A man taking a rest day from exercise and doing some gentle stretches at home on a workout mat.

Halfpoint Images / Moment via Getty Images

Quick Question: Are You Taking Enough Workout Rest Days Each Week?

Even the most dedicated exercisers benefit from a day off now and then. But exactly how much rest is ideal?

By Sarah KleinJune 12, 2024


There’s a problematic concept you may have encountered in certain corners of the online fitness world: no days off. The meme or hashtag is often shared as a humblebrag about being so busy, active, and committed to an exercise routine. 

But “no days off” is a little like saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” In reality, you simply can’t make fitness gains without days off—and you’ll stay safer and healthier if you make rest a regular part of your routine. 

But how do you maximize your rest days? It starts with knowing exactly how many rest days a week to take and when to take them. Keep reading for everything you need to know about the perfect rest day cadence for fending off injury and delivering results.

What Are Rest Days and Why Are They Important?

A rest day is exactly what it sounds like: a day of rest with no exercise, which “gives your body time to regroup and rebuild between training sessions,” says Peloton instructor Ash Pryor.

While it might be tempting to think of that regrouping and rebuilding time as a luxury, it’s actually key to making any fitness gains: It’s through the rest and recovery process that your muscles repair tiny tears caused by exercise and build back even stronger than before. So even though it sounds a little counterintuitive, you simply won’t get stronger or fitter without rest.

According to Ash, rest days also help you avoid overtraining, burnout, and injury—all of which are more common without enough recovery. That’s because doing the same repetitive motions or activities can wear you down physically and mentally over time. And when you’re exercising while you’re worn down, your form or focus might falter, making it easier for you to hurt yourself.

Rest Days vs. Active Recovery: What’s the Difference?

A true rest day is different from an active recovery day. On active recovery days, you’re typically going to do a “very light volume of intentional movement meant to support rest,” Ash says. This might look like some gentle mobility, flexibility, or range of motion exercises, she says. Whatever you choose to do on an active recovery day, it should feel like “moving with ease,” Ash notes.

Active recovery might also look like cross-training, says Sarah Eby, MD, PhD, a sports medicine physician at Mass General Brigham. “An active recovery day is a day that you continue to exercise, though generally at a lower intensity and/or different exercise modality, such as biking or swimming if you are a runner.” 

A rest day, on the other hand, might include a short walk or stretching session but shouldn’t involve anything resembling a workout.

A woman walking her dog in a city park on her exercise rest day.

Oscar Wong / Moment via Getty Images

How Many Rest Days Do You Need Each Week?

It’s generally a good idea to take at least one to two rest days a week, Ash says. But there are some personal factors that come into play when determining the perfect amount of rest for you, including:

  • Your typical fitness routine and workout goals

  • Your level of training 

  • Your workout intensity

  • Any underlying health conditions or concerns you have

“In general, higher-intensity exercise will require more rest to allow the body to heal and recover,” Dr. Eby says. (Specifically, the American College of Sports Medicine advises taking at least two days between particularly vigorous workouts.) Conversely, if you only do lower-intensity workouts, you might be fine with fewer rest days per week.

For example, Ash (who trains up to three or four times a day) says she feels best when she makes space for one true rest day and one active recovery day per week. She lives with a thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s disease, and she recognizes other people with health concerns or other personal considerations might benefit from up to three rest days a week. New to exercise? You might benefit from more time off per week (say, three or even four rest days, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine) as you start a new fitness routine. Then, as you get more comfortable with your training, you can gradually remove a rest day or two depending on how you feel.

But even if you don’t have health concerns and you train at a high level, you should still make time for rest—it just might look a little different. 

For instance, if you’re intentionally lifting weights to build muscle and strength, you might rotate which muscle groups you target in each workout, thereby creating a rest day for, say, your lower body, while still exercising your chest and arms, Dr. Eby says. Others might lift weights four days a week and leave three days for active recovery, according to NASM, where active recovery modalities like cycling or swimming function as rest for the muscles targeted with the strength work.

Or maybe you’re training for a race, Dr. Eby says, in which case “it’s important to structure in rest, particularly as the race approaches.” Many training plans make time for recovery runs at a slower pace and lower effort in addition to true rest days without any running to help you reach the finish line injury-free and mentally sharp.

While our experts recommend prioritizing one to two rest days a week, you should get at least one true day off every seven to 10 days, according to the American Council on Exercise.

When Should You Take Rest Days?

There are different strategies for when to take a day off. One way Ash likes to structure rest days is by building them into a progression. For example, maybe Sunday is your rest day, Monday is an active recovery day, and you continue to build in intensity through Saturday, then rest again on Sunday.

Other people may not be as keen on two lighter days in a row, Ash says. If that’s you, maybe you make Mondays your rest days and Wednesdays your active recovery days, for instance. For Ash, Sundays are rest days and Fridays are active recovery days.

If your training plan isn’t quite that structured, you can think about sprinkling in a rest day every three to five days, Dr. Eby says. Or, you can take a rest day after a particularly hard effort, according to UCLA Health. This gives your body time to recover when it needs it the most.

Even after you’ve established your rest day cadence, a time might arise when you need more rest. Watch out for increasing injuries, excessive fatigue, sleep problems, or excessive or worsening soreness, Dr. Eby says, which could all be signs you need an extra day or two off. Emotional changes—such as feeling more irritable, sad, or unmotivated—could also be signs you’re verging into overtraining territory and could benefit from additional rest, per UCLA Health.

And most importantly, plan for your rest day to be a day without self-criticism. “Pick a day that feels enjoyable to have a rest day without guilt that may push you into not truly allowing it to be a rest day,” Ash recommends.

How to Maximize Rest Days

During your exercise-free days, focus on other pillars of health that support your recovery, Ash says. Drink plenty of water (and replenish electrolytes if needed) to stay hydrated, refuel with nourishing meals, and catch up on sleep (remember, adults should be aiming for at least seven hours a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). All three of these healthy habits help replenish your energy stores and repair your muscles. 

You can also use the downtime for supplementary recovery tools—both physical and mental. “I personally love using the sauna, ice bathing, meditating, journaling, and setting myself up mentally and physically for the week,” Ash says. (You can find tons of on-demand meditation and stretching sessions on the Peloton App that are perfect for rest days.)

Depending on how you’re feeling, you might also be able to get a little movement in, as long as you’re listening to your body. “Often, going for an easy walk or gentle yoga can be considered a rest day,” Dr. Eby says. Rest day activities might also look like walking your dog, playing catch with your kids, gardening, or taking a bubble bath, she adds.

“Think about giving your body whatever it needs to physically and mentally restore itself so that you are ready for the next training day,” Dr. Eby says. “However, if you are fighting off injuries or have other medical concerns, you may need to take a day truly off and consider being evaluated by your medical provider.” 

The Takeaway

Forget the “no days off” humblebrag: Everyone needs days off. Our experts agree that one or two rest days a week without exercise helps most people stay injury-free, mentally sharp, and committed to their long-term fitness goals.

Your fitness level, overall health, and training program are just a few of the factors that might change that cadence. Determining how many rest days a week to take and when to take them is ultimately about listening to your body. If you’re not sure, it might be worth working with a fitness professional who can help you create a workout plan that meets your needs.

“The important thing is that a rest day allows the key muscle groups and joints that are integral to your regular exercise routine a chance to recover, repair, and restore themselves for the next exercise bout,” Dr. Eby says. Fatigue, soreness, and injury are all signs you might need to take it easy. And if you don’t listen to those signs, you could end up with a more serious injury or burnout, which might sideline you for longer.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


Featured Peloton Instructor

Headshot of Peloton instructor Ash Pryor. She's smiling and standing with her hands on her hips while wearing a Peloton sports bra and shiny purple leggings.

Ash Pryor

Ash is a first-generation college student and black woman who has won rowing championships. She holds an advanced degree, is an author, and runs a rowing academy.


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