How Often Should You Lift Weights?
If you love to lift weights—or you’re vying for a new one-rep max—you may be tempted to hit the weight room every day. After all, if a little bit is good, more must be better, right?
Not so fast. When it comes to lifting, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Get carried away and you’ll actually delay your strength and hypertrophic progress. Worse, you could put yourself at risk for injury and illness.
So what’s your Goldilocks lifting schedule? Read on to find out.
How Muscle Growth Happens
Let’s start with a quick refresher: Every time you lift, you create microscopic damage to every muscle cell that you work, says Lauren Loberg, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., doctor of physical therapy and board-certified clinical orthopedic specialist with TRIA Orthopaedic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Then, when you set the weights down for a day, your body gets to work on repairing the damage: forming new contractile units, fusing protein strands, and even creating additional mitochondria—the microscopic power plants within your muscles.
This process is what ultimately leads to increases in muscle strength, size, and endurance—and it only happens with rest, Loberg explains. Without downtime, your results will plateau, and all of your time pumping iron will be in vain.
A too-regular lifting schedule also puts you at risk for a host of other unpleasant problems, such as overuse injuries like muscle strains and tendonitis.
And since the immune system drives post-workout recovery, if you keep it constantly overloaded, you could wind up feeling like crap, Loberg says. A weakened immune system can lead to lethargy, increased frequency of illness, weight gain, and fun digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation.
So, What’s a Healthy Frequency?
Short answer: It depends. Long answer: It depends on both your training history as well as how you organize your workouts.
For example, if you’ve got some experience under your lifting belt and are regularly training to failure or a high level of fatigue, Loberg suggests hitting the weights no more than four days per week. On the other days, rest or stay active by performing light, steady-state cardio or even restorative exercises like yoga.
However, if you’ve been consistently lifting four days per week for at least six months and are willing to make some of your lifting days “easy,” you can bump things up to five, six, or even seven days per week, says strength coach Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S. Still, that’s contingent on you not training to failure every day or working the same muscle groups on back-to-back days, he says. Generally, a given muscle group needs two full days of recovery before you hit it hard again.
Easy days could include functional bodyweight movements like squats, pushups, and pullups, Donavanik says. You could also mix in some steady-state cardio or yoga.
If you’re a beginner or intermediate exerciser, you may need to stick to just three or four strength workouts per week, with at least a full day of rest between them. You may even find bodyweight and recovery exercises challenging, and need to recover for one or two days before you attempt them again, he says.
Signs that you need more recovery time: poor workout performance, fatigue, and a lack of excitement for workouts that used to get you psyched.
Remember: You can take nuBound daily to reduce your recovery time. The nucleotide-based all-natural supplement is scientifically proven to speed recovery by reducing levels of cortisol and inflammation in your body after exercise.
The bottom line: Exactly how hard and how often you hit the weights is highly individual, Loberg says. So pay attention to how you feel after all your workouts (tough and recovery), and try to align your exercise routine with your energy and soreness levels. The right lifting schedule will leave you feeling better, stronger, and excited for your next workout.
That Said, Do These Exercises Every Day
Most of us spend much of our days seated, whether we’re at our desks, in our cars, or on our couches—so we aren’t getting much of a core workout outside of our dedicated sweat time.
That means no abs for you. Worse, it means weaknesses in the deep-lying core muscles, such as the spinal erectors, which run along your spine and work to straighten and rotate your back, Donavanik says. Weakness can lead to poor posture, back pain, and shoddy stability.
The only antidote: Work your core a little bit every day. You’ll not only build strength that will help you in the weight room, but you’ll become more aware of how you’re sitting, standing, and walking. After a couple of weeks of regular training, you’ll automatically start bracing your core both inside and outside of the gym.
Here’s a simple five-minute core circuit that you can do anywhere, anytime. Do it as a standalone or incorporate the moves into your regular workouts.
Exercise 1: Plank
Get down on all fours and place your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Extend your legs out behind you so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together, away from your ears, and brace your core. To create tension throughout your entire body, pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold for as long as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at one minute.
Exercise 2: Hollow Body Hold
Lie face-up on the floor, with your arms and legs extended in a straight line from hands to feet. Squeeze your core to press your low back into the floor, then slowly raise your shoulders and legs about 8 to 12 inches off of the floor. (You may need to hold them higher when you start, but as you progress, keep your arms and legs closer to the floor.) Hold for as long as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at one minute.
Exercise 3: V-Up
Lie face-up on the floor, with your arms and legs extended in a straight line from hands to feet. Squeeze your core to lift both your torso and legs off of the floor. Reach your hands toward your toes, keeping your legs as straight as possible and not letting your shoulders round forward. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at 20.
Exercise 4: Hanging Leg Raise
Grab a pullup bar with your hands just greater than shoulder-width apart, and hang with both arms extended. Keeping your glutes and back braced, squeeze your core to raise your legs until they are parallel with the floor. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at 20.
Exercise 5: Bicycle Crunch
Lie face-up on the floor with your hands behind your head, knees bent, and feet off of the floor. Squeeze your core to lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Straighten your right leg while simultaneously rotating your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow to the left knee. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at 20.
That’s one circuit. Stop there or do a few more, for an awesome 20-minute total-body workout.