Are rest days necessary? Absolutely.
As you’re training and putting effort in the gym you’re not just increasing your level of fitness but you’re also accumulating fatigue.
Hans Selye (in 1936) created the stress model “General Adaptation Syndrome” which can be applied to exercise as well as other events that push us out of homeostasis.
The model has 3 stages:
1 – Alarm = Training creates stress: increased amounts of force on bones, joints, muscles, connective tissues, and the nervous system.
2 – Adaptation = the body eventually increases its ability to respond to the demands placed on it.
3 – Exhaustion = this happens if you’re exposed to the same stress too long. At this point the stress overwhelms the system. And now you’re strength is stagnant or declining. Also you’re at a high risk of an injury. Over-training would be an example of a situation where one has reached this point.
So basically if we train too much too frequently we’re risking ending up in the Exhaustion stage.
Now that we covered the basics of stress (training) and adaptation (recovery) how many rest days should we take?
First let’s look at how many times should you train a muscle each week.
At a bare minimum you should train 2 days a week. For example: you workout Tuesday & Friday.
And if we look at a more serious approach to training – 2-3 times per week seems to be better for strength and muscle growth. You can organize this depending on your lifestyle.
A 3 days/week program you would be training full-body [on Monday, Wednesday, Friday].
Or a 4 days /week program you could be an Upper/Lower split [Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday].
In both cases you have the weekends free for other activities which, fits most people’s lifestyle.
Note: Training a muscle group only once a week as a natural will still get you decent growth but it’s mostly likely not going to be as good as training the same group 2-3 times per week.
Aside from lifestyle we also have to look at this from the perspective of sustainability for your current situation.
We know that in order to grow we need to accumulate the right amount of volume per week. This ranges between 80 – 210 reps (10 – 20 sets) per muscle group per week.
The way you spread out the volume depends on what you can be consistent with. If you can sustain training 3 times per week then you just make sure to get the volume in with those 3 sessions, and not try to force yourself to do 4 or more times.
As a general rule, training 3-4 days a week will be enough to get in the necessary volume for most people.
Another factor to look at if you’re a beginner is build habits. Some might find that by training more frequently they have an easier time building up the habit.
In this case the training can be organized to be 5-6 days per week but the volume per session will be less, and the sessions would be shorter (30-40 minutes).
Do whatever fits your lifestyle, whatever allows you to progress while avoiding over-training.
If you’re not progressing (getting stronger) and you feel like you’re fatigued then you may want to reduce your workout volume and rest more.
If you’re not progressing while feeling rested, increase your workout volume and potentially train more days.
It’s always a good idea to have 1 full rest day per week.
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