How much rest between workouts?

A bedAfter writing my recent article on “Are you wasting your gym time?” where I covered the best way of training in the gym to get the goals you want, I received quite a few questions and the main reoccurring one was: “how much rest time should you allow between exercise routines?”

The Rule

There are basic rules to apply to this and they are that large muscle groups need 24 hours recovery before being trained again and small muscle groups need 48 hours recovery.

Large Muscles

Large muscles include the following:

Leg muscles

Quadriceps (front of thighs)
Hamstrings (back of thighs)
Glutes (your bum muscles)
Upper body muscles

Pectorals (chest muscles)
Latissimus Dorsi (back muscles)
Small Muscles

Small muscles include the following:

Shoulder muscles

Deltoid muscles (at the very tops of your arms)
Upper Trapezius (joins your shoulders to your neck)
Rotator Cuff (small group of muscles used in arm rotation)
Arm Muscles

Biceps (front of your upper arms)
Triceps (rear of your upper arms)
Stomach Muscles

Rectus Abominus (your 6 pack)
Transverse Abdominals (the deepest of stomach muscles)
Obliques (located near our sides and to the front)

Gastrocnemius (calf muscle to the rear of your lower leg)
Soleus (calf muscle sits under the Gastrocnemius)
It should be noted that I have only mentioned the main muscles and if there is a muscle that you train that I have not mentioned then take it as a small muscle and give it 48 hours rest.

In your training

It is very difficult to train large muscle groups in the upper body without using the smaller muscle groups to help, so you should give the upper body 48 hours rest regardless. With your lower body many people suggest that you can complete cardiovascular training like running or cycling within 24 hours of each other, even though the calf muscles are considered small muscles and should be given at least 48 hours rest. With good regular training it is possible to train the calf muscle so it can handle the extra training however if you are new to training I would still maintain 48 hours rest to begin with.

Why the rest?

The rest is very important for your development. If you don’t give your muscles the rest period they require then they will not be able to develop and you will be in risk of over training. Over training occurs when your fitness improves through the strengthening of your heart and lungs but your body barely changes shape. You will not be able to rid the excess pounds you want to as your body is not given the chance to do so. As soon as you allow the rest periods into your training regime you will give your muscles a chance to develop and increase in strength and size allowing your metabolic rate to increase as well. This is good news as this will result in an increase in excess fat loss which will help to bring your weight down and decrease the risk of illness.

But I want to train everyday!

I know that there are going to be some of you out there wanting to train everyday and so there are ways around the rest periods. One of them is to alternate between upper and lower body, meaning one day you train your upper body and the next your lower. This means that every muscle group gets its necessary 48 hours rest but you still get to train everyday. Whilst this still gets round the problem, I would still recommend that you have at least one day off a week and preferably two, as your body will still need proper rest time to recover, repair muscle and replenish energy stores.

The importance of stretching your muscles

In my opinion, with your sensible training cap on, you should consider doing a stretching routine day like that used in yoga between your regular training days. If you train everyday then your muscles are spending a large proportion of time contracting and shortening resulting in muscles that are short and not very useful. This can lead to all sorts of problems but the main ones being postural, back pain and muscle damage. By introducing the yoga or pilates in between your regular training days you will be teaching your muscles to lengthen. For those of you who are not so keen to train every day then you should at least be training 3 times per week and I would seriously recommend that you make one of those sessions a muscle lengthening routine. (Yes, get those muscles stretched! – .)


Whilst we are keen to get a body beautiful, we have to remember that the body is a very intricate machine and needs careful maintenance. By training too hard we can end up with the exact opposite of what we want to achieve. Slow it down, allow your body to rest and you maybe surprised at the results you get. Of course there are always arguments for specialised training programs where you do train more often, however for the majority of us we should really make the most of rest periods as well as the training itself.

I hope this helps and if you have any questions please send them on through. Good luck with your training and be safe.