Sometimes, as we strive and push ourselves to reach our fitness goals, it’s easy to forget that the body needs rest to allow us to hit reach that dream body we’re working so hard towards. It’s no secret that lifting weights creates microscopic tears in your muscles, that can only repair during rest. It’s true that you can train different muscle groups every day, but it’s not always advisable to do that without planning a rest day in between somewhere. Say for instance you hit the weights hard, every single day of the week, with a different muscle group split each day. You can only do that for so long until the benefits of the training are outweighed by the detrimental effects of over-training. The benefits of recovery should never be overlooked! Overtraining without adequate rest can make you more susceptible to getting ill, feeling tired, wear down your mood and overall just make you feel really darn crappy. Additionally, for women it can interfere with your menstrual cycle. Overtraining could also in extreme cases lead to a drop in oestrogen that could lead to bone loss, increasing your risk of injury.
Put simply, your central nervous system and immune system need adequate time and optimal conditions to recover after exercise. The more the intense the exercise, the longer time is needed to recover. This doesn’t mean you can keep hitting different muscles every day non-stop, because each muscle will be using the same energy source for recovery. For trained individuals and athletes, the recovery time will be much shorter than those just starting a regular exercise regime. But, it also depends on conditions such as sleep duration and quality, and overall rest time, nutrition and individual differences that vary from person to person, such as the make-up of your muscle fibres and your genetic disposal to different types of exercise. Complex, huh? Not necessarily.
The answer to the question posed is essentially “no”, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend the days you’re not in the gym or not exercising being a couch potato. You can do something that’s not high-impact and low in intensity, for instance going for a gentle swim if you have access to have a swimming pool, a brisk walk, or - my favourite - the so-called “fat melter”. It involves walking on a treadmill with an incline at a pace that insures you remain in the fat burning zone for anything from 30 to 45 minutes. It burns calories, improves your body’s fat burning pathways and can actually help with recovery, provided you stick to the intensity prescribed and don’t head into the cardiovascular heart rate zone.
Every now and then I do take complete rest days where I don’t do much at all, because I realise how much it’s needed for my body in order to recover and to keep up the intensity in the gym. Particularly the day after a gruesome leg day - where some of the biggest muscles in the body have been involved, and I know I’ve pushed myself as hard as I thought was humanly possible on the day - a total rest day can be beneficial. Even marathon runners, when training for their big run, will schedule days of total rest to ensure optimal recovery and to reduce their risk of injury.
In short, no, for most people it is not wise to train every single day. Most bodies will benefit from a rest day here and there, particularly after high-intensity or high-impact exercise and when compound movements or activities are involved. It’s important to listen to your body and how you feel. Feeling weak, drained, irritable, sore and exhausted after hitting the gym? Then let your body recover before you hit up your next big session.