If there’s one thing I’ve learned about working out for more than a decade, it’s that rest days are crucial. You can workout all you want, but if you don’t give yourself a chance to recover, your progress, your gains, and your nervous system suffer in the long run.
It’s amusing how the general population thinks that working out means going hard everyday, for several hours a day; I think that’s what turns people off from working out. But it’s not how long you workout, but what you do in your workout that’s important.
There’s a toxic culture that’s grown directly parallel with social media, that shows the most shredded and muscular physiques pushing themselves to their absolute limit in the gym.
But here’s one thing people forget – those videos are often less than 60 seconds – meaning those are just the highlights. The opportunity to make money through social media by showing how good your body looks is an opportunity many have taken, so you have to remember, it’s their job, their career, and therefore their primary objective to make themselves always appear that way.
Would you take fitness advice from someone who looks like they’re auditioning for the reality TV show “Biggest Loser”, or someone who looks like they’re a 3x winner of body building contests? My bet is even if you embrace “body positivity,” quietly under your breath you’ll pay attention more to the latter than the former.
But behind the scenes, some of those lifters (if they’re lifting smartly), are resting, eating (clean and dirty), and using recovery techniques, whether they’re simple free techniques or something that their income from selling workout programs and meal plans is paying for.
So let’s debunk some myths.
There’s also something else. The mindset of taking no days off is shared by the driven beginner lifter and the dedicated one, both of who have a clear goal in mind when it comes to knowing what they want out of their workouts.
This means a type of guilt can develop if you’re not careful, because it feels like you’re not doing enough, not training hard enough, and ultimately not accomplishing your goal fast enough.
But here’s the thing – unless you’re the exception to the rule (as in genetically gifted), training 6 or 7 days a week is not a good idea (this includes “active rest”), nor is it sustainable; if anything, it hampers your progress and takes you longer to get where you want to go.
3-5 days a week maximum is more than enough, 4 at the most, and here’s why.
Train Hard, Rest Hard
Taking a rest day isn’t just giving you a chance to get more sleep, and it doesn’t mean your body isn’t working. There’s plenty of things going on behind the scenes – because rest days are where you grow.
Like a plant that rotates between growing and absorbing nutrients, the fruit a plant produces is where the most work happens; the fruit, like muscle, takes an incredible amount of energy to grow, so in effect our bodies are very similar in this way.
Throughout your rest days, your body does a lot of important things to make sure it’s easier for you to get stronger and grow. Again like a plant, your body has limited resources that have to be replenished through nutrition (I’ll get to that in a minute).
Your job then is to make sure you distribute resources in a balanced way, allowing your muscles to grow and your body to adapt to the changes and stressors you put on it week after week.
Rest days are where you recalibrate your nervous system, more efficiently replenish glycogen stores, and build more muscle. These days are important because instead of muscle movement and damage, your resources go towards repair and growth. This is the time for your body’s immune, nervous, and hormonal systems to settle back into a conducive environment for growth and performance.
Resting enough means performing better during training sessions, enabling you to go harder at a higher level and handle more volume making your training more effective.
Remember, when you’re training you’re not growing. You grow when you rest…and if you rest, you have more energy to put into your workouts, meaning you engage and stimulate more muscle fiber.
100% in the tank for 3-5 workout days is much better than 50% and half-assing your workout for 6-7 days.
Food is Your Friend
The next mistake people make is thinking because they have a rest day, that means they cut back on what they eat. Wrong.
When it comes to increasing strength and building more muscle mass, you want to utilize your rest days to max out growth and recharge for performance. You’ve gotta think of it like your recharging your batteries, or depositing money in your “energy / food” bank.
So what do you do? Don’t cut carbs. You want to restore your glycogen levels as much as possible, taking maximum advantage of insulin’s anabolic properties. It still astounds me how carbs are cut these days and the recommendation to cut carbs is still common practice. If you’re cutting for fat loss, maybe – but outside of this scenario, it’s not worth it.
The most anabolic hormone in your body is insulin. It smacks down catabolism of your muscles and prevents protein breakdown, and conversely, amplifies anabolism, which is needed for building muscle and protein synthesis. mTor is activated, raising glucose storage in your muscles and triggering muscle growth. When your muscles are full of glycogen, that’s a good thing because that means anabolism – and a muscles that’s “topped up” is stronger in the gym and in life.
This is why I say in the SUPP UP. nutrition guides that quality whole food nutrition is important. If you want maximum strength gains and growth, you have to focus on eating a good amount of protein and carbs when you’re at rest. This is also why I tend to make my re-feed days the same day as my rest days. It keeps your muscles ready to go for the next workout and ensures you maximize the opportunity to grow as much muscle as possible.
How Often & When to Rest
Like I mentioned earlier, you want to keep training to 3-5 days per week, 4 at most. Some people train more, and while that’s possible (I did it in my early training days), it’s not sustainable long-term, and often you can’t get 100% from yourself at each workout.
Digressing slightly, I know some boxers read my blog, and 4 days may seem like too little. So here’s my advice: so many boxers try and avoid weight training – don’t.
You want to build a delicate balance of strength and agility, and you absolutely have to get some strength behind your punches…because like I mentioned in SUPP UP. No Bull, Gym In a Bag Workout Guide, strength + speed = power. REAL power. So split your boxing and your weight training in the same day.
For instance, do weight training earlier in the day so you can give 100%, and then later on in the day do your regular boxing routine, sparring, or choice of cardio like swimming or running. It may take an adjustment initially, but if you’re using the rest split I’m about to show you, your body will have plenty of time to recover the next day and your muscle memory for technique training will stay fresh.
Give your all in each workout, and 4 days a week will be more than enough. If you have different training requirements that need to be fulfilled within the same day, split them between A.M. and P.M. hours. If you have a lot that you want/need to do, you may have to rethink how you’re doing it and really sit down and assess where you might be able to reduce something without compromising on your goals/targets.
You can easily train upper, lower, mid, anterior, and posterior muscles, with some volume work thrown in and you’ll still have 3 rest days per week, giving you 3 days to grow and recharge. You can occasionally do 5 days a week if you absolutely must, but again, it’s not sustainable in the long run.
4 days a week is a game changer – you’ll see muscle start to pop where you thought it couldn’t and strength start to increase.
The most important thing I should stress is that do not, under any circumstances, take 2 consecutive days off.
Your mind-body connection gets compromised and so your workout suffers, quality and performance dipping. We all have different schedules, and the beginning of the week may be different for some of you, so here’s an example of how I do a 4 day training week while avoiding resting for two consecutive days:
- Sunday – Train
- Monday – Rest / Grow
- Tuesday – Train
- Wednesday – Train
- Thursday – Rest / Grow
- Friday – Train
- Saturday – Rest / Grow
How to Structure Training
You want your heavy days to be when you have a rest day every other day, and your volume days to be back-on-back. With your heavy days having a full rest day buffer in between, you’ll be able to perform at your best and you’ll have little to no fatigue on your nervous system.
Your back-on-back volume days should be less heavy with moderate to high training volume. This will allow you to train two days in a row while still being able to give 100% in your workouts for those days. I like to use my volume days for my weaker muscle groups – even though you’re going lighter, more volume means more weight which still leads to progress.
Your split depends on what your life outside of the gym demands from you sometimes, so technically your workout week may start on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday but here’s an example of what that split can look like regardless of when you start, so long as you get your rest days distributed correctly:
- Sunday – Train Heavy
- Monday – Rest / Grow
- Tuesday – Train Volume w/ moderate load
- Wednesday – Train Volume w/ lightest load
- Thursday Rest / Grow
- Friday Train Heavy
- Saturday – Rest / Grown
At the end of the day it’s all about results. Throughout my life of training I’ve seen brutal days where I’ve had to be pushed to working out with virtually no days off, to being able to workout more on my own time and with my own goals in mind…and if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that more isn’t always better.
Your career may demand severe levels of endurance, but even in that career we all know it’s not sustainable long-term…so why not learn how to rest optimally whenever you have a little more control over the gas pedal?
This is why the SUPP UP. workout guides include a range of training days so you can adapt to what’s demanded of you, and what’s best for you.
Forget ego lifts and out-training someone. If you’re doing more training days and they still look and perform better than you, it’s probably time you started focusing on getting real results over bragging rights.
…and I get it – initially, it feels good to push yourself and see just how much you can take, and lifter’s guilt of skipping a day is real…but you have to remember doing too much and eating too little can leave you stuck at a plateau, killing your gains, unable to make real progress, and eventually encountering injury.
I can’t stress this enough, you need your rest days. Your body will thank you for it and you’ll see the results you were previously chasing for months a lot faster if you just give yourself time to recover and grow.
Train Hard, Rest, Be Prepared
Say you have a PFT or a big boxing match coming up. You want to bring your A-game and be injury-free, don’t you?
So naturally, you wouldn’t do anything crazy or exhaustive the day before it. You’d rest up to make sure your mind and your body are really sharp for the event.
Weekly training is no different. You want to be able to give 100% to each workout. Or as anyone who’s familiar with hand-to-hand combat knows, you want to train your body to get to a point where you can workout and if need be, have fuel in the tank to fight whenever, wherever. You need to stay fresh. Fitness and athleticism isn’t just about the workouts – it’s about training, nutrition, supplementation, and rest – a holistic approach, rather than one thing only.
Rest is the behind-the-scenes work. Muscle gets built and your body readies itself for peak performance the next day.
For my gearheads out there, you wouldn’t redline your car every single day, give it no gas, no maintenance, and expect it to run the same way a year from now would you? No, so you shouldn’t expect the same from your body either. It’s that simple.
Your body is a powerhouse of biochemical and biomechanical processes. You workouts trigger the biochemical responses that instruct your body to adapt to the demands put on it, and grow. Once this process is initiated, doing more unnecessarily will only diminish what’s in the tank.
We’ve all at some point had crappy workouts – either because life has gotten in the way or maybe we’re bouncing back from a cold. But crappy workouts should never happen because you didn’t take the time out to give your body the rest it needed.
It’s like your car – ignore the signs it needs maintenance and it all builds up, until one day you’re at the mechanic and have to shell out for a huge bill because you didn’t take the time out to do the little things. Is it worth taking short cuts only to have to deal with a bigger problem, or worse, little to no progress down the line? I’m inclined to say no.
If you know you’re working out correctly, the rest is easy – you just have to sit back and let the changes happen without interrupting the process. Sure, this stuff still happens on the days you workout, but in order to get the absolute most out of your workouts, you need to give each workout your all, then spend the rest of your time putting in the work to accelerate recovery and growth on your rest days. It’s about changing the way you perceive things.
That’s all, kids.
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