Where is my rest muscle and how do I train it?

Resting your muscles the right amount can be just as important as training your muscles.

When you exercise your muscles, you are damaging your muscles in a small but significant way.

When you rest, you give your body a chance to recover and rebuild your muscles stronger and better than before.  Without resting, you deny your body the opportunity to repair your muscles, undoing all your good work.

When you workout you also deplete your muscle glycogen stores.  By giving your muscles a chance to recover, you are giving them a chance to replenish these energy stores.  Without rest, the quality of your next workout will be reduced.

If you’re trying to gain muscle, more workouts means more incentive for your muscles to grow, but too many workouts and you can become fatigued, risk damage and limit results.

How many days a week should you workout for maximum results?

An study by a team from the US and Australia carried out a study in an attempt to figure out just how many workouts a week is best for muscle growth.  They compared as many published studies as they could find and came to a couple of key conclusions[1].

They concluded that the longer you work out, the better your results, up to about 4 times a week.  Beyond 4 times a week, they saw no advantage to training more.

Most of the studies they compared dealt with new or only moderately experienced lifters.  Some very experienced lifters may benefit from longer or more frequent workouts. On the other hand, if you are a newbie, you should only be working out 2-3 days per week[2].

It’s also important to not always work the same muscles in the same way each time you hit the gym.  You should vary the muscles you target in your workouts. This has been shown to lead to significantly larger gains than doing the same workout every day[3].

The number of rest days you should take also depends on the the duration and intensity of your workouts.  If your workouts are long, hard, and high intensity, stick to no more than 3 a week for the best results. If you’re short on time and your workouts are squeezed into a half hour lunch break, you might want to consider exercising more days of the week to maximise the benefit.  A study published early in 2018 showed that 6 half length workouts led to the same muscle gains as 3 full length workouts[4].

As well as taking rest days, you should also take adequate rest between sets for best results.  A study carried out in 2016 compared the effect of 1 minute breaks to 3 minute breaks between sets.  They found that taking a 3 minute break led to great strength increases and greater muscle growth than 1 minute breaks[5].  This study also kept the sets and reps the same between groups.  If you rest longer between sets, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights or do more reps, allowing you to make even bigger gains.

If you want to get stronger, work hard, but don’t forget to rest too.