Reader Question: Do I Need A Recovery Day?

I often get questions from people about taking time off: how do you know when you need rest and how much recovery time is necessary? I got one such question from a reader (but more importantly, a very good friend of mine), and although I gave her a quick answer at the time, I thought this really deserved a little bit more attention! Her question was this:

Question on recovery time- how much of it is needed and when should I push through? Legs feel heavy, but don’t know if I am being a baby and should push through. For example:

Mon- off 
Tues- 90 min hot yoga 
Wed- 90 min hot yoga, 60 min elliptical
Thurs- 5 mile run
Fri- 90 min hot yoga 
Sat-…. to be determined. 

Thoughts fit friend?  – Missy 

My first response to Missy was of course if she would consider trading in some of that elliptical time for some weight room time. Unfortunately, that was a no-go, but I’ll keep trying to convince her 😉

No matter what your training regimen though, I think the key phrase here comes at the end of her question. “Legs feel heavy…”

When you’ve been training intensively for 4 days in a row, it’s no wonder your legs feel heavy! Let’s break it down into time spent training — never mind the type of exercise. In the past four days, she had worked out for anywhere from 45 minutes to 150 minutes every single day. Only one day was as low as 45 minutes, but that was at least 45 minutes of continuous impact from running (This is just an estimate, I have no idea how fast she runs 5 miles). All of the other days included at least 90 minutes of training, one of those followed by 60 minutes of elliptical time.

Now, overall, I do not think she had done too much that week, so I’m not concerned that she has overdone it. I would just recommend that the following day be a “rest” day, where rest can mean one of two things:

1. Complete rest. Just going about your normal daily activities, not worrying about physical activity, and nurturing your muscles with healthy food to fuel your recovery.

2. Active recovery: Light exercise (walking), foam rolling, mobility drills, etc.

But I would not recommend any heavy exercise on this 5th day. There are many people out there who do train 5 (or 6, or even 7) days in a row, and if you’re feeling great and have not been doing heavy lifting, intensive plyos, or high mileage for those first 4 days, than adding in a light exercise day on the 5th day is more than acceptable. If one or two of these days had been upper body intensive, it could be a different story all together as well. However, Missy had done 4 days of leg-intensive activity and was well aware that her legs were feeling “heavy”, which to me is code for “my legs were screaming for a day off”.

Training weeks should be broken up so that you can maximize your performance in each session. If you were to have two heavy-lifting lower body days, and complete them back to back, there is no way your body would be recovered enough for the second session. This can increase your chance of injury as well as decrease the efficacy of your training sessions.

I know that there are people out there who feel otherwise, but I do not recommend intensive training for one area of your body for more than 3 days in a row. Even for runners, 3 days followed by an off (or very light cross training day) is generally my recommendation. And for heavy lifters, the breakdown of work vs. rest needs to be followed even more carefully.

In her question, Missy did not include any heavy lifting days, but I know that many of my readers combine both power yoga and lifting into their weekly workout calendars. Here is an example of my typical training week, so that you can see the rest time that I build in for myself:

Sunday: Light conditioning work, or Yoga in the summer. Usually a light, low speed stadium workout.

Monday: Lower body lift day (Squat focus)

Tuesday: Upper body lift day (Bench press for compound lift)

Wednesday: Conditioning day. Intense stadium workout

Thursday: Off

Friday: Lower body lift day. (Deadlift focus)

Saturday: Off

Many weeks I’ll switch out Sunday’s light conditioning for a second upper body (bench/row) day, or I’ll take Sunday completely off and use Thursday for my second upper body day. On weeks like this when I’m only going to have 3 lifting days, I’ll add in some pull ups/push ups to my lower body days to turn them into more of a full body session.  But you’ll see that I’m never doing more than three days of lower-body-intensive work at a time. While Sunday is a lighter day, it still stresses my lower body muscles enough that giving my legs/glutes some rest time on Tuesday is very important, especially if I want to perform well in my conditioning day on Wednesday.

That’s it for meow. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about why adequate recovery time is so important!

How many days do you train per week? Do you take your rest days in succession or split them up throughout the week? Do you ever push through a session even though you feel like you need a rest day? 

14 thoughts on “Reader Question: Do I Need A Recovery Day?

  1. samanthaangela April 8, 2013 — 7:21 am

    I usually do:
    Monday: Weights – bench press focus
    Tuesday: HIIT
    Wednesday: Weights – push press focus
    Thursday: HIIT
    Friday: Weights – Squats focus
    Saturday: Yoga
    Sunday: Weights – Deadlift focus

    1. No days off? When do you rest? Just curious 🙂

      1. Usually my yoga isn’t very intense. If I do a more intense yoga class then I’ll scale back on cardio during the week.

  2. I lift 4x/week and don’t do jack squat any of the other days…heh. I’ll walk my dog a little or maybe some mobility (if I’m feeling ambitious) but that’s about it.

    1. 😀 I love days when I don’t do jack squat. In fact I think that’s what I’m going to do tomorrow. Bench is getting pushed to Thursday. Boom.

  3. I run 4 days a week (on 2 of those days, I also do weights), do yoga 1 day, and HIIT/Cardio/Strength on 1 day – leaving me one full day of rest each week. I have found this schedule to work really well for me, though, if I notice I’m feeling really run down, heavy, or weak, I certainly will add a second rest day in to recover and get back up to speed!

    1. One rest day works for some people — glad you have found something that works well for you! And also glad you give yourself that second day when you know you need it 🙂

  4. I am training for a powerlifting competition, so it’s 2 days of bench, 1 day of deadlifts, 1 day of squats, HIIT 10-15 minutes 3x/week, jogging or incline walking 1-2x/week, and lots of walking. One full day of rest where I don’t make myself do anything, but at least try and stand more than sit.

    I’ve noticed that if I have a week where I feel like Superwoman and kill it every workout, I pay for it the next week with a few lethargic, very tough workouts. Scheduled rest is important!

    1. I agree scheduled rest is very important!! Your training regimen makes me exhausted just thinking about it… adding in 1 conditioning day to my program just about killed me 🙂 Keep working hard!!

      1. Really? Can I tell my coach you said that? Maybe I can have another rest day 🙂

  5. First off, that cat is amazing.

    The last 3 weeks I haven’t worked out (at the gym) and I am going nuts. After being SO sick for the 2 weeks, the 3rd week came and I was still exhausted. Now I am in week 4 and with my 11 or 13 hour work days AND being the only one to take care of my dog right now, I am not starting this week either. But, normally it is like this:
    3 days a week (M, W, F) I do full budy lifting. So, I am there 60-80 minutes, lifting as much as I can and running or doing jumping jack or push ups in between sets. IF I am feeling spicy, I will then do a form of cardio on the 4th day. I used to do 5 days of workouts but that was before I lifted free weights (just machines) and when I was still doing cardio.

    This morning I was thinking about my workout this summer since my schedule is still crazy and I think I want to start p90x again. I need heavier weights though because I lift much more than I did last summer. In the case of p90x, I do 2 days or arms, 1 day of legs and then 1 day of kickboxing. So, it ends up being 4 days but I am not bored with it nor do I feel crunched on time because I am working out at my house so don’t need to factor in drive time.

    1. Honestly, when it comes down to it, you have to find something that fits your schedule and your lifestyle. You can’t leave the poor pup at home just to spend more time at the gym, that would just be cruel! While you are working a ton, just finding time during the day to be a little more active is better than nothing… and of course walking Lex adds to that too! I know you’ll be kicking ass whether you’re at the gym or doing P90x, so whichever you choose, put in the hard work and you’ll see results! 🙂

  6. There is no rhyme or reason to my workouts lately. I usually workout 5 days a week and it’s a mixture of walking on an incline, spinning, the elliptical, circuit workouts, and upper body weights (I can’t do lower body weights because of my knee/hip). I just do whatever I’m feeling like that day. I’ve felt really fatigued in general lately (I think it might be low iron – I need to make a doctors appointment), so I have to push through a lot of my workouts. If I didn’t, I might not work out at all haha.

    1. Working around an injury can sure put a damper on things!! I have had to lay off deadlifts on two separate extended periods of time this year due to injuries, and it throws off my whole training schedule. Take care of yourself though, and I hope you start feeling better soon Chels!

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