Every fitness professional has been asked:

”How much rest do I need after doing [x]?”

Go to any internet forum and you will understand why they are asked this. There is a lot of bullshit floating around concerning recovery practices – “you must take two days off after every squat workout, benching more than three times in a week without sleeping ten hours each night will cause your shoulders to die while the rest of your body keeps on living…” – as I said, a lot of bullshit. Luckily, the answer is simple. Here it is:

The goal of your rest period/recovery practices (sleep, diet, active recovery work, massages, etc…) is to prepare you for your next session (be it your next workout, or your next martial arts class). That’s it. If you aren’t prepared for your next session (and that is not the goal of the routine- note that some routines purposefully overtrain the trainee), you need to change something – and it might not be what you think, read on…

What exactly is “prepared”?

If you are able to do what the routine requires… you are prepared. If you can’t, you are not. If it is the second session of twelve and your numbers have dropped into the ground… you have not adequately recovered. It is not hard to tell.

So what do I do?

More time off is not always the answer, though many say it is. The recovery factors and practices I listed above can almost always be improved. If they cannot be for you – and I mean this; if you literally cannot eat better (say, you cannot afford organic food), it’s not just that you enjoy your McDonalds – then you may take an extra day between workouts. If this will mess excessively with the workout template (ie. the routine does not allow it), change routine. Yes, change routine. Far too many people try to endlessly alter as much about themselves as they can to fit an (often supposedly magic) routine. Not to mention that far too many people try to complete routines which they aren’t even near-prepared for to start with… but that is another subject entirely.

“But I’m still sore!”

Good for you. Soreness, really, usually only means you’re sore. It doesn’t mean you can’t train again, or you’ve trained too hard – if you’re recovered by your next session, what was “too hard” about it? Nothing. You just didn’t like it. While it can be a sign of overtraining, you will know if it is… since you will likely also be depressed, insomniac, and suddenly lighter and weaker, or any combination of these… chances are, you’re just a wuss.

Suck it up! Train again! Ironically, this will likely be what makes your soreness go away. Feed the cycle.

– Felix

PS. A note of caution: recovery can be a double-edged blade. Many athletes, when they do their best to improve all recovery factors to their utmost will oftentimes end up resting too much. Just because you can sleep ten hours, doesn’t mean nine or maybe even six won’t do… Is your training going well right now? If so, try this: sleep a half hour less for the next few nights. See how you feel; see how your training goes. You may have just found the time to work on your side-splits.

One Thought on “How much rest do you really need?

  1. donovan5 on July 11, 2007 at 12:27 am said:

    Good stuff there.I totally agree I never gained much except an aching body every time I tried long rest breaks between workouts.
    Personally I’ve always been happier doing 15 to 20 minutes a day mon-fri.

    The blog is shaping up nicely btw hope you keep it up

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