovery
  • Friday: Total body workout A
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off or active recovery

Upper/Lower Split – 1-2 days off

  • Monday: Upper body
  • Tuesday: Lower body
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Upper body
  • Friday: Lower body
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off or active recovery

PPL Split – 1 dedicated off day

  • Monday: Push workout
  • Tuesday: Pull workout
  • Wednesday: Leg workout
  • Thursday: Push workout
  • Friday: Pull workout
  • Saturday: Leg workout
  • Sunday: Off day


Is it bad to train 7 days a week?

Training 7 days per week can lead to overtraining syndrome if it’s done for too long without adequate rest. Most people benefit from 1-2 rest days per week for optimal recovery.

Can I strength train every day?

It’s generally not recommended for natural trainees to strength train muscle groups like your chest, back, or legs every day without rest. A rest day in between allows maximal protein synthesis.

What happens if I don’t take rest days?

Lack of rest days can result in burnout, overtraining, decreased performance, loss of muscle, fatigue, and increased injury risk. Recovery is key for progress.

Can I do cardio on rest days?

Yes, doing lighter intensity cardio like an easy run or bike ride is great on rest days. Just avoid excessively long or high intensity cardio sessions when strength training muscles need to recover.

The Bottom Line

Here is a summary of the key points on optimal rest day frequency:

  • Most people do best with 1-2 full rest days per week from strength training.
  • The ideal number of rest days depends on your volume, intensity, splits, and recovery capacity.
  • Watch for signs of poor recovery like soreness, fatigue, and strength loss.
  • Rest days facilitate muscle protein synthesis, joint recovery, hormone regulation, and prevent burnout.
  • Active recovery or light cardio is fine on some rest days.
  • Proper nutrition supports recovery on rest days.
  • Get adequate sleep, hydration, and time off from life’s stresses.

Finding the right rest day frequency in your program maximizes progress. Avoid overtraining by listening to your body and allowing enough time for muscles to fully regenerate.