Q: Hi Steve, Recently I’ve been trying to edjumucate myself on what makes a good routine. Like everyone else, after 2 hours on the internet I am now a super expert. Anyhow, my question pertains to rest days. Historically, I have worked out 5 to 6 days (mostly 5) a week. Most of what I have been reading recommends more rest days than I have been taking. I no longer work out Saturdays at your recommendation, but now I’m wondering if I should be taking another day off as well?
Your routine has me working out Mon, Tues, Wed and Friday. I did Friday’s routine today, but now I’m wondering if I should start taking Thursdays off (or Wednesday depending on my mood)
A: It depends. End of post.
Just kidding, well not really. I’m sure that you have noticed that is my answer to most questions but I have rarely found a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem. In this case, it depends on what you are training for, what your workouts look like, what you do on your recovery days, what your training experience is, what your nutrition is like and what else is going on in your life.
As you all know, I have made many mistakes when it comes to training with the biggest three being doing body part splits, not doing a proper warm-up, and not taking enough rest days. Other mistakes include using my only rest day to go running, benching every Monday and Friday, using the elliptical (yeah, I did it), doing isolation exercises, and spending spending $100s on supplements to give me a bigger pump and get me ripped.
It’s funny how once I let go of these preconceived notions I almost instantaneously got bigger, faster, stronger, more flexible, mobile, and just plain old badass over night.
Before I answer the question I am going to share what guidelines I follow for programming rest days for my clients. I am going to highlight my own training to show you that even I abide by certain principles, no matter how experienced I am. Principles that have allowed me to get stronger, prevent injury, and continue to train at a high level of fitness for over a decade.
My current training consists of strength training 4x/week (Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri) with 2 upper body focused days and 2 lower body focused days, each using only compound exercises. On one lower body day I incorporate explosive lifts such as cleans or snatches. My conditioning includes sled pushes on one day, kettlebell swings on one day, and kettlebell snatches on one day. I warm-up with foam rolling and 10 minutes of mobility exercises before EVERY time I train and sometimes on off days. I don’t train for more than 45min/day (not including recovery or conditioning).
As you can see, I let certain principles guide my training. I have followed many different training systems such as 5-3-1, Westside, programs from Eric Cressey such as Maximum Strength and Show and Go, and programs that I myself have created for myself and my clients. I have seen great results from many protocols and although my methods change, my principles do not. Here is one of my favorite quotes by some dude who knows a thing or two about the matter:
“Methods are many, principles are few, methods may change, principles never do” – Alwyn Cosgrove
Whether your goal is to gain strength, lose weight, become a ninja, or just get fit you should always follow certain guidelines. Here are some of my principles when it comes to training:
- Don’t train more than 3-4x/week
- Don’t train for more than 45min (not including warm-up)
- ALWAYS warmup with mobility and/or activation exercises (this includes soft tissue work)
- Own a movement before you do any exercise
- Take a week or two off every 4 months
- Don’t do isolation exercises
- Work on your weaknesses
- Do something nice for Lindsay every day (this makes everything in life much better)
As you can see, my principles are very basic which leaves room for almost limitless training methods. Depending on what your goal is will guide which method you choose and ultimately how many rest days you take. There are some of you out there who are going to ignore these principles thinking that you are the shit and will follow your own.
To get back to answering the question I will have to give you a little background on the program that is being followed. It is the first month of full-body training after following a body part split routine for over a decade. It consists of 2 days of full body strength training and 2 days of conditioning. The conditioning consists of one day of HIIT and one day of a metabolic circuit type routine. There is a specific warm-up, no isolation exercises and movement specific.
I went light on the strength training days since this client is new to this type of training and has been introduced to new exercises as well as a new style of training. Depending on future goals and lifestyle, subsequent programs will follow a different method and have different intensity. One thing that will NOT change are the principles.
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson