Getting enough rest is crucial for building muscle mass. When you strength train, you create small tears in your muscle fibers. Your muscles then repair and reinforce those fibers, making them bigger and stronger. This process is called muscle protein synthesis. However, this repair and growth cannot occur without adequate rest between training sessions.
How much rest do muscles need to grow?
Experts recommend allowing at least 48 hours between strength training the same muscle group. This allows enough time for your muscles to fully recover and repair themselves. Trying to train the same muscles too frequently can hinder results.
Here are some guidelines on resting between strength training sessions:
- Large muscle groups (chest, back, legs): At least 48-72 hours rest
- Smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, shoulders): At least 24-48 hours rest
You should also avoid training the same muscle group two days in a row. Your muscles need recovery time to grow. Hitting the same muscles day after day will likely lead to overtraining, fatigue and plateaus.
What happens when you don’t rest enough?
Not getting enough rest between strength training sessions can hinder muscle growth in several ways:
- Incomplete recovery: Your muscles need time to fully recover and reinforce themselves between training sessions. Not allowing enough recovery time leads to accumulated fatigue.
- Overtraining: Consistently training without adequate rest increases your risk of overtraining. This leads to reduced performance, fatigue, loss of strength and muscle mass.
- Increased injury risk: Fatigued muscles are more prone to strains and tears. Lack of recovery also disrupts your neuromuscular coordination, raising injury risk.
- Hormonal imbalances: Too little rest can disrupt hormone levels. This includes testosterone and growth hormone, which are vital for building muscle.
- Reduced motivation: Fatigue and plateaus can reduce your motivation to keep training consistently.
Signs you need more rest
Here are some signs that you may not be getting enough recovery between strength training sessions:
- Reduced performance and strength
- Muscle soreness that persists for several days
- Inability to complete your normal number of reps or lifts
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Increased perceived effort during workouts
- Changes in appetite
- Disrupted sleep
- Moodiness, irritability, depression
- Loss of motivation to train
If you regularly experience these symptoms, take a few extra rest days. Listen to what your body is telling you.
How to maximize rest and recovery
Here are some tips to optimize rest and recovery around your workout sessions:
- Stick to the recommended rest times between training the same muscle groups.
- Schedule rest days into your weekly routine and avoid heavy training 7 days per week.
- Take regular deload weeks where you reduce your training volume by 30-50% to allow your body to recover.
- Get enough sleep – aim for 7-9 hours per night.
- Manage your stress levels through practices like meditation, yoga, nature walks.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet with plenty of protein to nourish muscle repair.
- Hydrate well and avoid excessive alcohol intake.
- Listen to your body – if you feel excessively fatigued, take an extra rest day.
- Utilize active recovery techniques like light cardio, stretching, foam rolling, massage.
Sample weekly training splits
Here are two sample weekly workout splits that properly periodize rest days to maximize muscle growth:
Workout Split #1
This splits up muscle groups to allow 48-72 hours of rest between sessions. Legs get their own day since they are a large muscle group requiring more recovery time. This workout routine also incorporates 2 full rest days.
Workout Split #2
This split focuses on one major muscle group per day, with arms getting their own day at the end of the week. There is then a full rest day after 5 consecutive strength training days. The muscle group sequence allows for proper recovery times.
Active rest days
While rest days are important, you don’t need to be totally inactive on your non-strength training days. Some activity can help with recovery.
On rest days focus on:
- Light cardio like walking, cycling, swimming. This boosts blood flow to enhance recovery.
- Gentle yoga or stretching. This reduces muscle tightness.
- Foam rolling. Helps relieve muscle soreness.
- Massage. Also aids muscle relaxation and recovery.
However, avoid strenuous activity on rest days which can hinder the muscle repair process. Moderate activity is fine, just don’t work out to exhaustion.
Customize your recovery periods
The optimal rest time between strength training sessions can vary based on factors like:
- Your age
- Training experience
- Genetics and recovery ability
- Volume/intensity of your workouts
- Calorie intake
- Sleep quantity and quality
- Stress levels
For example, older trainees may need longer between sessions than younger athletes. Beginners can train more frequently than more experienced lifters. And very intense workouts require more recovery than lighter sessions.
Monitor your energy, muscle soreness and performance to gauge your individual recovery needs. Take extra rest days whenever you feel fatigued or plateauing.
Muscles grow during rest, not during workouts themselves. Allowing at least 48 hours between strength training sessions allows proper recovery and muscle repair to occur. Rushing back into the gym too soon can hinder gains.
Schedule dedicated rest days into your weekly routine and listen to signals from your mind and body. Optimize sleep, nutrition and stress management for enhanced recovery. Rest and recovery is just as crucial as hard training when building muscle mass.