There seems to be a fine line between the proper rest periods between training sessions and waiting too long between workouts that will allow muscle breakdown occurs. Or at least many people like to think so. But how much rest do you need? Even more importantly how long can you wait between workout sessions without muscle breaking down? Let’s figure it out!
The big buzzwords are muscle atrophy which is when your muscles actually get smaller. Some people seem to think that serious atrophy can occur mere days after your last workout. But they are wrong. You can easily take a week or two off from lifting weights and not experience any serious level of muscle atrophy. So it should not be too much of a concern how many days you take between working out a body part in a given week.
Ideally you need at least 48 hours for recovery when training a muscle. So if you trained chest on Monday you would not train it again until at least Wednesday. That is why in many beginner programs full body workouts are utilized every other day.
However as you learn to train harder your muscles naturally need more recovery time. In addition your body needs full days off from exercise to properly rest and recuperate. Remember, muscle growth does not occur during workouts, it occurs during the rest period following workouts.
The Need for Splits
One reason 3 and 4-day splits are so popular is that they give you full rest days from working out as well as 3-4 days between working out any body part. As you may have noticed, when you have a lot of muscle soreness your whole body can be affected. Your energy level is lower and your body typically needs more rest. Incurring too much additional soreness is just begging for trouble as your body’s healing ability is already taxed.
That is why taking full days off when sore can be a good idea to encourage growth.
Many of the common splits involve working one or two days in a row followed by a day off. This is followed by another day working out and another day off. In this manner you are trying to ensure your body has the downtime to recover.
Listen to Your Body
The best rule of thumb is to take a rest day when your body tells you too. If your energy level is slow, you feel sluggish, and all you really want to do is sleep then your body is telling you to rest. So by all means, rest and grow! That extra day off will not hurt you and should actually help you to meet your goals much faster than overtraining will.
Taking another day off will not cause your body to suddenly shrink. In fact, if you haven’t been getting enough rest and proper nutrition a day off is recommended to allow you to catch up on both so you are fully fueled and energized for a better workout the next day!