How Long Should You Really Rest Between Workouts?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We always talk about the importance of rest when it comes to your exercise routine. Your body needs that time to recover, and your overall health and fitness level will benefit from non-exercise days. But how much rest is too much? Research from the University of Missouri at Columbia found that only two days of inactivity are enough to cause the size of fat cells to increase by 25%! Surprised? Although this research was done on animals, the same could be true for people.

I've often heard that after 48 hours, your fitness level can start to decrease. That's one reason why it is important to stay regular with your workouts. I find that if I take too many rest days in a row, it's harder to get myself back to the gym (both physically and mentally). And when I do make it back, that same workout is usually a little more challenging than it was just 3 or 4 days before.

Balance is essential. Too few rest days and you can end up overtraining and compromising your progress. Too many rest days and your progress can also be compromised. As a general rule, I recommend taking 1-2 days off each week from all activity, spacing those days over the week.

What do you think? With so much talk about the importance of rest, are you surprised about the possible effects of just a little too much? How do you incorporate rest days into your exercise routine?

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I do an intense cardio workout every day, either an hour or half hour, and then fast walk for the rest so that I get two hours of exercise in every day. I strength train every other day for three days a week only. I actually do not know how to put a rest day in. I seem to have to work very hard to lose very little and tone up. I guess my metabolism isn't as good as others on here who seem to lose so much so quickly. It has taken me a year and a half to go from a start of 192 to 135. Report
4MYHEALTH, I understand your situation completely. Thank the Lord my kids are grown. Do you get a lunch hour at work? Maybe you could walk or climb stairs for 20 minutes. Report
Spaceface: You can't actually "sweat out toxins." Your immune system doesn't work that way. Also, you should NEVER fast. There's no medical benefit to fasting ESPECIALLY if you're sick. Report
I work out 60 minutes twice a week, 30 minutes three times a week and about 20 minutes twice a week. Don't my shorter work out times count as rest? I don't feel compromised by working out every day, I feel great. Though I don't know if I've shed much weight after building up to this routine over two months time, I don't keep a scale in the house. I've almost skipped my work out entirely the past couple days, my body's been fighting off the cold virus and I've been feeling worn down, though some sources say being active and sweating along with fasting is a good way to push toxins out of your system when you're sick. Report
I'm working out consistently 5 days a week. I tend to rest on Friday and Sunday. I do not allow myself to go without working out 2 days consecutive. Report
Awesome discussion on a very important, but underrated topic!!

Rest is dependent on the type of exercise program you are on, your fitness level, and the overall metabolic demand of your workouts. It's difficult to generalize this variable.

I would argue that 1-2 days off per week for a prolonged period (ie: 6 months) is a recipe for over-training and hindering your results if your workout sessions are at maximal levels. But if your workouts are low-moderate in metabolic demand then this is probably fine as a rule of thumb.

Any good exercise regime changes regularly. And so should your rest periods.

BTW- There have been lots of good exercise recovery studies done on humans. Not sure why we need the rat study?? Report
I listen to my body...I aim to do some form of exercise everyday...walking or toning or both. Some days I just don't feel me that's break time. I don't think its a good idea to let those breaks last longer than two days at a time. Report
I am learning to schedule my exercise - which goes a long way toward getting some consistant exercise! I am up to 3-4 days/week with a goal of 5-6 days/week, but it takes time to build the muscles to handle it. I feel better and have more energy now that I am getting regular exercise. The more I do, the more energy I have to do more the next day (minus the sore factor). 250 minutes a week is a great new goal for me - will add that to my goals today.
However, I think fat cells increasing 25% per day in size is a bit much - think about if you weigh yourself daily - if my fat swelled 25% in a day...I'd explode. Report
I was taking Saturday and Sunday off, although Saturday became my make up day when scheduling prevented my normal work out. Guess, I'll change my days off to Wednesday and Sunday. Report
I do cardio something every day.
When I add weights/strength training to my regime, I will probably do them every other day. Report
oh my! thats crazy, I think I am going to work out a bit everyday Report
I usually take my rest day on Sunday. Actually on Sunday mornings before church I like to get out for a morning walk. Nothing too hard just a quiet time for me to reflect, connect, and give thanks. Its a wonderful feeling you should try it. Report
Going to pt every other day & they want me to exercise in between.. that means no rest days. I get to stiff if I don't do something everyday. I should say I just had both knees replaced, so it LOTS of work! Report
I take my rest days after my intensive weight sessions. I have two a week, so the following days are full rest to allow for muscle recovery. IF I do anything on those days, it is just a walk with the dogs to get the blood flowing (but only if the day before wasn't leg day!) Report
I have trouble allowing myself rest days. I try to allow for one rest day each week, but I have a couple ambitious physical goals I am trying to accomplish and have a specific training schedule to follow. Sometimes "real life" gets in the way and screws up my schedule and I feel guilty taking the rest day but I know it's very important to rest our muscles, allow them to repair which makes them stronger. in order to stay on track I have to skip the rest day. Report
I find it hard to work out when I have to work late at my job. My job ends at 8:30pm. I just don't feel like doing anything. Before work is hard for me aswell. I have noticed that if I have just one day off of working out, I start wanting to force myself back to the gym. Its hard to get the mind set. Report
In high school, I used to train for several hours Monday through Saturday and Sunday was the day off. I never felt tired. I always felt motivated. Now, just 6 years out of school and I am out of shape and out of motivation. I try to take as few "rest days" as possible because I lose motivation way too quickly. And I certainly do not train at the same level as in high school--XC, track, soccer, cycling, walking, weight training...Now I primarily just go for walks and do some dumbbell exercises. I was never a fan of rest days. Report
I place my rest day on a Sunday which is reserved for having lunch and being with the family. Report
I completely agree with this article. There are times when I have taken 4 or 5 days off and when I get back to the gym it seems like I can't do the same workout as the last one that I did. Same with riding horses. I used to be able to ride 3 horses a night for an hour each. When I started back I could barely last 20 mins and I was wiped. I am now up to about 45 mins on 2 but I have to push myself to do that but I sure so feel better. Report
I can't get past feeling guilty if I don't do something, so sometimes it's just a walk or a walking video - but occasionally I do try to get to bed earlier to give my body more rest. Report
I agree with what a lot of comments say about listening to your body. I think if you are smart about it and pay attention that will be more accurate than a one size fits all blanket statement. If you are working harder, you may need the rest more than with lighter workouts. Personally, I work out 5 days a week since the gym is at work. I walk or do light cardio during my lunch break, and again after work, pushing myself much harder with 5 days cardio and 3 days of full body resistance exercises. I am doing things never thought I could by pushing myself in weight training and cardio (even running a little). Meeting my fitness requirements during the week, lets me be more relaxed on the weekends. I try just to be more active on the weekends by doing housework, and if the weather is nice I go walking on the beach or hiking trails. By rest, I don't think they mean lay in bed and don't move so I don't feel I am slacking off, but the break from the hard pace of the week gives me the energy to push myself to the next level each week. Report
I have been trying to get to the gym at least every other day for the last couple of months. However, I have noticed that when a particularly hectic week forces me to skip two or three days, at my next visit I have a lot more endurance and strength. Makes me wonder if this is a sign that I am overdoing it or perhaps just not eating quite enough. Report
I think it all depends. You should listen to your body. (I don't mean the "I don't want to go to the gym today" part of your body", heh) I have recently increased the mileage in my runs, and found that when I do a long run, one day was not enough rest and I was very fatigued the next outing. Some weeks, I go 6 or 7 days in a row. It all depends! Report
I do agree...too many rest days is not good but not resting at all is not good either. I had to skip my wed. exercise and I had so much energy thurs so rest is def. important.

I am a problem of just being sleepy when I come from the gym...I have to fight myself not to lay down and go to sleep. Report
I usually try to get at least 1 rest day a wk. Although just being sick I missed a whole week. I think I was better off resting than trying to kill myself even more. Not to mention getting everyone else sick! Report
Hey that's where I work!!! Sorry our university is the bearer of bad news :( I work out weekdays because my gym is in my work building, and I don't want to go to the workplace on the weekends, but Mondays are usually rough. I try to get some exercise on the weekends like heavy cleaning or gardening so it won't be so bad. Last week, I had the flu for 3 days and then went out of town and didn't have a chance to work out, and when I started over this week, it was BAD! It was really challenging. Report
I try to get two days of rest throughtout the week. When I work my week of 5 12hr shift weeks. I work out everyday at work. On my 2 12hr shift weeks I work out at work then work out at home by running or doing weights and scatter my 2 days off during that time. If I don't rest at least one day I can easily injure myself and I feel run down. The rest days also help me build faster than if I worked out all the time. I am an all or nothing kind of gal so I have to really keep myself in check so I don't fall of the exercise wagon. Report
I just started my routine 2 weeks ago and I goto the gym to strength train and do cardio Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for cardio. Report
Wow! I had no idea your fitness level would decline so rapidly! No wonder I've had such difficulty getting back into my exercise routine since getting over the flu! Report
I take Sundays off. Now, that doesn't mean I don't do anything on Sunday. I may clean, do laundry, go to the park with the kids, etc. But I don't do "cardio" or "weight training". I do 45 minutes of cardio 6 days a week and weight train 3 days a week. So, you can also count the days between weight training as rest days. Report
I generally take 1 day off a week, usually on Sunday. If I am not feeling well is the only other exception. But I try to stay on track. I push myself to keep on keeping on.... Report
i'm someone who basically has to do something every day for it to be a i worry that if i go more than 1 day away from the gym, I will totally fall off the wagon. I generally only skip the gym 1 day a week. But I also have "light" work-outs that I do sometimes so I don't over-exert myself. Finding that balance can be a challenge! Report
It is nice to say, but what if the body refuses?????? I would love to work out every single day of my live. Used to work out 5-6 times per week. But for the last 1 year my body has been giving me problems.
Right now it is a cold and a flare-up of RA. I have not been able to exercise properly in over a week and can see myself grow fatter again..... Even when i tried to shoot a few Hoops wiht the kids at school, my joints complained after a few minutes.
My cold even prevents me from swimming.
So what am i supposed to do????? Report
I try to take one to two days off per week, depending om my schedule. Report
For me the real question is what are they counting as exercise? If I take a couple days off from the gym to clean house and that cleaning includes dusting fans, vacuuming under furniture, lugging laundry up and down stairs, and doing a contortionist routine to get behind the toilet to clean, I'm counting it as exercise. If I mow the lawn I probably burn more calories per minute than I do on the treadmill. If I sweat, it's work. Report
I try to do enough exercise in one day to make it worth while, so that the next day I can also do that and try a little more. It is amazing if I add one minute a day by the time a month is gone I have it up to 30 minutes do minutes that month then choice a new routine and start all over while still doing the 30 minute routine, gotta plan! Report
This is my quest to get more fit, I have found intuitively that I cannot miss more than 1 day without doing some type of exercise or my body doesn't crave the movement...nice to see my intuition reinforced:)
I workout 5 days a week and think 2 rest days is more than enough. My physical abilities in the gym is slightly rerduced after those 2 days though. But its fine.
I workout 5X a week and I think 2 days of rest is perfect. It gives my muscles a little time off and really helps improve my strength and energy levels over all. The hardest thing is getting back to it after 2 days off, but not impossible. Report
I find it impossible to work out Mon-Thur and often Fri. I have 2 children, one is severely disabled, and at the end of the day I am exhausted. If I can get to bed by 10 PM it was a good day - and there is no time to read, watch TV or do anything else that is slacking. I have to wake-up between 5 and 5:30 to shower, get dressed, tend to my special-needs child, help get the kids to school and get to work on time. Does anybody have any suggestions on how to squeeze in a work-out? My husband is just as busy as I am and we work as a team to give our healthy child a normal life and still tend to the needs of our disabled child so I can't ask him to step in and take any of my responsibilities. I would love to hear from you if you can provide me with guidance. I am down 23.5 lbs and looking forward to loosing more and toning up more.

Thanks a million for being there and providing support. I appreciate ALL of the members of SparkPeople and the staff who provide this great service.
I think picturing my arse getting fatter after 2 off days will do a lot to get me moving! Report
I take 2 rest days per week. Usually Wednesday and Saturday. I read about how your fitness level decreases after 2 days of inactivity so I have made it a priority to never go more than 1 day without exercising! I have slipped up a couple times, but since I adopted this philosophy, I have seen my fitness increase quite a bit. :) Report
I heard for weight training you should rest at least 48 hours before training the same muscles. I take Sundays as my day of rest and usually one day during the week due to my work schedule. Report
The only issue I have with off days is that, for me, it tends to contribute to excuse making where 1 day off leads to 2, 3, 7, etc. For my "off days" I tend to just do something very light like take a walk, do a 20 minute workout dvd, or dance around my living room until I break a sweat. Report
Off days are essential to the body as workout days. How many and when you take them are should be based on the type of exercise you do. If you regularly run 4 or 5 times a week, then yes, you definitely need an off day to allow the muscles to heal, same with weight training. Activities such as these tear the muscle, thus to get stronger, you need to give the muscle time to grow/regenerate.

However, it doesn't mean you have to sit on the couch on your off day. Walking and stretching will actually make you heal and feel better, thus possibly eliminating the need for 2 days in a row off.

Personally, I try to go with the 2 on, 1 off, 3 on, 1 off, 4 on, 1 off, then repeat. This gives you 3 days off in a 12 day period and varies your routine enough that your body doesn't adapt. I'm a firm believer that 2 days in a row off is detrimental to your motivation. But depending on your body, you might need it occassionally.

I've heard that one of the easiest ways to find out if you are overtraining, is to take your resting heart rate before going to bed. Then, as soon as you wake up in the morning, take it again. If it is higher then before bed, you are overtraining. Here is a good site to confirm this:
This is very interesting to me. Although my workout schedule has Tuesdays and Fridays off I will often skip other days and work longer on the days I'm on (or not). This clearly demonstrates the importance of consistency and I will become more diligent at getting at least 15 to 20 minutes in five days a week, more would be better!! Report
I divide my rest days. I will rest on wednesday and then on sunday. I find that it allows my body to rest enough that I am ready to hit the gym and belt it out the next day! :) Report
I have to admit, I've had times with more than 3 days off between workouts. Now that I know the fat cells grow after 2 days, I'll be more diligent.

That being said, I also have to say, I've overworked, too, to the point I had to take about 5 days off, because I'd injured myself-! What was said about balance is really true. I have to remind myself of that. Report
I am still working on this. Report
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