How much rest do you need between workouts?

Muscles are made in the gym, right? In order to burn fat and build muscle, you need to be working out hard and often.  That means showing up to the gym a lot, lifting lots of weight, and a whole lot of reps. Muscles actually aren't made in the gym; they're broken down in the gym. Muscles are made in the bed, when you're sleeping, or on your days off. It's the rest and recovery that helps to build muscle. Experts note that rest and recovery are essential in normalizing the body’s systems, replenishing energy stores, and repairing muscle. Sometimes though, less is more. We all want to build muscle and lose fat. That’s the whole point of going to work out and train. If we’re going so much that it hinders our goals, what’s the point? It is important to let your body recover, but first let’s take a look at what happens to your body during and after a workout.

What Happens to Your Body During Exercise and Recovery:

Whenever you workout, whether it’s lifting weights or high intensity interval training, your muscles are undergoing some kind of resistance training. When muscles go up against resistance, they stretch and tear (microscopic tears) which then leads to inflammation. This inflammation is what causes the feelings of soreness a day or two after your workout. During sleep or taking a couple of days off, the body rebuilds itself by creating stronger connective tissue in the place of the torn muscle. That’s how you get stronger, faster, bigger. It makes sense why it’s easy to think that more working out would lead to more muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. With this ideology, we tend to workout more. It gets obsessive, which leads to not taking days off because we think we’re slacking, or because working out has become such an important part of our life, it feels weird not working out.


The mentality of doing more, not taking days off, or just feeling out of place about not working out can take a toll on the body. Not only in hindering your goals for building muscle and burning fat, but it could lead to overtraining. This can lead to negative side effects on the body, both physical and psychological. It’s hard to determine when you’re overtraining; sometimes the symptoms are glaring, other times subtle. Whether you adhere to a regimented schedule or if you just listen to your body telling you that it needs rest, it makes you wonder if there is a hard and fast rule to optimal rest and recovery.

How much recovery should I get?

Traditional research shows that an individual should be getting up to 48 hours of rest, especially after a high impact workout. There are bodies of research that show that you can workout even when in recovery mode. Other studies show that post workout activities like icing, heating and stretching prove beneficial towards a speedy recovery. It’s also noted that nutrition, particularly post workout, ensures that you get the most out of your workout and recovery. Does that mean that there is a hard and fast rule to optimal rest and recovery? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. It really depends, on you. If you are to try the techniques mentioned in the studies above, it’s best to do so with an experienced trainer. That way the risk of injury decreases. If not, stick with good old-fashioned advice, especially if you’re a novice. Get adequate rest, up to 48 hours if need be.  This will reduce your chances of injury and ensure that you're ready to attack your next workout.

Nicole Clark

Nicole Clark is a U.S. trained and licensed physiotherapist who became interested in physiotherapy through her experience as a competitive swimmer and runner. Nicole earned her Master of Science in Physiotherapy from Springfield College in 2003, graduating with honors. Her thesis was accepted to the Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association in 2004. Nicole has sought post-graduate clinical education in such topics as trigger point dry needling, advanced treatment of the foot and ankle, orthotic fitting, corrective exercise, and joint mobilization.

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