This is officially how many workouts vs rest days to aim for to progress your fitness, according to a top pro

Your need-to-knows.

Workouts vs rest days: A woman at the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're someone who exercises regularly, you might be wondering how many workouts vs rest days you should be aiming for to improve your fitness.

It's a fine balance - getting in enough sweat sessions to maintain or improve your current levels, versus going so hard your DOMs make it hard to even get out of bed.

Here at Marie Claire UK, we're all about working out in a way that empowers you and works for you and your lifestyle. It'll be different for everyone, as every body is different - that said, as a general rule of thumb, there is a number of on and off days to aim for if you're looking to get fitter.

Aiming for seven workouts a week is obviously not the one (research has shown that overtraining can come with a whole host of issues spanning illness, injury, and gut health issues) - so, what's the perfect sweet spot?

We've picked the brains of Sebastian Victoria, a sports massage therapist at Urban. Here, he breaks down how many days to aim for whether you're looking to improve your fitness, maintain it, or simply move for your mind when and if you have the time. Keep scrolling, and don't miss our guides to the best time to exercise, simple ways to boost exercise motivation, and the best cardio workouts, while you're here.

Workouts vs rest days: what split to aim for to progress your fitness

If you're someone looking to improve your fitness, you might think the sound of rest days sounds counter-intuitive.

That said, Victoria stresses that clearly defining workout and rest days is not only important, but crucial for recovery and, in turn, progress. "Both workout and rest days are vital for anyone looking to improve their fitness," he shares. "Workout days are essential to improve your fitness and performance, while rest days allow your body to recover and repair from the physical stress of training."

A bit like knowing what to eat after a workout and the best time to exercise, small tweaks to your routine can make a big difference to your overall wellbeing. 

So, what happens if you skip a rest day to squeeze in an extra session? Our expert warns that doing so can lead to overtraining, injury, burnout, or even impact your performance. Think about it - if you're training hard, putting your body through more stress for the sake of a session will probably only be detrimental, especially if your muscles aren't fully recovered from your previous session. "Finding the right balance between training and rest is really important for a successful training program," he stresses.

So, the all-important question - how many workout days should you aim for in a week? That'll depend on your current fitness level, time restrictions, and goals.

If you’re looking to improve your fitness?

Victoria shares that if you're looking to improve your fitness, you should aim for between four to five workout days a week.

While this might sound like a lot, focusing on a mix of cardiovascular workouts and weight lifting exercises will build endurance and strength - think strength training some days, and a run or brisk walk the next.

If you're training for a marathon, you'll want to incorporate longer runs, interval training, and hill training to help prepare for the demands of the marathon, he advises.

On rest days, make sure you aim for a minimum of two to three rest days per week or full recovery, he stresses. "These rest days are essential for recovery and rebuilding muscle tissue, which is crucial for making gains in your fitness levels," he shares. Keen to get moving? "It won't harm incorporating some active recovery activities on your rest days, such as gentle yoga poses or light stretching."

Workouts vs rest days: A woman doing yoga

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re looking to maintain your fitness?

Next up - what about if you're looking to simply maintain your fitness, as opposed to actively improving it?

It's important to note here that while social media will lead you to believe everyone and their Aunt's fitness journey is on an upward trajectory, for most of you, carving out the time each week to make sure you maintain your current fitness levels is a huge achievement. 

If this is you, Victoria recommends aiming for at least two to three workout days per week.

On the rest front, aim for at least four or five rest days per week. "This will give your body the necessary time to recover and prevent injury, while still allowing you to maintain your current level of fitness," he explains. 

He also recommends using your rest days as an opportunity to focus on self-care ideas, like meditation or massage, or enjoying some downtime with friends and family.

If you're keen to move because it makes you feel good

Finally, if you move for the joy and mental headspace it brings and aren't fussed about maintaining or improving your current fitness level, the expert recommends aiming for one to two workouts a week.

That said, this is all relative - if you haven't been working out at all, one to two workouts a week will improve your current fitness levels and boost your endorphins, too.

"Aiming for one or two sweat sessions a week will help you maintain a basic level of physical health and fitness, while still allowing plenty of time for rest and relaxation," he goes on.

Having five to six days off where you rest will give your body plenty of time to fully recover and relax.

Workouts vs rest days: A woman working out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is a rest day?

Good question - because while what constitutes rest will differ from person to person, it is key to actually give your body time to recover on rest days.

While hitting your daily exercise and light stretching could be beneficial, it's important to give your muscles time to recover - as Victoria advises, "a day to give your body a break from intense physical activity."

Instead, focus on activities that are less physically demanding, like yoga or gentle stretching. Our guides to stretching workouts might come in handy.

What is a workout day?

On the other hand, our expert defines a workout day as a day when you challenge your body with activity that demands significant effort, like a long run, interval training, or strength training. "Workout days are crucial for building endurance, strength, and overall fitness," he explains. 

Pair them with the right level of rest, and you'll improve your overall fitness and wellbeing.

Are rest days necessary when working out?

Short answer: yes, they are. Research shows that overtraining can lead to illness, injury, or gut health issues, curbing your progress and impacting your ability to workout.

Sebastian Victoria, a sports massage therapist at Urban, shares that both workout and rest days are vital for anyone looking to start exercising or progress their fitness levels. 

"Workout days are essential to improve your fitness, while rest days allow your body to recover and repair from the physical stress of training," he shares. "Skipping rest days or overtraining can lead to injury, burnout, and negatively impact your performance. Finding the right balance between training and rest is hugely important for a successful training program."

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.