5 Rules of Rest Day Training

So you want to get into the realm of doing some kind of training everyday, eh? Here's what you need to know so you don't implode your progress.

 

When does it hit me? I'm not sure…

Maybe when the rice is done cooking?  Maybe when my meal is laid out before me? Maybe in the shower? Maybe when I pull my woolen comfy socks onto my feet?

Let’s just say somewhere in this sequence:

Stretching. Shower. Shorts. Shirt. Socks. Sustenance.

Ah, and it’s a good sequence too. It’s a sequence of relaxation—a feeling nothing quite compares to.

Truth be told—and this is a dirty confession, I suppose—I don’t bounce giddily into my garage to train. I’m much happier after the fact. And that feeling after….sometime within the “s” cascade…is the real reward for me. It’s a feeling I don’t get on rest days, even if I do the same “s” dance.

My corpse rots itself into a chair most days. It’s a disheartening side effect of producing fine content for your eyeballs to consume. Don't get me wrong, there are some days that I'd rather slouch around like a slug. But I always feel better after having mustered some movement. And I’m not talking any old movement. Mobility work doesn't do it. It’s gotta’ be decent muscular contractions through a full range of motion.

Since I usually have four “true” training days per week, this leaves me with three “rest” days — three days that I'd rather stimulate some blood flow through out my body. This brings about the idea of doing a little movement on a traditional “rest” day. I suppose it wouldn't be much of a “rest” day anymore though. But for reasons you'll soon see, I still think of them as “rest” days. This is already getting confusing, so let's clear the logistics.

There's a difference between training on a rest day, and doing some kind of daily high frequency training program. Training on a rest day means your program has inherent down time. So your stressful training takes place three or four days per week with rest days splattered in there for recovery. This means — usually, but not universally — that these three of four training days are of a higher intensity (neurally, muscularly, emotionally). In contrast, a deliberate daily high frequency program wouldn't have recovery days built in. Because of the higher frequency, one of or more of the intensity markers is usually sacrificed — the training isn't as demanding.

So the ideas below are suited to those on a “traditional” program that want to do a little movement on their off days.

The biggest problem from the get-go: rest days are built into programs for a reason. They promote regeneration of the tissues so that you can always perform at a high level. Training on a rest day can't interfere with this. Rest day training should never interfere with progress on main strength exercises, or “normal” training sessions.

So not imploding progress is the most important consideration. So here are five rest day training rules to obey. In a week or two (if I’m feeling generous) I’ll tell you how to use both high frequency training and rest day training to actually get better.

Let's start at the top.

Any time you train on a rest day—or do some kind of high frequency training program—three things can happen:

  • You get worse
  • You break even
  • You get better

Let's classify “get better” and “break even.”

Breaking even simply means preventing your butt from melting into the fibers of your seat cushion. This is movement for the sake of movement. You aren't gaining anything, save for the mental clarity of moving — the feeling of blood coursing throughout dormant tissues.

Getting better implies some sort of goal, of which there may be many:

  • To gain muscle
  • To learn skills
  • To get stronger
  • To recover faster

And this list can go on, as all of these are possible…but only if you handle with care.

There's a fine line between getting better, breaking even, and getting worse. The line starts at the differentation between stimulating exercise and fatiguing exercise.

Rule #1 / If it's physically or emotionally fatiguing, don't do it

Physical fatigue is both muscular and neural. A set of pull-ups to strain is different than a set of deadlifts to strain is different than a set of push-ups to strain. “Strain” is universal from a muscular standpoint, but not so much from a neural standpoint. (This could branch into factors that make an exercise more neurally demanding like spinal loading, intensive gripping, or local muscular work capacity, but that's a bit more than what we need right now.)

The gist here is that effort should be stimulating, not fatiguing.

Don't even listen to music on rest days. Listen to an audiobook, an educational lecture, or nothing at all. Rest day training should have a relaxed tone. You should be able to yawn your way through if need be. You should breathe comfortably, even if what you're doing is mildly metabolically intensive.

No hype. No emotional investment.

So you need some wiggle room, as you never know how good you're going to feel on any given day. You need something easily adjustable — something with parameters, not necessarily absolutes.

Rule #2: If it's in the name of fat loss, don't do it

Never do rest day training in the name of fat loss. Some advanced high frequency training methods might deliver fat loss as a side effect, but it should never be sought as a main effect.

Fat loss is primarily a nutritional pursuit. And what your nutrition doesn't cover, your other “main” training sessions should. Let your rest days do their job. Don't pound extra activity in the name of calorie burning. It's a backwards mindset that almost always interferes with progress.

You can walk on a rest day, sure, but I don't consider this “training.” It wouldn't give me the wonderful feeling that normally falls in the “s” cascade. The lack of muscular contractions and range of motion don't do it for me.

Sprinting, HIIT, and other common fat loss activities aren't rest day training friendly. And now's a good time to move to the next rule.

Rule #3: If it’s explosive, don’t do it 

One of the things I hate the most is putting sprinting on a “rest” day. It slaps the body in the face. Sprinting is one of the most neurally and muscularly demanding activities.

Any explosive training is neurally fatiguing, so save it for your main training days.

This means HIIT and the likes also fly down the tubes on rest days. HIIT may not be as neurally demanding, but it's one of the most metabolically and emotionally draining forms of training.

If you do either of these things — or much of any explosive training on your rest days — you're going to be hindering your strength and progress potential on your training days.

Rule #4 / If you don't want it specialized, don't do it

Consider rest days as “extra” training. You don't want to give “extra” training to things you don't want to improve. This sounds a bit weird, so consider your upper chest. If your upper chest is out of proportion, doing dips (or any other lower chest intensive movement) on rest days isn't a great idea. (If you don't know why, read The Best Damn Guide for Building Upper Chest Size and Strength.)

Rule #5 / If you have to warm-up, don’t do it

This is the best rule I have, and I'm mad at myself for saving it for last.

I'm a big fan of ditching any and all warm-ups on rest day training. If you're doing something that requires a huge warm-up, you're doing something that shouldn't be done on a rest day.

This also helps break the monotony of “training days” vs. “rest day training days.” If you do the same pre-training ritual seven days per week, it's going to get boring. I think the rest day flavor has to be completely different in form, function, and attitude. Nothing should be the same. Change the time you train. Change your shoes. Change everything you can.

This brings me to the most important element of rest day training: time.

Rest day training shouldn't take more than ten minutes. And if you're wondering the worth of getting to the gym for less than ten minutes, I'll remind you that every respectable human being should equip themselves with some kind of pull-up device (gymnastic rings are awesome) at the very least. A barbell is another nice addition. I would say it's your “right” to do this, but it's more like your responsibility.

So if you've been training on your rest days, be sure to heed the five rules above. And if you're in violation of any of the five rules, let me know so I can verbally chastise you. (You're sprinting on your rest day. Aren't you? AREN'T YOU@!!!@@#@$#$$? I know you're doing HIIT too. MY EYEEYEYESSSZZZZZ.!)

MAYBE YOU’RE A SUCKER


You can’t fool me.

I know this isn’t your first rodeo, trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of.

But you’re not a quitter, which is why you’re here.

You might be a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

66 comments… add one
  • Charles Gross March 19, 2013, 5:41 pm

    Another great article. Any examples of specific movements if used in accordance with the rules that would be suited for rest days? I always feel like I want to do something every day mostly because I feel like I’m sometimes losing the battle of mobility/flexbility from being chair bound due to work and long commutes so many days a week. Sometimes I just want to get up and move without hampering the actual lifting days but fall short of ideas.

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:40 am

      Depends on if you want to combat mobility/flexibility or get some meaningful muscle contractions goin on 🙂

      Goblet squats, pull-ups, and some kind of push-up are a good start.

  • JC March 19, 2013, 5:50 pm

    Excellent timing. Come spring break, I am going to start doing a 5 day workout plan, with 3 work days and 2 skill days. I will definitely heed your advice when it comes to my rest days for skill work. Hopefully, I’ll “get better.”

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:40 am

      Heh, it takes some experimenting.

  • Ali Virk March 19, 2013, 6:00 pm

    Hey Ant,

    Great article again. Would you consider light (around 40-50% of 1-RM) barbell complexes as suitable ‘rest’ day training? If not, what are some of your favourite ‘rest’ day trainings?

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:42 am

      No, I don’t think barbell complexes are a suitable rest day exercise simply because of the wide spread difference between % 1RM. Not all lifts have the same 40-50%.

      I’m going to post a program in a few weeks.

  • Aaron C March 19, 2013, 6:45 pm

    I was just thinking about going jogging on rest days… guess not haha

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:42 am

      Jogging is mildly stimulating enough that it might not be that big of a factor in the long run. But my question: why?

  • Jeremy Partl March 19, 2013, 6:48 pm

    What sort of things would meet all these rules? What’s your go to things on the “rest” days?

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:42 am

      Said I would give a program in a few weeks. Gonna have to hold your ancy pants 🙂

  • Fabio Haubert March 19, 2013, 8:27 pm

    Clarifying as always. Thank you Anthony for this excelent post! Best wishes.

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:44 am

      Thanks.

  • The Real Will March 19, 2013, 9:13 pm

    Dude, we are living parallel lives, LOL! When I read your theory of training for the X shape, I was doing almost the exact same thing, but I condsidered it training in planes of motion for shoulder health…i.e. horizontal pushing and pulling (some kind of benching and rowing), and vertical pushing and pulling (i.e. overhead presses and pullups/pulldowns). Of course pushing and pulling for the lower body includes squats and deadlifts and their variations. Now you are talking about high frequency training. I love training and I train pretty much 7 days a week, multiple times a day, even if some of those ‘sessions’ are only for a few minutes. I trained shoulders every morning for almost 4 months straight. Now I mix it up a little. I like the way you think. 🙂

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:46 am

      Do you like Dragon Ball Z?

      • The Real Will March 20, 2013, 4:13 am

        Even though I am an old guy, I have actually watched Dragon Ball Z and enjoyed it, LOL! Not enough to know all the characters though. I had to chuckle the first time one of your emails came over and I saw your address…I live like 2 miles from you. Small world. (but I wouldn’t want to paint it).

        • Anthony March 20, 2013, 6:05 pm

          Interesting. Throw a rotten banana at me if you ever see me.

          • The Real Will March 20, 2013, 9:23 pm

            Will do. Then I’ll yell “INTERNET STALKER” :-). BTW, I was perusing your info on long duration isometrics…is that similar to passive loaded stretching (I heard about that from Pavel’s Power to the People)…just curious.

          • Anthony March 20, 2013, 11:58 pm

            If I knew what passive loaded stretching is, I’d tell you.

            But LDISOs are ACTIVE, so that’s already a contradiction.

          • The Real Will March 26, 2013, 3:12 pm

            Hey Anthony…here is a little blip on Passive Loaded Stretching (PLS) from Pavel’s “Power to the People”…

            Did you know that the most dramatic muscle growth on this planet
            took place in a chronically stretched muscle? In slightly over a month of
            progressively more intense stretching the mass of a bird’s wing muscle
            increased by an out of this world 334%! Stretching induced muscle damage
            appears to trigger muscle cell splitting, or hyperplasia.

            In a 1977 study by Yefimov, Russian weightlifters reported an average 9.4%
            strength increase when they added special Loaded Passive Stretches between
            their sets. In a recent US study by Westcott the subjects who stretched the
            muscles they have just worked with a strength exercise for twenty seconds gained
            almost 20% more strength than the group that did not stretch in the end of a ten
            week program

            …so I haven’t been able to find much online about it, but if this were applied to a lunge movement, you would lower yourself deep into the lunge and stay there. Over time you would increase the load. Sounded very similar to the description of the LDISOs so they may have more in common that what may be expected, considering the differences in the naming conventions. Thanks for your info!

          • Anthony March 26, 2013, 11:23 pm

            You’d only be able to do the lunge if your feet were elevated. Otherwise, it’s not so much of a maximal stretch.

      • Mike May 14, 2013, 1:06 pm

        Is that like Pokemon? or no

        • Anthony May 14, 2013, 2:22 pm

          Eh?

  • Ryan W March 20, 2013, 12:39 am

    If you’re doing chin ups on rest days, should they be done to failure?

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 12:47 am

      Is this a joke?

  • marcos March 20, 2013, 1:08 am

    Great article Ant. How about when your goal is fat loss to get to the lean solid base? (before starting a clean bulk).

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 6:03 pm

      Any sort of low intensity, non-sympathetic activity.

  • Leanette March 20, 2013, 2:08 am

    What about just a brisk 30 minute fasted walk on rest day?

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 6:05 pm

      Walking is fine.

  • Ian March 20, 2013, 10:56 am

    Some of these comments…Ant, would you recommend HIIT (with a weight vest) w/ 1RM Clean & Press during the rest periods for my Rest Day training? (not serious).

    Good post Anthony. I will admit I have been indoctrinated to believe “complete rest days” are integral for gains. I have learned this isn’t necessarily the case, just like the myths behind Carbohydrates or Fasting.

    You make good points to help differentiate rest day “work” from meaningful work. I have been somewhat following them, but I really like the idea of no music/audio book idea. I guess it’s always about sending signals…

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 6:09 pm

      Standing on a bosu ball, and that sounds like a good rest day activity.

  • LJP March 20, 2013, 2:10 pm

    As someone else mentioned, how about a 30 minute run of about 3-4 miles. Would you consider that low intensity. Reason being for conditioning purposes. I like to play soccer and basketball. (i am used to running about 8 miles maybe twice a week but have really trimmed that down to one 4 mile run a week with sprinting done another day (high intensity day, dont worry, know all about what it takes to go from 0-100)

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 6:12 pm

      Training for sports is a different animal. As long as the run is kept at a brisk pace and isn’t too sympathetically involved, it’s fine.

  • Jesse March 20, 2013, 5:00 pm

    I play racquetball pretty intensely one day a week, sometimes two. Have been for years. I enjoy it- and for far too long that was the only excercise I got. I’ve been doing a starting strength type workout 3 times per week. Do you think I need to stop this type of activity of putting on muscle is my goal?

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 6:12 pm

      No, you just need to respect the caloric demand it creates. And you might have to adjust your workouts a bit, but it can be done.

  • Bart March 20, 2013, 10:25 pm

    Why not just rest.

    • Anthony March 20, 2013, 11:58 pm

      Because my left butt cheek is starting to seep into the fibers of my chair.

  • Bart March 21, 2013, 1:41 am

    Just a though as it was a rest day and I though it would be great option for lazy slackers. HA HA. I personally feel worse too when i don’t move my butt, so agreed. Glad my chair, does not have any fibers.

    • Anthony March 21, 2013, 2:53 pm

      I agree though. Rest days should be for resting. Save for when you need to unstick the cheek. And that’s why rest train training is important because you need to unstick the cheek (if that’s your thing) while still “resting.”

  • Elcifer March 22, 2013, 6:04 am

    Would the same principles still apply for tricking? In one of the articles you wrote before, you mentioned that there should be no back-to-back high intensity sessions, and that the focus in between the high intensity days should be on tricks with a lower rating / difficulty. Would it be a bad idea to warm-up on those days?

    • Anthony March 22, 2013, 1:59 pm

      Yeah, I remember that article. I think you can trick back to back days so long as you don’t dip into fatigue on the first day and quit while you’re ahead. You can warm-up any day. A long warm-up is a great measure for any off day if you’re lookig to move.

  • DMK70 March 22, 2013, 6:25 pm

    This may be a different article, But what about for sports that you need to be fresh?
    I race BMX (Bicycle Motocross) on one of my Rest Day afternoons, for fear of being too whipped to race on a workout day.
    Since BMX is somewhat explosive like sprinting, Do you see this affecting normal workout progress?

    • Anthony March 23, 2013, 6:00 pm

      There’s a line between enjoyable activity, and activity done for training purposes.

      Can BMX effect progress? Absolutely. Does that mean you should lock yourself in a room and not to anything because it will help you progress? No.

      Just play your training around it. Don’t do any heavy lower body stuff the day before or after.

  • Kent March 23, 2013, 12:50 am

    Still a big fan of the 242 method. My rest days end up as mostly bicep and upper back work. Choose two days to go to work on are awesome. May be due to the fact I love always have something in the tank for other sports I always seem to be playing

    • Anthony March 23, 2013, 6:02 pm

      Nice. Good method, if I do say so myself.

  • RJ March 23, 2013, 2:00 pm

    I’m new to your site so I haven’t dug through all the articles yet to know if you’ve ever checked into yoga – but – I just started doing some about a month ago. Only doing about 20 minutes of it on my rest days.

    You know what – just that little bit gets the blood flowing and has been improving my flexibility. Also, I think it fits in with all the points you’ve covered.

    I realize a lot of dudes think yoga is more of a chick thing – but I think it’s pretty awesome stuff to mix in between those massive iron pumping days.
    I’m just sayin’ give it a shot!

    • Anthony March 23, 2013, 6:03 pm

      Yoga isn’t a bad rest day activity. It’s a rather tonic thing and increases you to tap into parasympathetic system. It will prolly whipe you at first. But after a few sessions, it will be more relaxing.

      • CK April 17, 2014, 9:40 am

        I am doing yoga too, and I am a guy too. It really changed my life a lot. I learned to relax more. Right now I just start also trying mindfullness.

        • Anthony April 18, 2014, 4:29 pm

          That’s good stuff. The less men in Yoga the better, right? Better for the men that do go, at least.

  • Such Ch March 27, 2013, 9:49 pm

    Does martial arts count as an activity too straining to do on rest days? I do Krav Maga on T/Th, and I thought I could use those as my rest day training with my bodyweight strength workout on Wed/Fri and my interval training on Mon/Sat. It is nowhere near as demanding as my strength workout, but we do work the heavy bag and other work which could be considered “explosive.” I’m new to your site (which is excellent, by the way), so I’m not sure if you’ve discussed any martial art training here, but what do you think?

    • Anthony March 31, 2013, 12:52 pm

      If you’re only doing body weight training, you’re fine.

  • marius March 28, 2013, 7:22 am

    Hy Anthony, for somebody who do the Chaos bulk, is matter when do the small training in a rest day? In fast period (e.g. for me, in the morning) or in the feeding part ?

    • Anthony March 31, 2013, 12:54 pm

      I’m sorry, but I really can’t understand this question.

      • marius March 31, 2013, 7:41 pm

        Sorry Anthony, I wrote the question in a hurry. I’m training tree days a week and I’m following your Chaos bulk principles. In rest days I fast from 6 AM to 2 PM. From 2 PM to 9 PM I’m in the feeding phase. So, my question is: in the rest days, taking into consideration the Chaos bulk rules, when it would be recommended to “train” according to you? In the fasting period or in the feeding windows Or the timing doesn’t matter as the workout is “light” ?
        Tks, I hope it makes sense :))

        • Anthony April 2, 2013, 12:18 pm

          No, I don’t really recommend training in the traditional sense, but you’d have to be more specific to what it entails.

  • marius April 2, 2013, 5:29 pm

    When I say “light workout” this is not really training in the traditional sense. For me this means: neck work, abs or few sets of calisthenics. Also, it could be 3-4 sets of 20 reps for biceps, triceps or upper back work.
    Tank you again for your patience!

    • Anthony April 4, 2013, 1:02 am

      Well if you’re doing “work” in any sense, then it’s a workout.

  • Jonathan May 18, 2013, 7:23 pm

    Hey Anthony, I remembered now that you had said you would speak about “how to use both high frequency training and rest day training to actually get better”, and I become very interested. Do you are still planning do write about it?

    • Anthony May 20, 2013, 11:47 am

      One of these days, I hope to get around to it.

  • Buddah beast November 28, 2013, 6:51 pm

    Guys u ask this guy questions like he’s the f**kin oracle , all due respect everyone’s tuned up differently , rest days are simple , REST on those days , train like a fuckin animal on trainin days , listen to your body , only u know !!!

    • Anthony December 3, 2013, 1:39 am

      Don’t worry guys. The Buddah is here! He knows all. Except that sometimes you don’t want rest days. (Like when you’re learning handstands.) But still, he’s the Buddah.

  • prox June 9, 2014, 7:20 pm

    wow unfortunately I’m only seeing this after a year out of the couch induced back arc paranoia. I recommend (since I couldn’t find any info) on laying down principles of posture, breathing, even visualising naked bar form and breathing so even if it’s an off- day ( it’s not in you head, which if you had to come here then it really isn’t already…but now things can be so composed). foam rollers, if you know how to use it, surfing (tide will place stressor and salt will relax and induce:talk about good dead time) dynamic stretch to the car? being spiritually useful like picking litter (squat mode) helping a cat off a tree (co-ordination mode) giving hugs, reading a thesis while doing bicycle on the floor…point is, there’s so much you can do in your off-time since there’s no Intensity like your so-called workout (not meant as an insult)

    • Anthony June 14, 2014, 4:58 pm

      Thanks.

  • Daniel November 19, 2014, 9:55 am

    I only just found your blog, but have subscribed to updates as really enjoyed the article.

    What do you think about adding in sports to your weekly routine, specifically for me it would be Squash.

    I want to keep playing casually a couple of times a week, mainly for the enjoyment rather than any other benefits it can offer.

    Do you think it’s feasible to do this and get the required amount of rest for strength and size gains? Assuming I would take into account all the extra calories burnt in 45 minutes of squash and increased calorie intake accordingly.

    Would it be better to play on training days (In the evenings, with weight training earlier in the day) and then have a full days rest the day after before doing anything intensive again? This would be squash 2 – 3 times a week combined with a Full Body Workout 3x a week

    • Anthony November 23, 2014, 3:47 pm

      Yeah, you can play sports and still gain size. As for when to play it, all depends on how you go about constructing your routine and what you want to prioritize. Any squash game played pre-strength might zap your energy and focus. Especially for lower. There are rules in terms of “order” but the greatest one is this: do whatever you want to get best at first, when you’re fresh.

  • Brandon July 7, 2015, 10:53 pm

    hi Anthony great article. I pretty much do body weight and weight training every other day accumulating 45 to 60 Sets throughout the day into two or three sessions. on those days I also do about a thousand total burpees (300 warm up , then sets in between lifting then more throughout day ). on the days in between I usually do burpees and jump rope totaling another thousand during the day and some martial arts. Would a day of just 300 burpees be a rest day?

    • Anthony July 17, 2015, 12:21 am

      Rest day, IMO = no activity.

      So, no.

      But it MAY be a LOW STRESS day pending your state of adaptation.

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