Can You Build Muscle if You Work Out Every Other Day?

If your fitness plans include building muscle, you might be wondering how often you need to work out. While daily gym-goers may think they have an advantage, the reality is, working out every other day builds muscle more efficiently than taxing your body on a daily basis.

A fitness program that includes strength training three times a week with 24 to 48 hours of rest between sessions can help you build muscle. (Image: nortonrsx/iStock/GettyImages)


Working out every other day is an efficient way to build muscle, while still allowing enough time for your body to recover.

Working Out Every Other Day

The argument that less is more definitely applies to exercise. Excessive training demands can interfere with the recovery process, which is crucial for building muscle. If your goal is muscle hypertrophy (growth in the size of the muscle), you need to limit the workload to lifting weights every other day. You may even want to cut the frequency down even more if working out every other day is not delivering the results you want.

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, strength training at least twice a week maximizes muscle growth. The authors also question (but have not determined) whether training a muscle group three times per week is superior to a twice-per-week protocol. This study goes along with the guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine, which recommend that most adults lift weights a minimum of two nonconsecutive days each week.

To build and preserve lean muscle mass while working out every other day, adhere to the theories of overload and progression. The theory of overload says that to build muscle, the amount of the load or resistance you place on the body needs to be greater than what you're normally accustomed to. Progression is more individual and refers to how you choose to increase this load (i.e., increase in frequency, intensity).

Workouts That Build Muscle

When it comes to building muscle, strength training is the clear winner. That said, asking your body to respond to intense exercise on a daily basis is not the right approach.

One approach is to do cardiovascular exercise or take a yoga or Pilates class on the days you don't lift weights. So, if you're lifting weights every other day, use the off days to run, cycle, swim, take a yoga or Pilates class, or use a cardio machine at the gym. To build muscle, make a plan to designate certain days to train specific muscle groups or train your total body in one workout.

For example, if you plan to work out every other day, you might consider doing a full-body strength training session on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If cardio exercise is an important component to your overall plan, you may want to consider adding cardio intervals to one of your strength-training sessions, in addition to your cardio sessions during the week.

The Argument for Rest

Rest and recovery are essential for maintaining and building muscle. After a strenuous weight-training session, your body needs time to repair. While rest is something you need, knowing exactly how much you need depends on the type of workout and your goals.

Ideally, you will want to rest at least one full day between sessions working each specific muscle group. However, if you go heavier than normal on the amount of weight or increase the reps or sets, you may need an extra day to recover. Listen to your body. It's OK to be sore; it's not OK to be in pain.

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