In all things in life, most of us want to work smarter and not harder. For our physical wellbeing, recovery is one of the keys to working as smartly as possible. Many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around this concept. I like to think of it this way: you are making those gains in strength and fitness during the recovery phase. It is the response to stressors that gives us the benefits, not the stressors themselves. During recovery, our body is “improving” itself so that it can better perform the task next time.
I am no better than anyone else – I must remind myself constantly. I love mountain biking. Love it. I want to do it every day and do so for big stretches of time. But guess what? After several days in a row, I hurt. My legs hurt. My back hurts. My endurance going uphill suffers and I get slower. I must make myself take days off. Your body needs a break.
So how much recovery is necessary? Well, that’s a complex question, but let’s make it as simple as possible for the average person (i.e. non-professional or semi-professional athlete).
Most people can do mild to moderate cardiovascular exercise up to six days per week. With strength training, if you hit it hard enough to be sore the next day, most people are going to need at least two days for that activity or type of training before doing it again. If you are just doing body weight exercises or light weights, it can be okay to do those a few days in a row if you aren’t going to the point of soreness.
With activities and sports such as skiing, cycling, and mountain biking, you need to take a day off every once in and a while — at least once a week. With high intensity interval training, you need to take at least a day off every other day. Studies show that you lose the benefits of high intensity interval training if you do it every day.