The prevailing attitude among fitness buffs seems to be that the more you put into your exercise effort, the more you'll get out of it; as the motto goes, "no pain, no gain." But if your goal is to build lean muscle, the amount of time you devote to rest is actually just as important as the time spent lifting weights. In fact, not giving your body adequate rest between workouts can actually hinder muscle growth, because the rest time is when your muscles repair themselves and pack on a few more fibers.
If you're looking to build muscle, your body needs anywhere from 48 to 72 hours to fully recover from a strength workout. The exact amount of time depends on both the intensity of the exercise and the muscles targeted. The tougher your sweat session, the more rest your body needs, so don't hesitate to take the couch potato route the day after a grueling workout. Rest time also depends on which part of your body is feeling the burn; large muscle groups -- such as the quads and hamstrings -- need more rest than smaller muscle groups, reports Julia Valentour of the American Council on Exercise.
Why Rest Matters
When your motivation level is at its highest, it can be tempting to skimp on rest days in hopes of attaining that lean bikini body sooner. But trading rest for more exercise is counterproductive, since your body uses those rest periods to grow muscle. During a tough strength workout, muscle fibers are broken down; in the hours of rest that follow, your body works to rebuild and repair those fibers, and it's this repair process that actually builds larger and stronger muscles. So even if the most grueling activity you do on your off days is take a shower, your body is still hard at work growing muscle.
Factoring In Cardio
While your muscles need at least 48 hours to recover from a strength workout, that doesn't mean you can't indulge your inner gym rat in the meantime. In fact, if cardio is part of your usual fitness routine, the best time to break a sweat is on those weight-free days. That's because you'll experience less muscle growth if you combine both types of exercise in one day than if your strength-training days include no cardio, according to information from Columbia University.
Putting It All Together
Two or more days of rest may sound like a lot if you're used to lifting weights most days of the week, but even that requirement still affords you plenty of flexibility when it comes to customizing your fitness routine. If you tend toward full-body workouts, you'll need at least one weight-free day in between. But if you want to strength train two or more days in a row, try split routines; with splits, you target the upper and lower body on separate days so you can lift weights on consecutive days while still giving individual muscles the rest they need.
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