Over the past few years I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this topic and experimented with a number of options. How many days should I train before resting? How many days should I rest? How strict should I be with my planned training cycle? In this post, I will list a few of the more popular and effective options as well as my take on the best training cycle for you.
Before we delve into the specific training cycles, it is important to realise the following…
Go With Your Gut
The ultimate characteristic of a wholesome, experienced, athletic human (we all are!) is knowing when to push yourself and when to step back from training to let your body recover. Being able to intuitively say “NO” to a training day because you just don’t feel well enough to train is a hallmark characteristic of maturity.
Remember, there is always another day to train. Forcing yourself to train when you really don’t feel well enough today, will only prolong your recovery and affect subsequent training days. Worse still, you might get injured (strain/pull something) which could set you back weeks of progress!
You only get stronger after the training session when you give your body time to repair and super-compensate from the workout. So in my opinion, prioritising your rest days over the training days is a wiser move. Besides, it just doesn’t make sense to keep pushing yourself in a fatigued state that you can’t function normally in day-to-day living too. Ever been too tired from training to stay awake at work or in a school lecture or have a hearten conversation with your family over dinner? You’re now compromising on your quality of life and may regret this when your future self looks back at those times.
In training, consistency is key and frankly to me that means not going more than 3 days (or 72 hours) without a workout. Tangible progress is seen over months and years and usually not over a few days. Bearing that in mind, you really shouldn’t fret missing a day or two. I’d rather be full of energy and itching to workout than dragging my ass to another dreaded workout and not enjoying it one bit because I’m too sore or fatigued or not in the mood.
That said, here are a few training cycle variations:
1. Train 3 Days, Rest 1 Day
This 3:1 cycle has been popularised by the Cross Fit community where they utilise mostly high intensity workouts that last about 20 minutes long, once a day for 3 days before taking a day off training.
Personally, this type of training cycle is one of my favourites because I find that after 3 days of intense training, my training performance seems to start dipping by the 4th day. Furthermore, I kinda lose motivation and fatigue more easily and it really doesn’t help your progress if you train in a fatigued state – you’re just digging yourself into a deeper hole and your body may need more time to recover instead.
Of course this only works if you’ve pushed yourself hard enough that you feel the NEED to rest on the 4th Day. If you’re still brimming with energy and bouncing around then you probably haven’t trained hard enough. You’ll need to rethink your training or adjust your training cycle to something like the next option.
2. Train 6 Days, Rest 1 Day
This type of training cycle takes into consideration the weekly schedule of a 7 day week. Unlike the previous cycle where you sometimes find yourself working out on the weekends, this cycle may cater to you having a rest day on a Sunday. Allowing time to be spent with the family, personal hobbies, etc.
This cycle works well too but does not afford as many recover days as the previous one – you train double the number of days without a change in rest days. Thus, to fine tune this you would have to adjust your training program to suit the 6 day week such that you don’t over-train before your rest day. For example, alternating between strength training days (e.g. gym work) and cardio days (e.g. interval sprints).
3. Other Variations
Train:Rest – 1:1
This works best if you follow a full-body high intensity workout like a weight training session that hits every muscle group with minimal rest in between sets. This way you generate both musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory adaptations.
This cycle also gives the most rest per training day and I’ve found it especially useful at the worse points in my battle with autoimmune disease. Some days I was too fatigued and in too much pain that I had to go 2 days without training. Just simple stretches and movements at home.
Train:Rest – 2:1
With this cycle, you have the added option of engaging in strength and cardio training on separate days. For example:
Day 1 – Strength train
Day 2 – Swim intervals
Day 3 – Rest
This gives your body a full 72 hours of ‘rest’ from each workout. 48-72 hours is the optimal rest period and depending on your training status and how hard you trained, you should be ‘sore-free’ by the 4th day and ready to hit the weights with a smile again!
My Preferred Training Cycle
Currently I follow the 3:1 training cycle mentioned above but will increase rest days or omit workouts depending on my body’s present condition. I don’t feel guilty about missing a workout. In a sense, I feel liberated now that I am able to not beat myself up over missing a workout just because my body is aching badly or just not feeling up to speed or energy. I don’t go more than 3 days training without a rest day and I usually really look forward to the rest days now. My training cycle looks roughly something like this:
Day 1 – Gold Medal Bodies Rings workout (AM), Gymnastics Bodies: Handstand (PM)
Day 2 – Swim Intervals (AM), GB: Core & Legs (PM)
Day 3 – GB: Upper Body (PM)
Day 4 – Rest (stretch & stay active with joint mobilizations)
At the end of the day, learning how to plan your training and rest days and be flexible enough to tweak accordingly depending on how you feel on a daily basis is an art and one that takes time and constant experimentation to achieve. So play around with these cycles mentioned, or come up with your own unique cycle! We are all different and many factors affect our training frequency from our schedules to training programs, current physical state and etc. Life is about adapting and constantly improving.
Train hard, and smart.