How much rest do you really need?

By Alex Janis, CPT at Prescription Fitness (CLE, Ohio)

Have you ever felt completely exhausted after a tough workout and even continued to feel lethargic for a few days after?  Most likely we all have felt like that for a good reason: exercise is hard on the body!  How can you know how much rest you need before working out again?  Here are a few things to consider…

  1. Frequency

Frequency is how often you train, and often more specifically, how often you train a particular exercise or body part.  There has to be a proper balance between frequency and rest, so that you allow yourself enough time to recover from hard workouts but not so much time as to become over-rested.  Determining exactly how much time is required to recover is variable from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is 3-4 days of rest for larger body groups like back and legs, and 2-3 days of rest for smaller body groups like arms.  In addition to this, some muscles can be trained more frequently than others due to faster recovery rates.  The calves and abs are two examples of these fast recovering muscles that can be trained every 1-2 days.  Finally, full body workouts take more recovery time that “body-part splits that focus on a push/pull/legs breakdown for example.  By finding the appropriate number of times you should be training during the week, you can maximize the results you see in the gym.

  1. Intensity

            Intensity is how hard a workout was or how hard you pushed yourself during a workout.  Increasing intensity then, increases the difficulty of the workout, causing more fatigue, caloric expenditure, and necessary muscle breakdown.  (Muscle must be broken down in order to grow).  There are a few ways to increase intensity.  The first would be increasing the weight of an exercise.  A second way to increase intensity is to increase the number or repetitions during a set, also known as increasing volume.  Finally you can increase intensity by taking a focused mental approach to each workout.  Instead of merely going through the motions, focusing on every rep with muscle to mind connection will increase the intensity of any workout.

  1. How Frequency and Intensity Relate

            Frequency and intensity are inversely related variables.  This means that as frequency of training goes up, intensity per training session tends to decrease.  Conversely, as intensity increases the frequency of training should tend to go down.  This makes sense because as workouts get harder, and you feel more fatigued, then you will need more time to recover.

  1. What Should You Do?

            You should always listen to your body and if you know you need another day off to perform well in the gym, take a rest day!  It is often better to go into the gym refreshed and ready for a great workout than go in feeling exhausted and as a result, have a bad workout.  If you feel that you aren’t tired and sore after your workouts, try increasing the intensity of your workouts, not necessarily the length of your workout.  There is no perfect science whether to push harder or ease up on the training, but a qualified personal trainer can help you determine an appropriate training schedule.