Understanding why rest is so important

Moderate aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, climbing stairs and cycling, etc. need much less rest between intervals, especially when you are not concerned with weight training or reshaping your body. This rule applies to low – moderate workout intensities. However, if you are training at high intensities or new to weight lifting that leave you sore after each workout, you would definitely be advised to take an optimal rest for muscle recovery. So to fully answer the question ‘How long should I rest muscles between workouts? it is necessary to find out why rest is so important between workouts and what happens without proper rest.

Fitness model performing a Military Press exercise

Physiology of rest and muscle growth

Rest is just as important as reps. The goal of your workout should be to overload your muscles, this will eventually result in exhaustion and fatigue. Heavyweights cause elongation of muscle fibres that increases the friction between sliding fibres resulting in muscle tearing and breakdown (natural and minor as compared to traumatic injuries). This breakdown of muscle fibres (proteins) known as catabolism and is what’s required for muscle growth. While the outcome of training is the breakdown, adequate resting enables muscle healing and building. (For more information read our article How do muscles grow and recover)

How long should I rest between workouts?

Well, it’s a multifactorial approach and largely depends on a workout routine, specific goal and your personal preferences. According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the rule of thumb is that you should rest enough time to allow your muscle a full chance to recover. The following factors determine how long you need to rest during your workout.

  • Recuperation – Ability of the muscles to recover themselves after an intense exercise. Recuperation is actually a measure of time in which your body recovers from impacts of training.
  • Intensity – In the world of training, it means how hard you hit the gym or how hard you do a workout.
  • Frequency – How often you exercise per day and per week.
  • Nutrition – What type of food you eat, how much food you eat, when and how often you eat has a direct effect on your exercise as well as the rest.
  • Duration – It includes the time you are performing the specific exercise, e.g. biceps hammer curls and the number of reps per exercise.

All the above-mentioned factors vary widely among individuals. Depending upon their level, time, diet, daily routine, quality of gym and most importantly their weight-bearing capacity. Resting times are divided into three categories.

  • Between two sets during one exercise (Seconds)
  • Immediately following exercise (Hours)
  • Between the exercise of one group of muscles (Days)

Information collected from various studies, journals and fitness magazines show the following resting phases:

  • 30-90 seconds rest between two sets
  • 3-5 hours immediately after an intense workout
  • 48-72 hours after exercise of specific group muscles


More is always not better, so reschedule your workout routine and make sure you are getting plenty of rest. Follow the timelines above and you will surely get the most out of your exercise.