Setting the Record Straight on Muscle Recovery Time
How long should you let your muscles rest before working them again? You may have heard that your muscles are ready to be trained again after 48 hours of rest.
Editor’s Note: This is Jason’s take. To read Darrin’s take, click here.
I’d like to set the record straight on that number. If you’re one of those genetic supermen with incredible recovery abilities, 48 hours is probably right for you. For the rest of us human beings, a little more recovery time is probably needed.
Very few people out there have the stamina and experience to be able to handle training every body part 3+ times a week with heavy loads. Think about it, that’s exactly how many times you would train each muscle group in a week if you’re only giving them 48 hours of rest on a consistent basis.
So let’s talk about some numbers that are more down to earth for most of us. In actuality, most people will need somewhere between 48-96 hours of rest for each muscle group. This means that you will need 2 days at the very least, while 3-4 days is probably a better fit for most people out there.
For beginners, this recovery time can be especially important. In my early days of weight lifting, I found that muscle soreness would often set in about 24 hours after I finished exercising. This is common for beginners and is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
This soreness will improve with time, usually over the course of several weeks to a month. If muscle soreness is getting you down, take it easy for a little while and stretch it out. Things will get better with time.
Alternating Your Muscle Groups
When I say that most people should give about 3-4 days of rest for each muscle group, I’m not trying to say that you will only be able to get in one or two workouts per week. You can work out more often and give your muscles the rest you need by alternating the muscles you work on each day.
So, if you do a split routine that works your upper body on Monday and Friday, and your lower body on Wednesday and Monday of the next week, you are not violating this principle. Each muscle group is still getting the amount of rest that it needs.
Of course, it’s still possible to follow this routine and overwork your system. Even if you are working different muscle groups, you may need 48 hours of rest between each workout day, depending on your own personal recovery abilities.
At the very least, if you’re working hard with heavy, compound movements, try not to work out more than 2 days consecutively without a day off. This tip can vary from one person to the next. It’s not a hard rule, but a little extra time is especially important for beginners.
This is because your body has repairs to do regardless of the muscles you are working. Let’s say, for example, that you do heavy squats on Monday, Deadlifts and some back work on Tuesday, and then shoulder presses and bench presses on Wednesday.
Even though each muscle group is getting the rest it needs, your body isn’t. This is because your body is still trying to repair the legs from Monday’s workout when Tuesday and Wednesday roll around.
If your body is using all of its rest, energy, and fuel to repair your muscles after Monday and Tuesday, what good will your workout on Wednesday do? Where will your body get the time and resources to do all of this work at one time?
Rest and Your Routine
Sometimes your body handles its work load the same way you manage your own work. If you’re given more tasks to do in a day than you have time or money to accomplish, not everything gets done. The same goes for your body. If you give it more repairs than it has time or fuel for, some of the repairs (think recovery) don’t get done.
Probably the best advice for most people out there is to work your each of your muscle groups three times every two weeks or maybe even twice each week. Keep in mind that if you’re doing a split routine, the total number of workouts would be 3-4 each week (for example) since you’re not working every muscle group each time. This should allow ample time for rest and recovery.
Of course, these recommendations aren’t set in stone either. For many people, three times in two weeks for each muscle group can work well, but many people also show great results working each muscle group only once a week.
This can be a great tactic for beginners. It helps to ensure that your muscles are getting adequate rest and aren’t being overtrained. I’ve personally had success with this method early on as I divided my muscles into three groups and trained each group once a week.
Of course, working your muscles again as soon as they fully recover is your fastest ticket to building strength, but the reason that training once a week can be beneficial is that it helps to ensure that you are not overtraining.
The biggest mistake you can make would be to work your muscles when they are not fully recovered. Remember, your muscles grow when you recover after your workout, not when you are in the gym. Working your muscles before they are ready interrupts the process of rebuilding and prevents growth.
Waiting an extra day or two to train your muscles won’t hurt as much as training them a day or two too early. When you train your muscles too early, you can interrupt the recovery process. If your muscles don’t recover, they don’t grow.
The best strategy is to train your muscles as soon as they are recovered, but if you are going to make a mistake with the amount of rest you take, don’t let it be the mistake of resting a day too little. Instead, let your mistakes be on the side of giving your body a little more time than it needs.