By Liz DiAlto

We hear lots of seemingly conflicting advice when it comes to how and when to rest both during and between workouts. We’ve heard experts say, “Never work the same muscle group two days in a row!” We’ve heard pros tell us, “Less rest means you burn more fat!” And we’ve heard trainers tell us, “More rest is optimal for recovery and performance!” But who are we to believe? The bottom line is this: just because the advice conflicts doesn’t mean it’s not true – it’s all about knowing when each piece of advice applies. Wanting to demystify these fitness enigmas for you, we’ve put together a guide to set things straight.

Listen to your body. No, this isn’t about hating the gym and just skipping it altogether. Rather, we’re encouraging you to get connected to your body so you can identify when you need to push through a crappy day and get to the gym for a boost anyway and when you really should heed your draggin’ booty and call it a day instead. Here are some tips for telling the difference:

Muscle soreness is usually just that: soreness from a killer workout the day or two before.  We say, keep up the good work and do an extended warm up to get the blood flowing through those sore muscles before you go hard for your workout.

Body aches are usually a precursor to some kind of sickness so, if you’re feeling achy, not only should you take the day off, but get to bed early too!

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Greater fatigue than normal. This can be caused by a variety of things. It can be a result of overtraining (if you’re a workout warrior averaging 5-6 days/wk consistently) or have to do with your eating habits.  If it’s just one day, follow the protocol for body aches.  If it becomes chronic, haul your cookies to a doctor and ask to have your thyroid checked!

Menstrual cramps. Unless you’re the type that gets debilitating cramps that have you calling in sick from work, we say exercise away! According to Dr. Gustavo Rossi, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Virginia Hospital Center, exercise can actually relieve those cramps by releasing beta-endorphins, your own “human morphine.”

Common cold symptoms. According to Dr. Travis Stork of The Doctors, as long as your symptoms are above your chest (meaning, head and nose stuffiness) and not in your chest, you can go ahead and sweat it out. (Just remember to wipe down the equipment when you finish!).  As soon as those symptoms develop into chest congestion, though, it’s time to take the day (or a few days) off!

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Know what you’re training for. This is a big determinant of what kind of rest you need during and between workouts.  People with more specific goals like sports or endurance athletes will have very different and very regimented rest requirements laid out for them in their training programs.  The average bear trying to keep it healthy and increase vitality, though, might have a more general goal like toning up or building strength.


If your goal is to tone up (and if you’re crunched for time and have only 30 minutes or so for your sweat session) we recommend hitting the weights and taking little to no rest between sets.  This is what Jill Coleman of Jill Fit Physiques and Metabolic Effect calls, “the new cardio.”  “When done correctly” Jill explains, “it elevates the heart rate and breathing comparable to that of traditional cardio exercise.”

If your goal is to build strength you need more rest between sets when lifting weights.  Aim for between 12-20 repetitions of each exercise, which fatigues the muscle group significantly, with 45-60 seconds of rest between sets for optimal muscle recovery.

Don’t worry about the rules. We often hear that we shouldn’t work the same muscles two days in a row, but here’s the skinny on this one: unless you’re on a strict split-routine workout regimen where, for example, you’re working your chest and back on Monday, your arms on Wednesdays and your legs on Fridays, it’s likely that your workouts are all total body routines. If that’s the case, go ahead and use your muscles two days in a row if you want. Heck, work out five or six days a week if that’s your style! Just be sure to take at least one day off and always remember to listen to your body!


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