How Long To Rest Between Workouts: Do You Need 48 Hours?

August 25, 2021

Lately, there has been a large influx of new followers on the Facebook page, and with that inevitably comes questions regarding the frequency of training. More than a few people asked me and the athletes why we say to squat every day, stating that they heard “muscles need at least 48-72 hours to recover.”

Written by Brandon Morrison

Not sure where this tidbit of information originated, but it seems to be a blanket statement that does not apply to all the different facets of strength training protocols. I have divided recovery into what I consider to be three important aspects that I will touch upon in this article:

The Quality Of Recovery Time Is More Important Than The Quantity

Coach Mike Burgener once said “There is no such thing as overtraining, just under-recovery.” This statement holds true for all of us. Sure, you can bust your butt during training and take 48 hours off in between workouts, and still have joint pains, poor performance, and minimal gains. Why?

Your recovery time may be wasted. Simply taking time off does not ensure proper recovery. If you spending your recovery time eating processed crap, sitting at the computer (with forward head posture), and not spending any time working on SMR, getting proper sleep, or keeping your joints happy, then you are not truly recovering.

Personally for me, if I have papers and posts to write over a weekend when I take two days off, I will feel worse on Monday after those two days than if I were to take one day off, due to sitting in a compromised position.

If your recovery is on point, you can easily work a 4-5 day split every week, following proper periodization protocols, which will be explained below. Start treating your recovery as another part of your training, because it is.

The Amount Of Volume, Load, And Frequency Play An Important Part In Recovery Time

It’s fairly common knowledge that the amount of muscle and CNS stimulus has a direct effect on progress made: Too much stimulus and injuries/burnouts can occur, too little stimulus and no progress will be made.

When we say that we squat every day, we aren’t squatting 90-100% of our max every day, it varies based on the program, and the protocol for reps is as follows: as the volume (# of reps) decrease, the load (weight) increases.

Following this protocol will allow lifters to train 4-5 days a week with proper recovery and program design. Arguably the most effective training protocol for a drug-free lifter is “supercompensation.”

Coach Mike Conroy once told me that supercompensation will give a drug-free lifter about 90% of the results of a lifter who uses drugs, the caveat being that it will take 3-4 years longer to reach the same goal.

Supercompensation follows a simple protocol:
% = % of maxes

Week 1: 65%
Week 2: 70%
Week 3: 60%
Week 4: 75%

This type of program can be used in a 4, 8 or 12 week program, following the outline of 2 preparatory weeks, 1 deload week, and 1 performance week. The percentages will increase as the months progress, usually with an end goal in mind, such as a meet.

As the percentage increases, the volume decreases, allowing for proper recovery time between workouts. This example applies particularly to Olympic Weightlifting but can be slightly altered for other sports as well, which brings us to our last topic.

Different Goals Require Different Lengths Of Recovery Time

The notion that 48-72 hours is required most likely came from the realm of bodybuilding, where allowing time for muscle growth is of the utmost importance.

Thibadeau states that different muscles take different lengths of time to recover, depending on the size of the muscle,  I would add to that the set and rep scheme when calculating recovery time.

Obviously a bodybuilder, whose goal is to create as much micro-tears in the muscle tissue (4×12) is going to be different than a powerlifter whose concern is to see strength/power gains by focusing on less reps and heavier weight (5×2).

The powerlifter’s rep scheme will create more stress on the CNS than the actual muscles themselves, which will allow for a faster recovery time. Although, a smart powerlifter will be doing assistance exercises to create more muscle tissue as well.

I agree with Chaos & Pain that I think too many athletes are overly concerned with recovery and are afraid of putting in a lot of hard work.

It doesn’t take steroids to be an exceptional athlete, you may not end up like Klokov, but with what we know about chemistry, neuroscience, and recovery abilities, you can get pretty damn close to the level of a moderate steroid user if you do your research on optimal recovery practices that are legal.

However, to all you Crossfitters: please take MORE rest days. Most gyms post workouts that are made for an athlete who is 100% recharged and ready to go, not someone who has done 6 WODS in a row and hasn’t slept more than 4 hours a night all week.

I see too many people get injured simply because they don’t take enough rest days from Crossfit, the stress on the CNS from back to back WODs is unbelievable. Eating peanut butter and drinking Progenex will not turn you into Froning, so please take a damn rest day. 

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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