If you've started strength training and are loving the results — you're feeling fitter and stronger and have more energy each day — you might be tempted to hit the weight room every single day.
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For strength-training newbies, total-body workouts are recommended, and training each muscle group at least twice a week is the path to more muscle and strength, per a November 2016 review in Sports Medicine. And for many seasoned exercisers, a day doesn't feel complete without doing some lifts.
But can you do full-body workouts every day? Experts explain.
How Strength Training Affects Your Body
When you do resistance training, you put your muscles under stress. This changes the chemicals and hormones in your muscles and breaks down muscle tissue.
"When you're training a muscle, it's constantly undergoing stress," says Alex Viada, CSCS, a certified sports and conditioning specialist and owner of Complete Human Performance. "The muscle fibers are pulling on each other; some damage is inevitable."
Fibroblasts (cells) repair your muscle tissue, helping it heal and grow, per this February 2014 article in Muscle and Nerve. When the fibroblasts come rushing in, your body opens up your blood vessels, sending all kinds of fluid to the area to make sure that a clean-up crew of enzymes gets there. This is what's known as the inflammatory process, and the amount of inflammation that develops depends on how hard you train, Viada says.
"These enzymes come in and basically chew those up, digest them and spit out the parts so that the body can reuse them and rebuild them," Viada says. Bottom line: It's not your workout that makes you stronger and more muscular; it's the recovery between your workouts.
"Training total body on a daily basis doesn't allow that proper recovery between training days," says Jason White, PhD, associate professor and director of performance sciences at Ohio University. "And when you don't allow yourself to recover, you don't allow the growth to take place during recovery."
Recovery can even involve light activity: In this October 2016 study in PLOS One, light activity — aka active recovery — involving the same muscles from a previous workout was more effective in reducing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery time than light exercise using muscles that weren't involved in the previous workout.
For example, in this study, an intense leg workout was followed up by a short, light session on a stationary bike the next day.
Can You Do a Full-Body Workout Every Day?
If we're talking about doing intense, total-body workouts seven days a week, the short answer is it's not safe, says Nick Tumminello, CPT, a Florida-based personal trainer and author of Strength Zone Training.
"When you don't allow your tissues and joints sufficient recovery, your tolerance to stress becomes severely reduced and you're much more likely to create distress, which reduces your performance and increases your risk for suffering an exercise-related injury."
Here are two very important reasons doing a full-body workout every day isn't safe.
1. It Can Increase Your Risk for Injury
Training your entire body every day means that, eventually, you'll be training while experiencing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
With DOMS, your range of motion and movements are compromised, according to a October 2020 study in the Journal of Biomechanics. Training with sore muscles and a compromised range of motion can cause you to compensate with other muscles and joints, which can lead to injury.
2. It Can Lead to Overtraining
When you overexercise and don't have adequate recovery, you can develop overtraining syndrome. Some signs of overtraining are fatigue, poor sleep and lack of energy, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Is Training Your Whole Body Every Day Effective?
If you train hard enough to cause muscle damage and stimulate growth, training your full body every day isn't effective. Besides not giving your muscles enough recovery time to strengthen and grow, training hard also means you can't work your muscles as hard the next day.
According to a March 2017 review in the Journal of Applied Physiology, when your muscle strength is decreased by 20 percent after a workout, it takes two days to get back to full strength. If you work out really hard and decrease a muscle's strength by half, it can take as long as seven days to return to full strength.
Without full strength — or close to it — you won't be able to stress your muscles enough in your next workout to make them stronger. You may also end up relying on other muscles instead of the ones you're trying to target.
"[You're] moving a lot of things in a way that they shouldn't be moving," says Meredith Mack, a personal trainer in New York and IFBB professional bodybuilder who trains clients online through her own app.
"Failure training has a really, really strong growth stimulus, but it also causes a lot of damage. There's a lot of inflammation. The clean-up process takes a long time," Viada says.
"So if you train to failure every single day, effectively, there is so much damage and so much clean-up to do that your body is constantly in the phase of breaking things down and clearing out dead protein, and it doesn't actually have enough time to actually devote resources toward rebuilding."
Another reason doing full-body workouts every day can be counterproductive is that it can reduce your overall training volume. Because you're lifting in a weakened state, you won't be able to lift as much in each set.
Let's say you do 3 sets of 5 squats with just the bar (45 pounds) every day — that's 675 pounds of squats per workout, for a total volume of 4,725 pounds for the week. But if you were fully recovered, you might be able to lift more weight and do more total reps.
So instead of seven workouts, you would do four per week and focus on doing 5 sets of 5 reps with just five pounds added to the bar. That makes each workout 1,250 pounds of squats, for a weekly total of 5,000 pounds.
The total volume you lifted in those four sessions is higher, and a higher-volume workout means more muscle, according to a December 2019 review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Can You Do Full-Body Training Most Days?
While you can get results if you train your full body five or even six days a week, you shouldn't train at maximum intensity in every session, Mack says.
"We need to get away from the idea that a good workout is one in which you sweated profusely, and it was painful and you're completely fatigued and burned out at the end," Mack says. "People think, 'I almost threw up at the gym, so I had a good workout!' If we do too much, it can be detrimental to our goals."
Training your entire body often at a lower intensity can lead to similar strength gains as training harder and more often.
In a small May 2018 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, strength and size gains were similar when lifters trained three or six times per week when the total weight they lifted was equal. So the lifters who trained six times a week had shorter, less intense sessions — half as long and with half the total weight lifted compared to the group who trained three times per week.
This type of less-intense, total-body training performed more frequently may be something you enjoy more than more spaced-out, intense sessions if you like working out more often with shorter sessions.
"For a lot of people, they don't want to grind their legs into the dirt twice a week. They just want a constant level of stimulus," Viada says. "They don't like falling down the stairs after leg day. That's not part of their lifestyle. You can do full-body workouts three, four or even five times a week. Just rotate your emphasis."
2 Safe and Effective Strategies for Doing Full-Body Workouts More Often
If you like to train every day, stick to less-intense and shorter full-body workouts daily. But if you do the same workout every single day without taking any rest days, it can lead to an injury.
Try one of these two strategies to make more frequent total-body training effective and safe.
1. Change Your Lifting Speed, Rep Scheme or Weights
If you like doing the same exercises, both Mack and Viada suggest changing the way you do them in different workouts to keep your body challenged. That can mean changes in how quickly you lift the weight on each rep, how heavy your lifts are on each day or how many reps you do in each set.
"For example, if you want to do the exact same workout three days in a row, the first day, let's say you go relatively heavy, you're looking to get stronger in these specific movements," Viada says. You'd focus on fewer sets with heavier weights — 5 sets of 3 heavy reps of each move, with lots of rest in between sets.
On this second day, you'd do more of a bodybuilding-style workout and train your muscles in slightly longer sets that focus on coming close to failure in each set.
"The third day, if you want to then do the exact same workout, you basically can keep your sets relatively short, keep the weight relatively low and focus on bar speed," Viada says. So you might do 8 or 10 sets of 3 reps each, for example, with a much lighter weight, focusing on moving the weight really quickly in each repetition.
Using this method, you train in a variety of ways without taxing your body. Your type I muscle fibers are recruited when your body uses fat as fuel. Your type II-a muscle fibers are used for anaerobic work and only use carbs as fuel. And your nervous system gets tuckered out from explosive or failure training.
"By giving just a little different emphasis, you can allow each one of those systems to recover a little bit between each time you work them, and they're not going to be completely blasted the next day," Viada says
2. Add a Total-Body Finisher to Your Workouts
"If you enjoy working out every day and doing total-body workouts, you can add a total-body finisher to the end of your body-part split workouts," Tumminello says. "This will ensure that you've burned every last drop of gas from the tank without doing too much each workout that could negatively impact your body."
To build a total-body finisher, Tumminello suggests picking five moves:
Perform each move that you choose for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds, then move to the next exercise. Doing each move once will take 5 minutes. Repeat the whole thing for a 10-minute, total-body finisher.
- Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Muscle and Nerve: "Lengthening Our Perspective: Morphological, Cellular, and Molecular Responses to Eccentric Exercise"
- PLOS One: "Comparison of Two Different Modes of Active Recovery on Muscles Performance after Fatiguing Exercise in Mountain Canoeist and Football Players"
- Hospital for Special Surgery: "Overtraining: What It Is, Symptoms, and Recovery"
- Journal of Applied Physiology: "Muscle Damage and Inflammation During Recovery From Exercise"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Training Volume, Not Frequency, Indicative of Maximal Strength Adaptations to Resistance Training"
- Journal of Biomechanics: "Eccentric Exercise and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Reduce the Variability of Active Cervical Movements"