Rest days are an important part of any bodybuilder’s training regimen. Taking time off from lifting allows the muscles to fully recover and repair themselves, enabling the bodybuilder to lift heavier weights and build more muscle mass when they return to the gym. However, there is some debate around whether 1 or 2 rest days per week is optimal for muscle growth.
The purpose of rest days
Rest days serve several important functions for bodybuilders:
- Allow muscles to fully recover – Lifting weights causes small tears and damage to the muscle fibers. Rest days give the muscles time to repair this damage.
- Give the central nervous system a break – Weight training is taxing on the central nervous system. Rest days allow it to recharge.
- Prevent overtraining – Overtraining can lead to decreased performance, fatigue, injury and muscle loss. Scheduled rest prevents overtraining.
- Allow energy restoration – Weight training burns calories and glycogen stores. Rest days allow the body to replenish energy.
- Promote muscle growth – Muscle protein synthesis is elevated for 24-48 hours after training. Rest maximizes this process.
- Boost motivation – Taking a break can help bodybuilders feel mentally recharged and motivated to hit the gym hard.
Without adequate rest, bodybuilders may experience diminished returns from training, find it difficult to progress and increase risk of injury. One to two rest days per week helps maximize muscle growth.
The case for 1 rest day per week
Many bodybuilders find that just 1 rest day per week is sufficient for recovery and growth. Here are some potential benefits of only resting 1 day per week:
- Greater weekly training volume – More frequent training sessions allow for more total sets/reps per week.
- Improved strength gains – More practice with heavy weights can enhance strength development.
- Increased calorie burn – Additional workout days burn more calories, helping to stay lean.
- Boosted muscle protein synthesis – More frequent mechanical tension maintains elevated MPS.
- Enhanced work capacity – Learning to train more often increases work capacity over time.
- Extra conditioning – Increased training frequency improves cardiovascular fitness.
Younger trainees in particular may be able to handle the higher training frequency and volume from only taking 1 rest day. However, this approach may be better suited to split routines that work different muscle groups each session.
Potential 1-day split routines
Here are some typical 1-day split routines:
- Push/pull/legs – Train either push (chest, shoulders, triceps), pull (back, biceps), or legs each session.
- Upper/lower – Train upper body one session, lower body the next session.
- Full body – Train all muscle groups in each workout.
These splits allow a bodybuilder to train 4-5 days per week while only taking 1 rest day. Muscles get trained twice per week, which may support better growth.
The case for 2 rest days per week
Despite the potential benefits, most experienced bodybuilders recommend taking 2 rest days per week. Here are some good reasons to rest 2 days:
- Improved recovery – Two full days of rest better allows muscles, joints and CNS to recover.
- Increased intensity – More recovery equates to greater intensity and load handling when training.
- Reduced injury risk – Rest decreases overuse injuries from frequent heavy lifting.
- Maintenance of motivation – Preventing burnout preserves long-term motivation.
- Greater time efficiency – High-intensity, infrequent training promotes similar growth in less time.
- Better hormone balance – CNS and hormone production may be disturbed by overly-frequent training.
For natural, intermediate and advanced bodybuilders, the extra recovery time from 2 rest days often allows for better progress.
Potential 2-day split routines
Here are some typical 2-day split options:
- Upper/lower – Train upper body, rest, train lower body, rest. Repeat.
- Push/pull/legs – Train either push, pull or legs each session with a rest day between each.
- Full body – Train full body 2-3 days per week with 1-2 rest days between workouts.
Theseschedules provide sufficient recovery time while still stimulating each muscle group 2-3 times per week.
|1-day split routines
|Greater training frequency and volume
|May hinder recovery and increase injury risk
|2-day split routines
|Enhanced recovery between sessions
|Reduced training frequency
Should training frequency vary over time?
Another approach is to periodically cycle between higher 1-day and lower 2-day training frequencies. Benefits of varying frequency may include:
- Periodized recovery – Allowing for both enhanced recovery and greater volumes at different times.
- Prevention of overtraining – Cycling avoids excessive training frequencies.
- Breaking through plateaus – Altering frequency provides a new stimulus.
- Individualization – Can tailor to changing needs over time.
Here is an example periodized plan alternating between 1 and 2 rest days over 12 weeks:
Other factors influencing optimal rest days
There are several other factors to consider when determining ideal rest days for bodybuilders:
- Training level – Beginners may benefit from more frequent training and fewer rest days. Advanced trainees likely need more recovery time.
- Age – Younger bodybuilders generally recover quicker and can handle more frequent training.
- Nutrition – Adequate calories, protein and micronutrients enhance recovery ability.
- Outside stresses – Higher life/work stresses increase the need for recovery.
- Injuries – Current or past injuries may dictate the need for additional rest days.
- Split routine – Higher frequency may work better with splits that alternate muscle groups.
Bodybuilders should experiment to find the ideal number of rest days based on individual recovery ability and response to training.
Most evidence suggests that 2 rest days per week is optimal for the majority of intermediate and advanced bodybuilders. The extra recovery time allows them to lift with greater intensity and avoid overtraining.
However, more frequent 1-day splits may work well for some younger or beginner trainees wanting to maximize volume and protein synthesis. Cycling between higher and lower training frequencies can provide benefits too.
Rather than adherence to a single recommended protocol, it is likely best for bodybuilders to experiment with their optimal rest days. Consider individual factors like training level, age and recovery capacity. Increase rest days if feeling overtrained or plateaued, and reduce if wanting more frequent muscle stimulation.
To maximize muscle growth over the long-term, balance the dual goals of providing enough recovery while also applying progressive overload through sufficient training volume and intensity. The ideal rest days are those that best achieve this balance for you as an individual bodybuilder.