Whether you're a workout warrior or just starting out, calculating how many rest days per week is a tough one as it differs so much from person to person. There are a few things that are a constant in every training routine across the board – variables we need to manage on a regular basis to prevent under- or over-training. Frequency, volume and intensity are all factors that need to be considered. Lastly, life factors that we sometimes can't control will dictate how much muscle and strength we can build.
What do all these have in common? They all put stress on your body that adds up day after day and eventually warrants time off to let you recover. This is why we need rest days. We either love them or hate them, but there's no denying how much we need them.
How Many Rest Days Per Week?
Many different factors go into the decision of how many rest days per week you need, but these four points are a great start when setting up your schedule.
It's important to know how much your body can handle in a given week. For example, if you're just starting out a workout routine you might be able to exercise every muscle group twice a week tops. More intermediate lifters can find a way to do certain movements 3-4 times a week to hit their weak spots, and finally advanced lifters with specific goals in strength and size can do a movement like squats or bench press every day.
This is something you need to keep in mind when deciding how many rest days per week you need to recover. You also don't want to work out every muscle group too infrequently as this will lead to submaximal gains (looking at you, chest Monday, back Tuesday, etc.).
Next we have volume, which compounds on your body over time. Reading your body is extremely important for determining how many rest days per week you need as well as allocating your volume accordingly.
For example, if you lower the volume on Monday and Tuesday, you won't be too fatigued or sore on Wednesday and Thursday to still train. Conversely, if you push yourself with a lot of reps and sets on the first and second day of the routine, you will probably have to take a rest day on the third day to recover and not risk injury or hamper your progress.
A good strategy involves making certain days low volume if your schedule allows you to exercise a few days in a row. Then the day before you have to take a rest day or two, make up for it with a high volume workout to ensure you'll need to recover the next couple of days. By doing this you are allocating your volume to maximize your progress, especially if you can't make it to the gym on certain days or split your volume up evenly throughout the week.
This takes weight into account — as in the amount of weight you are lifting and how heavy it is for you. For example, 135 pounds on a bench press for sets of ten would be considered quite low intensity for a giant gym junkie. For a beginner, though, this might be their maximum intensity — meaning they're going to failure at the tenth rep.
It's important to practice control and not hit 100% intensity during every workout. You might look like a bench press boss, but the next day you’ll have to seriously scale back your workout — that’s if you can manage anything at all. Basically, working harder and building more muscle on the days that you train at a high intensity will reduce the amount of days a week you can work out – without major soreness and decreased strength.
What you should be doing is moderating your intensity, much like your volume and frequency to balance fatigue. If you want to work out for three or four days in a row, I suggest keeping the intensity moderate and really hitting it hard before your rest day(s). This way, you can train many days in a row, but still make the most of a rest day because you broke down so much more muscle tissue the day before.
Finally, there are lifestyle factors that will contribute to how many rest days per week you need. Daily life stresses such as a manual labour job will also contribute to your weekly volume and will end with you becoming fatigued quicker – ultimately making you take more rest days to function at your best in the gym.
Sleep is a huge factor as it provides you with the majority of your recovery. When you fail to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, it will hamper your recovery and overall energy — nobody likes a grumpy gym-goer. There are plenty of factors that determine how many rest days you'll need and the rest will be left up to your individual lifestyle choices.
Take Home Message
You might have noticed that there's no defined list of how many rest days per week you need. This is because we're all different and need to determine this number for ourselves. Perhaps you can only spare three days a week for the gym, which means you'll have four rest days a week. So, you should up the volume to match a five day or more a week routine if you want to maximize your gains.
Or maybe you're a college student who can go to the gym every day (lucky you!), and when you regulate your volume you can go six days a week with only one rest day. Don't be afraid to consider every aspect of your life in addition to your frequency, volume and intensity when determining how many rest days you need. Ultimately, if you want to build your body, you first need to listen to what it needs.
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