how long does it take for muscles to heal

How Long Does It Take for Muscles To Heal After Working Out?

We’ve all heard about the importance of rest days after working out, but how long should our recovery times actually be? 

Well, after working a muscle group, you should rest it for roughly 48 hours before training it again. This timeline can vary depending on the size of the muscle group and how hard you worked it, plus you can reduce recovery times by eating the right foods and getting enough sleep.

Here, we will run through the importance of giving your muscles time to heal, and how you can speed up the process.

Why is recovery important?

Each time you train a muscle, you are damaging the muscle fibers and muscle tissue. Microscopic tears are caused in the muscle, and these need to be healed. Luckily, your body does this on its own by ‘stitching’ up these tears.

These repairs actually cause muscle growth, however, they only happen when the muscle is at rest. So, in order to increase muscle strength, you need to allow sufficient time for this recovery and repair process after training.

Overtraining can also lead to things like muscle strains, injury, and burnout, further highlighting the importance of recovery from exercise.

How long does it take for muscles to heal?

After a tough workout, it’s likely you’re going to have achy muscles. This is referred to as DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness) and is a pretty good sign that your muscles have been worked hard and are now repairing themselves.

Your muscles require sufficient rest between workouts and generally, each muscle group should be given roughly 48 hours to heal up before you train them again. However, this can vary. Larger muscle groups, such as your quads, might need longer to fully recover while smaller ones, like your biceps, might not need a full 48 hours.

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The type of workout you’re doing will also have an impact; for example, it will take longer to recover from a particularly intense workout. So, your exercise program should accommodate recovery periods for your muscles, especially after a particularly challenging workout. Body-weight workouts don’t tend to put as much strain on the muscles, so require less recovery time.

Endurance workouts, such as running, can be done every day, provided you’re not running extreme distances.

How to speed up the healing process

1. Diet

Eating the right foods can assist body muscle recovery and help develop more muscle strength. Protein is particularly important, as it helps your muscles repair themselves and can reduce the amount of rest between workouts required.

Eating enough carbohydrates for energy is also required so that your body has sufficient supplies of energy to draw upon while healing its muscles.

2. Sleep

From professional athletes to recreational lifters, sleep is always important. When it comes to the healing of muscles, sleep is when much of this process occurs, as many of your body’s systems are shut down, meaning it can focus its attention on recovery.

Between six and eight hours of sleep is the ideal amount to get, and this will help you achieve sufficient rest between workouts so that each skeletal muscle that has been trained can heal.

3. Active recovery

Your rest period doesn’t have to just involve lying down, though. Active recovery is the process of taking part in low-intensity physical activity such as walking or swimming. This helps the blood flow and blood circulation in your body, thus helping the reparation of your muscles.

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Massage therapy can be included as active recovery and is often an effective way of keeping the joints and muscles supple; a deep-tissue massage is one of the most impactful. Foam rolling before physical activity helps in similar ways.

What if the muscle is injured?

If you have caused muscle strains, which is an injury to skeletal muscle, then the recovery period will be longer. Muscle strains can range from a mild strain where you’ve overstretched a muscle to something more severe, such as causing a full tear in the muscle.

Severe injuries will obviously take longer to recover from, and the length of this healing process will depend on how you’ve damaged the muscle. Physical therapy is sometimes required to aid this process.

There are various types of muscle strain and it’s important not to ignore any symptoms of muscle strain, such as tenderness, the onset of pain, and a limitation in movement. While regular exercise can help repair injuries, you should never overdo it and always err on the side of caution as additional stress can lead to worsening the injury.

Final thoughts

When training to build muscular strength, you need to allow time for healing and repair, or else you risk causing muscle damage or even acute muscle injuries. The actual time it takes for certain muscle groups to heal after a workout varies, though generally, it’s between 24 and 72 hours, and 48 hours is usually enough time.

Untrained muscles may need extra time to recover, though. It can also help to follow the strategies of elite athletes and eat a balanced diet rich in protein while prioritizing sleep and rest. Active recovery to encourage blood circulation will also help speed up the recovery process.

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If an injury has occurred, the bounce-back time will be longer and the affected area will need a break from movement. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are two rest days in a row bad?

Not at all, if that’s what your body needs. Particularly when first starting a workout routine, your body is going to need slightly longer to properly recover from training, and sometimes two days of full rest is necessary.

You don’t necessarily need to rest your entire body for two days straight, though. You can rest a certain muscle group by training other ones for a couple of days, before returning to it. Generally, you only need one rest day at a time, though it’s always best to listen to your body.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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