How Many Rest Days a Week Do I Need for Balanced Workouts?

Rest is all the rage, but doing the calculus of how many rest days a week you should take, and then actually taking that rest, can be elusive (or even stressful) if you’re someone who yens for a daily workout—or if you’re just really f*$!ing busy. With all the influencers and experts extolling the importance of downtime it can even start to feel like yet another thing you have to do. What’s more relaxing than a bunch of people on Instagram shouting at you to chill!?

Part of the confusion around the need for rest days is because they seem a bit… vague. Are “rest days” laying perfectly still? Doing an active recovery workout with light weights? Shelling out for a massage? Are there actual rest day exercises you should do?

Experts In This Article

  • Alfonso Moretti, CPT, certified personal trainer based in Beverly Hills, California
  • Carrie Jaworski, M.D., FACSM, board-certified family medicine and sports medicine physician and the president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine
  • James Maggert, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, physical therapist with Brooks Rehabilitation
  • Jamie Maitland, certified health coach, Pilates and fitness instructor, and founder of boutique fitness studio The Office 954 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

A person’s rest needs are “heavily variable based on a number of different factors,” says Brooks Rehabilitation physical therapist James Maggert, DPT. The one thing experts seem to agree on: rest looks different from person to person.

No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke, but to nail down how many rest days you really need, and what they should actually include, Well+Good polled a doctor, a physical therapist, a trainer, and a holistic wellness coach. And unfortunately, the consensus is: It depends.

Why you need rest days

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to rest, let’s commit to the why.

“You get stronger, healthier and fitter when you’re not working out,” says personal trainer Alfonso Moretti. Essentially, in order to reap the rewards of exercise, you need to take breaks. Here’s why.

They build muscle

On a physiological level, rest is a necessary component of growing your muscles.

Rest is a necessary component of growing your muscles.

“Strength workouts can cause micro tears in muscle fibers,” says holistic health coach, trainer, and nutritionist Jamie Maitland. “These tears are normal and essential for building muscle mass, which is why it’s important to give our bodies a break.” Only when the tears repair—which takes time—do the muscles actually build back bigger and stronger.

They restore energy

You need to draw on your energy stores for any workout, and the only things that can truly refill a depleted tank are nutrition and time.

“Our bodies do not fully recover immediately after a session,” Maggert says. Studies show1 that the recovery process can take between one and eight (eight!) days, depending on the level of muscle damage and exertion a person puts out during exercise.

They prevent injury and burnout

Working out day after day can have a snowball effect throughout your body.

“Without rest days, we build up fatigue in a more compounded fashion,” says Maggert. “If you don’t take rest days you will be more susceptible to feeling the effects of compound fatigue, including soreness, decreased performance, and potentially injury in the long term.”

When this happens, it’s called “overtraining,” which can lead to injury.

“Rest days allow our bodies and our minds to recover and are important in preventing injuries related to both overuse as well as from fatigue,” says Carrie Jaworski, MD, FACSM, the president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine. “It allows our muscles to repair after exertion and it also helps with mental sharpness. If you never allow the body to rest and recover, you will be more susceptible to overtraining as well. With overtraining, there can be increased injury and illness, fatigue, emotional distress and/or decreases in performance.”

How many rest days a week should you take?

The overarching answer to how many rest days a week you should take is that it varies based on the individual, the kind of activities they do, and their goals. But there is some broad guidance experts agree on.

“One to two days is the general rule,” for how many rest days a week a person needs, Moretti says. “This allows your muscles and central nervous system time to recover.” Dr. Jaworksi, Maggert, and Maitland all echoed this advice with the major caveats that people should listen to their bodies, and that more intense physical activity probably necessitates more rest.

Variables that affect how many rest days a week you should schedule

Maggert emphasizes that time between workouts should come into play, not just numbers of rest days per week.

“You want to have at least 24 hours of rest between resistance training the same muscle group and at least 48 hours of rest between vigorous sessions,” Maggert says.

Dr. Jawoski stresses that intensity should be a large consideration in scheduling rest days.

“If someone is doing movement or light activities for general wellness, such as gentle yoga, stretching, or low-intensity walking, this can be done daily without as much concern for rest days,” Dr. Jaworski says.

However, if you are doing more intense exercise, such as participating in a competitive sport or training for a marathon, taking one to two days of recovery (especially after your harder workouts) is essential to promote muscle repair and avoid overtraining.

“Even elite athletes include active recovery days in their training plans as a way to avoid injury and improve performance,” Dr. Jaworski says. “Just as the body needs sleep, it also needs time to recover.”

When you should consider taking an extra rest day

Adding in more rest than one or two days a week to a moderate-to-vigorous workout schedule might be necessary—it all depends on tuning in to your body.

“There’s a time to push and a time to back off,” Moretti says. “If you feel like you’re not making progress, not sleeping well, always seem tired, irritable or sore, it may be time to take a day or two and fully recharge. You’ll feel better and your workouts will be better.”

Pain and soreness that don’t resolve by your next training session can be “red flags,” says Maggert. Feeling burnt out or tired all the time are also not goikng to go away just by pushing through it, notes Maitland, so that might also require more rest.

Finally, an illness or an overuse injury should definitely cause you to hit the pause button, and even consult a professional.

“If you are sick with something that is more than upper respiratory symptoms, rest is required,” Dr. Jaworski says. “This means if you have any chest congestion, body aches or a fever, sit out of activity until these things resolve. Similarly, if you are recovering from an injury or illness, more rest days are required as you return to exercise. Use the 10% rule for returning to activity where you add 10% time and intensity per week. When in doubt, seeing a sports medicine specialist is a good way to get additional information.”

So, what should you *do* on a rest day?

Here comes the tricky part: Figuring out what rest means to you. And there are a few ways to think about answering that question.

First, Dr. Jaworski likes to frame rest as “active recovery,” where you’re still moving but breaking out of the mold.

“Rest days don’t have to be where you don’t leave your bed all day—unless that is what your mind and body need!—but they should feel like a break from your usual routine,” Dr. Jaworski says. “Active recovery is a good way to think about rest days. Give your body a break from the usual stresses you place on it. So if you normally run, consider a gentle yoga class. If you are lifting heavy weights, perhaps a stretching session or an easy swim.”

Moretti looks forward to rest days. Yes, even a personal trainer relishes his rest days!

“Active recovery days are great,” Moretti says. “Some ideas can be a nice walk, yard work, light bicycle ride, playing with your children or dog, basically things that still keep you active but aren’t so taxing that they interfere with the rest and recuperation process.”

If you’re struggling to build your own rest day workout or activity list, Maitland says to tune in to what you want to be doing.

“It really depends on what you enjoy,” Maitland says. “Personally, I like to put on my favorite audiobook and simply go for a walk. Stretching, meditation, yoga and even light swimming can also be great options for rest and recovery days.”


Is it okay to work out every day?

It’s all about the level of intensity of your workouts. Experts don’t recommend doing vigorous exercise every day. But if exercise is light-to-moderate, it’s okay to work out every day. It’s also okay to work out every day if you intersperse intense exercise with light or active recovery days.

“As a rule, the more intense the exercise is, the shorter the workout will be and the longer the recovery time between sessions,” Moretti says. “Maybe you can walk everyday without need for much recovery, but sprinting will require time off for recovery. Heavy weight training workouts will require more recovery than a yoga class. It’s important to stagger your workouts between low, moderate and high intensity during the week to ensure you continue to make progress.”

How do I tell if I’m overtraining?

Pushing your body too hard or too often can backfire. When that happens, it’s called overtraining. A few signs of overtraining include plateauing (or even backsliding) in your performance, having a heavy feeling in your body along with aches and pains, having mood swings and irritability thanks to heightened cortisol levels, elevated blood pressure and resting heart rate, and changes in energy and sleep patterns. Dr. Jaworski recommends consulting a sports medicine physician if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Do muscles grow on rest days?

Yes! Periods of rest are when your muscles repair the micro-tears sustained during exercise, which is how they grow and become stronger.

“Individuals that strength train regularly need those recommended one to two rest days, as muscles need time to recover and grow stronger after an intense training session,” Maitland says.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Peake, Jonathan M et al. “Muscle damage and inflammation during recovery from exercise.” Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985) vol. 122,3 (2017): 559-570. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00971.2016


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles