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How Much Rest Is Right For Building Muscle?

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If you’re on the fast track to making serious strength and size gains, the last thing you want to do is slow your roll. Rest may not be sexy, but a balance of the right training frequency, training volume, and workout recovery is essential to maximizing your fitness programming. How to find that balance? Get the juicy details below.

How Often to Resistance Train to See Muscle Growth

If you’re seeking muscle growth, you need to lift heavy. But knowing how often to hit the weights isn’t always straightforward. Recent findings suggest that training frequency (how often you’re working out) matters less for strength and muscle gains than your overall training volume (the sets and reps you’re hitting on a weekly basis).

According to one study (1), when training volume remained consistent, there was no significant difference in muscle growth between those who trained at a higher or lower frequency.

Moreover, another scientific review (2) also found no significant difference in muscular strength gains between high-frequency and low-frequency training schedules when the overall training volume was equated.

This means regardless of how many days per week you dedicate towards your gains, as long as you’re hitting the right training volume, you will see the results you’re looking for.

For most people, two to four sessions per week is enough frequency to accumulate the necessary volume, while also factoring in time for muscle recovery. Whether you decide to target your full body in each session or split training into different days for upper and lower body will impact the number of days you decide to train. In general, aim to hit each muscle group at least two times per week.

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Training Volume for Muscle Growth

While your training frequency is up to personal preference, your training volume should be specific if you’re looking to see a boost in muscle hypertrophy (muscle gain) and strength.

According to the latest research (3), to maximize hypertrophy, you should develop a routine combining mechanical tension and metabolic stress (4). You can create mechanical tension by lifting a heavy load through a full range of motion, while metabolic stress is all about depleting the energy stores (glycogen) in your muscles through applied intensity.

To maximize muscle growth, follow a hypertrophy-oriented resistance training program. Aim to hit the following per exercise per workout session:

  • 3-6 sets
  • 6-12 repetitions
  • 60 seconds rest between sets
  • Moderate intensity effort (60-80% 1 rep max)

 

You’ll want to increase your training volume over time. The appropriate training volume and increasing that volume over time is the primary contributor to building muscular strength (2). That means racking up heavier loads as your body adapts, building your weekly volume within the range of 12-28 sets per muscle per week.

Where Does Rest Come In?

Balancing hard work with rest is essential to see gains, and to keep your body healthy to maintain and continue your progress. Here are some benefits of taking a rest day: 

Alleviates Muscle Pain and Soreness

After a workout, lactic acid builds up in your muscles which can cause muscle pain and soreness. During a rest day, your body removes excess lactic acid. 

Repairing and Building Muscles 

Exercise, especially heavy strength training, creates microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. During rest days, cells called fibroblasts repair and rebuild your muscle tissue to help your body to adapt to better lifting heavy loads in the future. 

Replenishing the Body’s Energy Stores

Glycogen is a form of energy stored in your muscles. When you exercise, glycogen is depleted, which leads to muscle fatigue. Rest days give your body time to restore muscle glycogen levels. 

Reduces Risk of Injury 

Exercising puts repetitive stress and strain on your muscles, which can increase your risk of injury. Avoid overtraining by taking time to recover. 

Mental Reset 

Overexercising won’t just tire out your body, it can exhaust your mind too. When you’re tired it can lead to lower quality workouts, increasing risk of injury. 

Recover Faster

Pull double duty on rest days with these editor-approved picks for muscle recovery.

How Much Rest Do I Need?

Take at least 48 hours of rest between working the same muscle groups. If you’re a highly active individual, this doesn’t mean you can’t work out every day, but it does mean you need to space out your harder workouts with lower-intensity days.

Rather than taking a complete rest day, consider an active recovery day. You can enjoy low-intensity activities like walking, swimming, or yoga that place less demand on your muscles.

Embrace Rest & Recovery

While rest might limit your number of workout days, remember: frequency doesn’t matter as much as volume.

Focus on hitting your volume with a few high-quality workouts each week. Pair your training with well-deserved rest, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your hypertrophy and strength goals.

The Bottom Line

  • Recovery and training volume are essential to making hypertrophy and strength gains. 
  • Regardless of workout frequency, you will see results if you hit the right training volume. 
1. Shoenfeld, Brad J et al. “How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30558493/
2. Ralston, Grant W. et al. “Weekly Training Frequency Effects on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6081873/
3. Setorki, Mahbubeh et al. “Acute effects of vinegar intake on some biochemical risk factors of atherosclerosis in hypercholesterolemic rabbits.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2837006/

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