Properly Executing Rest Day Workouts

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In order to fully understand how to go about the rest day workout properly we first need to discuss why rest days are a necessity.

Some of you may not be the type that can manage to stay away from the gym for long periods of time. This can be a serious struggle for those who have worked out for a long time or aren’t sore from their most recent workout.

However, rest days are still important and intense workouts every day can actually harm your body. Read my article on some of the negative effects of overworking yourself and practicing bad habits here.

You should also know that a rest day doesn’t necessarily mean you have to lay in bed like a vegetable. It’s actually good to get up and move. There are tons of benefits of the rest day workout if you go about it in the correct manner.

The rest day is not a new concept. If you read into a large majority of celebrity workouts, especially when those celebrities are concerned with packing on the muscle for a major role, you will quickly realize that they have a huge advantage you don’t. Time to sleep and rest.

I was reading probably 3 or 4 years back about Chris Evans bulking up for Captain America. His workout routine consisted of hitting the gym, performing his daily lifts, coming home and devouring a huge breakfast packed with calories and protein, and then REST. Usually he would take a nap for an hour or two. The dude packed on around 20 pounds in a couple short months.

By using this method he allowed his body to fully recover immediately after a workout. This is because your body does a large majority of its rejuvenation when you are sleeping. Muscles grow better and food processes better as well.

Understand that most people don’t have the same opportunity due to real life obligations. It’s doubtful that you are a celebrity here reading this article so I’m going to assume it’s safe to say that you probably work a full time job or are a dedicated college student. When operating on a strenuous schedule it’s hard enough to get in a consistent workout without adding a nap in there every day.

That doesn’t mean that the concept of a rest day is any less important.

Why Do We Need Rest Days?

Many people feel pressure to work out every single day as hard as they can when trying to reach fitness goals. Usually the opposite is true, but suddenly something switches in ones mind and they become a gym rat seemingly overnight. This happens more often when people begin to see results and realize how good even subtle results feel.

There are a large portion of workout programs and workout forums these days that drive people to think that prolonged daily sessions of stressful workouts is the only way to being physically fit. Quite frankly, these people have no idea what they are talking about and will likely get you hurt.

Here’s the breakdown…

You work out extremely hard continually placing your body under intense stress.

Repeated stress ultimately leads to fatigue.

Fatigue easily leads to poor form or compensation combined with a lack of recovery.

Lack of recovery leads to injury and stunted muscle growth. 

Some of the most common issues that arise from overworking are muscle tears, joint pain, and even sometimes stress fracture. If you think these physical injuries are bad, that’s not even all of it. You can also force your body to become hormonally imbalanced, ruin your sleep schedule, deplete your immune system, and cause serious psychological issues such as mood swings.

Convinced you need a rest day? Read on!

How Often Do We Need Rest Days?

The general rule of thumb for more advanced weight lifters or fitness enthusiasts is that you should have at least one rest day between working the same muscle groups. However, there have been multiple studies in recent years that have claimed that soreness is a no go.

If you are extremely sore from your previous workout with that muscle group two or three days later, this means that your body has not had time to fully recover. If you were to work this muscle again, you would essentially be tearing at your muscle fibers (which is what you do when you work a muscle) prematurely. This means that before full recovery your muscle would be attacked by strenuous activity and you would never see the full results of your rest period.

There is a reason that olympic athletes taper off of their workouts before their largest events. Michael Phelps for example reduces the intensity of his workouts up to a three weeks before his actual event. This prevents an overall decline in strength as he still performs his training just at a reduced pace and intensity. He, like many other athletes, is then better prepared and fully recovered for the main event down the road.

Everybody’s need for rest and recovery will be slightly different. You may be quick to recover due to your good health, solid hydration, and great diet. If this is you, and you feel fantastic a couple days later, go for that same muscle group. Usually, you will have an ample break between muscle groups regardless if your workout is structured properly. The key point here, is that if you are sore, you likely still need rest and should take it easy. If you prefer numbers, 48 hours is essentially the minimum rest time for recovery, and 72 hours will likely give you full recovery.

But… if you must get a workout in so that you don’t decline, and so you are able to reduce your daily stress levels and still get that metabolism up…then I have the solution for you.

The Rest Day Workout

Immediately cut your normal workout weight down to 75-80% of what you usually lift. You should go no higher than this in order to avoid risk of damaging muscles. Generally speaking you can expect to increase your reps especially when performing power lifts.

Although you may not feel like you are doing much, you are seeing plenty of activity for your muscles to stay interested in growth.

Here’s some key tips for how to properly execute your rest day workout:

Stretch out. This is probably the most important part of your rest day. As soon as you get to the gym make sure you get a solid full body stretch in. If you are a yoga fan, sometimes your rest day can be spent entirely doing yoga and that will be enough. Stretching will keep you limber and avoid injury once you get lifting or performing cardio exercises.

Warm Up. So many people ignore the warm up. Often times someone will jump right into their workout without doing the proper warm up exercises. If anyone looks at you funny when you squat the bar 20 times for a warm up and slowly ramp your weight to the 75-80% mark, then they are probably just waiting to be injured themselves. There’s nothing wrong with a warm up. Some people will be impatient, but a couple impatient people waiting for the bench or rack is better than a blown out knee or pulled muscle.

Keep it Light. I already mentioned this one. Keeping your heaviest reps at about 75-80% of your normal workout weight is important. You can throw a couple more reps on but you don’t want to be doing these workouts with high intensity. So keep it light, it will actually feel good to get some of that lactic acid out and get the oxygen pumping through your muscles.

Reduce Your Number of Exercises. Usually you can reduce your number of workouts substantially on rest days. If you cut out some of the concentration work you usually do and stick to the major lifts of each muscle group, you will see much better recovery over the next couple days.

Eat Properly. This point separates from the workout portion a bit, but it’s important that you keep eating your same nutritional diet that you consume when you are not on a rest day. This will help your body recover and it is actually more important that you eat well while in recovery than it is while working out intensely. There’s a reason when you are recovering from sickness the doctor tells you to stay in bed, drink lots of fluids, and eat healthy.

Sleep Well. Get a full nights sleep before you perform a rest day workout. This will help your body be more recovered when you jump in the gym. Make sure to do the same after the workout as well so that you’re fully prepared for your next high intensity workout.

Hopefully these few tips help you if you are addicted to the gym like myself. I know it’s tough to not do anything on rest days, and in fact you shouldn’t do absolutely nothing. So go ahead and head over to the gym and follow the criteria for a good rest day workout that I listed for you above. Maybe take a hike too?

If this helps you out a bit go ahead and leave a comment. Also if you think differently or have any suggestions for a solid rest day workout drop a comment below as well! Thanks for reading.


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4 thoughts on “Properly Executing Rest Day Workouts

  • Really nice article, Dalton. Very informative, and I appreciate your explanations about why you need the rest. Good advice about how to go about doing SOMEthing, even if it doesn’t feel like much. Stretching and warm-up are essential, no matter how hard the rest of your work-out is going to be – sometimes that’s as far as I get these days! I don’t go at it like I used to, but you’re inspiring me to get moving more. Thanks!

    • Dalton

      Hi Suzi!

      Thanks so much for reading. Some days it is tough to hit it with a good amount of intensity and effort so I don’t blame you at all for taking it easy some days. Today was actually one of those days for me. I got to the gym and realized I was nowhere near rested up enough to hit the workout I was planning. Decided I’d just stretch it out and get some light reps in and head home. I’ll feel better tomorrow I’m sure.

      I’m glad that you agree and it’s awesome that I’ve inspired you to do a bit more!


  • Hi, I enjoyed reading this post and the sentence”a rest day doesn’t necessarily mean you have to lay in bed like a vegetable” got me laughing while reading it as I am guilty of doing it previously. However, I do find the more I lay in bed, the more tired I get.
    Exercise actually helps to release stress and helps with detoxification of the body.

    • Dalton

      Hey Wendy,

      Glad you enjoyed the read here! Thanks for visiting and I’m stoked it got a couple laughs out of you.

      I definitely agree that the more I lay around the more I get tired, so you are not alone there.

      Exercise can get rid of so much built up frustration it truly is amazing. Have a great rest of your day!


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