Sven Wombwell
Article by: Sven Wombwell
Estimated 10 minutes read

You've probably heard that taking breaks from working out is important for your body's recovery, and you may have also heard about the necessity of rest days. While these concepts are related, they serve different purposes in your fitness routine.

Rest vs. Breaks

Rest refers to the short intervals between sets or exercises, allowing your muscles to recover momentarily before continuing. On the other hand, Breaks are unscheduled pauses taken during a workout to prevent muscle fatigue or burning.

Gym, fitness and portrait of a personal trainer with a clipboard for a training consultation

Basic Workout Terminology

To understand the difference between taking a break from working out and a rest from exercising, you need to be familiar with some key fitness vocabulary:

  • Reps (Repetitions): A rep is one complete movement of an exercise. For example, performing two full push-ups means completing 2 reps. Repetitions are often tracked, especially in weight lifting. A related term is Repetition Maximum (RM), which indicates the maximum number of reps you can perform on a specific exercise using proper form before reaching fatigue. For instance, if you have a 10RM for arm curls, you can perform a maximum of 10 repetitions of that exercise before needing to stop.
  • Sets: A set is a collection of repetitions performed sequentially. If your training program requires 5 reps of squats for 2 sets, you would complete 5 squats, rest, and then perform another 5 squats, totaling 10 squats.
  • Rest Intervals: Rest intervals are periods of rest between sets. They allow your muscles to recover, typically lasting 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The duration of rest intervals can vary based on your fitness goals.
    • For muscle hypertrophy (growth) and endurance, rest for 30-60 seconds between sets.
    • For powerlifting, rest for 1-2 minutes.
    • For strength training, rest for 2-5 minutes. Depending on the fitness routine, shorter rest intervals may also be between individual reps.
  • Breaks: Breaks are unscheduled rests taken during exercise. These can be of any length and prevent muscle fatigue or burning. For example, if you need to do 10 crunches but feel muscle burning at rep 6, you might take a break, recover, and then continue from rep 8 to finish the set. Breaks can also involve changing your body position to relieve muscle tension before completing a set.

Understanding these terms helps clarify the distinction between breaks and rest in your workout routine.

Why Are Rests Important?

When you rest between sets, you allow your body to recover and regain energy. Energy fuels muscles and different body systems work together to keep you going during a workout.

Muscle fibers grow by being stimulated to become thicker and stronger. This process is called muscular hypertrophy. Incorporating rest intervals is essential to achieving muscle growth.

Rest intervals allow your body to manage lactate levels in the muscle group you just worked out. Lactate accumulation, which is responsible for the burning sensation during intense activity, is a byproduct of anaerobic metabolism.

Lactate and lactic acid are related but not the same. Lactic acid quickly dissociates into lactate and hydrogen ions in the body. Lactate is primarily involved in muscle metabolism and energy production.

Although lactate is responsible for the burning sensation during intense exercise, it does not cause muscle soreness. Recent studies suggest that muscle soreness, especially delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is more likely due to microscopic damage to muscle fibers and the resulting inflammation.

Lactate buildup helps slow you down and protect your muscles from being overworked. Lactate levels decrease once you stop and rest, and your muscles can continue working. This helps your body build up endurance for handling high levels of force production in subsequent sets.

Whether you are a professional athlete or a beginner, incorporating recovery periods and taking breaks from working out is essential at every fitness level.

What Is The Difference Between a Rest Interval and a Rest Day?

  • A rest interval occurs between sets or even between reps.
  • A rest day is when you take a day or more off from workouts to allow your body to rest and recover.

You need rest days so that fibroblasts (repair cells) can heal and grow your muscles. Your body also needs to restore its energy stores after a high-intensity workout. Taking a day of rest will give your body time to fuel back up.

If your energy stores get too depleted, this can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue. Rest days also help you avoid overworking your muscles. If your muscles are overworked, it is easier for you to fall out of form. This can lead to a dropped weight or a wrong step, increasing the risk of injury. Overuse injuries can be serious and painful, so it is vital you incorporate rest days.

Your mind also needs the rest that a day off from exercise provides. If you don't rest properly, focusing and staying motivated is harder. You can experience burnout, making it challenging to train like you should. Overtraining can reduce your performance and slow your reaction times.

Resting is Good For Your Hormones

Constant exercise can cause your body to overproduce hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Elevated levels of cortisol can inhibit testosterone production, leading to hormonal imbalances. Too much cortisol can also lead to difficulty falling and staying asleep, negatively affecting physical performance. A rest day allows your body to regulate these hormones, helping you maintain balance and recover effectively.

This is called active recovery. You follow up with a day of high-intensity workout and a day of low-intensity exercise such as walking or swimming. 

A study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology reports that "men who engage in intensive exercise training can develop low testosterone levels, mirroring hypogonadism." The study highlights that these conditions can be transient and resolved with appropriate clinical interventions. However, persistent hypogonadism, termed the "Exercise Hypogonadal Male Condition," may also develop due to chronic over-exercising.

Bodybuilders should work out one muscle group one day and then let those muscles rest by working a different group the next day. Many people assign a day per body group to track when they should rest.

Whether you're trying to build muscle, endurance, strength, or weight loss, both rest intervals and rest days are essential to a good fitness routine.

Is It Bad For You To Take a Workout Break?

You may feel disappointed or frustrated because you haven't been strength training the past few days due to an injury, which is a valid reason to take a break. Or maybe you have been too busy with work and home responsibilities. There are many reasons why men have enforced or voluntary breaks from working out. There's nothing wrong with taking a break when you need it. A single day break from a workout won't undo all your work building muscle mass.

The Role of Rest Days in Fitness

Sometimes, you may even be required to take a pause due to an illness or injury. A workout break is different from a rest day. A break can last only a day or two or be a longer period of rest. 

Whether life is getting in the way of your workouts or you need a little time off, it is ok to take breaks occasionally. According to a study, it can take about 2 months of inactivity to lose the gains you've made in your workout routine. Taking a break can help you find a better workout-life balance, heal and fully recover after an injury or illness, and avoid overtraining. 

If you dread your workout, feel fatigued, have poor performance and soreness, are unmotivated, or feel like you are not progressing a short break may help you reassess your training goals and regain the energy and enthusiasm to return to your routine. 

After you have more energy, you can start working out again and perhaps rethink your exercise routine. You may want to add more variety to your routine to avoid boredom. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from working out and pausing your workout routine; it can benefit your overall health. 

Many people fear taking breaks from their workout routines because they feel that resting is like giving up or being lazy. But, it is essential to listen to your body. Breaks are not a sign of weakness. They are a way to take the time to get back into the physical and mental shape you need to continue your workout routine. 

Young Muscular Man Doing Dumbbell Lateral Raise Exercise At Gym

How Can You Get Back Into Your Workout After A Break?

After a few days' break from working out, you may feel sore when you return to your workout. If you've been away from the gym due to an injury, it is important to ease into your workout routine to prevent self-pain and further injury.

If you've been away from your workout routine for an extended amount of time, at first, it may feel like you are starting all over. But don't get discouraged. 

Since your body has muscle memory from previous workouts, it will gradually return to its last fitness level with consistent effort. Depending on the length of your break, it could take several weeks or even months to regain your prior fitness level. You may get sore more quickly and not be able to push yourself to the same limits initially.

Begin with a lighter version of your typical routine, take extra rest days, start with more extended rest periods and practice exercises with less intensity. Then, increase your intensity each week until you return to where you were before the break.

What Do You Do If You Lack the Motivation to Get Back To Your Workouts?

If you've tried everything and can't seem to kick this awful fatigue and lack of ability to focus, you may be dealing with a hormone imbalance. As a man ages, lower testosterone can lead to many symptoms that make it harder to work out the way you used to. Male Excel, combining convenience with exceptional care, delivers Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) online. Experience the Excel Advantage with our tailored treatment plans, expert medical guidance, and discreet home delivery, ensuring optimal results and better health.

Our daily treatments mimic your body's natural hormone production cycle. TRT is a safe and effective way to get optimal results. TRT can help you sleep deeper, restore energy, define muscles, and improve mental clarity. 

Our process is simple and discreet. You can check your symptoms with our online assessment. Then, consult with a medical provider to get a customized treatment plan. We'll ship you an easy hormone test kit to determine your levels. Then, you'll receive your TRT medication by mail. 

Aging can be brutal, but TRT brings everything that matters to you back to life. 

Conclusion: Taking Breaks from Working Out and Resting

Breaks and rests are defined differently in terms of workouts. Breaks are voluntary rest times you take away from a single workout set or your entire routine. They can be beneficial for your mental and physical health. Rests are scheduled breaks that you incorporate into your workout routines. Rest intervals occur between sets. Rest days are built-in days to give your muscles a chance to recover. 

If you are feeling sore or are experiencing chronic fatigue or pain, it may be important to talk to your medical provider. You may be suffering from an injury or illness that needs attention. It is important to listen to your body and allow it to rest by taking breaks from working out. You can return to your workout routine even if you take a break. Rests are essential in an optimal workout routine. They are the best way to ensure safe and effective results. 

If you are feeling sore or are experiencing chronic fatigue or pain, it may be important to talk to your medical provider. You may be suffering from an injury or illness that may need attention.