How Many Rest Days Do You Need When Starting a New Exercise Routine?

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The reality of exercise that most people aren’t aware of is that the physical changes you’re chasing do not happen as you exercise but rather during the time you’re recovering from a workout session. As you exercise, your muscle fibers experience small microscopic tears that can create a feeling of sourness. During periods of inactivity, the affected muscles reconstruct through a cellular process where fibers fuse together to form stronger and bigger muscles.

Therefore, the only way to achieve desired results is to allow for adequate rest time. Failure to do so will result in what fitness buffs call workout burnout, which is one of the reasons why many people start an exercise routine strong only quit a few weeks later.

So, how many rest days do you need when starting a new exercise routine? Well, there are basically 2 main approaches when it comes to determining the ideal number of rest days you’ll need.

#1 The General Approach

Some experts suggest that muscle soreness usually subsides two days post exercise. Therefore, a minimum of 48 hours of rest is enough to allow optimal recovery that will prevent injury. Fitness experts say that this 48-hour resting approach will work whether you’re a beginner, gym rat, or competitive athlete.

#2 The More Personalized Approach

Other experts argue that the 48-hour approach may not work for everyone since there are other factors to consider when it comes to determining adequate rest. For instance, older people experience a slower muscle recovery and will therefore need more than 2 days to fully recover from exercise. The same is the case for people who have large muscles, train at high intensities, or engage a large number of muscles during workouts. Other factors that affect how long it takes your muscles to recover include what you eat, how often you work out, and the duration of your exercises. So, the best way to determine how long to rest may be to simply listen to your body. If your muscles feel too sore to tackle everyday tasks like lifting things or climbing stairs, then you probably should not expose them to more strain. Rest until the soreness is gone or significantly reduced.

Whichever approach you choose to take, the trick is to avoid pushing your body too hard. Loss of appetite, severe fatigue, aches and pains, reduced performance, depression, slower healing, depressed immune system, and changes in mood all point to overtraining, which means you should slow down or take some time off from exercise.

A few other tricks to ensuring adequate recovery include cooling down after workouts, getting enough sleep (at least 8 hours), and eating right. Engaging in light physical activities such as swimming, yoga, Pilates, or jogging during rest days while on a weight training regimen is also advisable. It helps prevent your fitness progress from slowing down and increases muscle relaxation, which benefits recovery.

Should You Train on Sore Muscles?

Before answering the question of whether it’s a good idea to train on sore muscles, let’s first discuss what is causing the soreness in the first place. Soreness, normally called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is a result of subjecting a muscle or muscle group to more stress that it is used to. DOMS usually occurs anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exercising and is most common after starting a new routine that works a muscle set not worked before.

What has actually happened is the muscle has micro tears in it. Sometimes swelling can occur along with soreness and depending on the level of pain, is most commonly normal and it will subside in a few days. However, if the pain is so intense that you can’t function through your normal daily activities, then you probably overdone it and may want to see a doctor in case you did suffer an injury.

So to answer the question, yes you can train on sore muscles, but train differently. In other words, don’t do the same level of weight or intensity that caused the pain in the first place. That is not to say you can’t exercise that sore muscle, just do so at a lighter weight or less intensity, until the soreness subsides.

Another concept used by athletes is to do a routine that uses a different set of muscles. One day work upper body; the next work lower body. The general advice for non-athletes is to not work the same muscles on two consecutive days. Have at least a day of rest in-between so the muscles have time to repair themselves.

Reducing the Soreness

Researchers have yet to find a panacea for DOMS. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the level of pain. Ice, heat, rest, stretching and medication all work in different ways.

Most exercise professionals do not recommend taking anti-inflammatory medicine unless the pain is unbearable. Ice is used to reduce inflammation while heat increases the flow of blood (with oxygen) to the affected area, thus helping repair itself (and grow) faster.

Both dynamic stretching before working out and static after, go a long way to reducing the amount of DOMS experienced. And light stretching the affected area is probably one of the most overlooked exercises as far as pain reduction. It can reduce the tightness felt in the muscle after the onset of DOMS.

One of the most commonly adhered to mantras in the exercise world is “No pain – no gain.” In general terms this is a true statement. The pain experienced is due to tears in the muscle which when healed will make that muscle strong again and slightly larger. Just don’t overdue it to the point of debilitation. Many exercisers, both new and experienced, use that mantra as motivation to continue hitting the gym and working out. If that works for you, go for it (in moderation)!

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