Should I Lift Weights Every Day?

You can arrange your workouts to lift weights every day — but that doesn't necessarily mean you should. Ultimately, the question of how often you should lift weights is determined by your choice of fitness goals.

Depending on your fitness goals, you can lift everyday. Credit: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages

Tips

Although you can adjust your workout schedule to lift weights every day, it's best to leave yourself at least one solid rest day a week. Serious lifters might need more rest time, and each muscle group needs at least one rest day between heavy workouts.

How Often Should You Lift?

For anyone working out for general health and fitness, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends strength-training all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

This type of consistent training generates a number of health benefits, just a few of which include stronger bones; better cognition; help controlling chronic conditions such as heart disease, depression, arthritis and diabetes; better quality of life; and even some help reaching — or maintaining — a healthy weight.

If your goal is to build bigger muscles, also known as achieving muscular hypertrophy, then the sweet spot is also working out at least twice a week. That's confirmed by a meta-analysis published in a November 2016 issue of the New Zealand journal Sports Medicine.

The researchers note that, while working each major muscle group twice a week promoted greater muscle growth than lifting once a week, it's still unclear whether lifting three times a week is even better.

What about if you're training for strength? In another meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine, this time in December 2017, researchers studied the difference between strength outcomes for exercisers who participated in "low," "medium" or "high" numbers of weekly strength-training sets.

They found that using a medium to high volume of strength training sets produced noticeably greater gains in strength. Or, to put it more simply for those wanting to get stronger: the more you lift weights, the greater the benefits you'll see.

Are There Limits?

If more is better for your strength-training goals, why wouldn't you want to lift every single day? There are three reasons to consider. The first is that your muscles don't actually get stronger while you're pumping iron in the gym. They get stronger during your rest periods, thanks to a process known as protein synthesis, which is stimulated by your time in the gym.

To put it another way: Lifting weights breaks your muscles down, and they need a rest period between workouts to allow for protein synthesis, during which they rebuild to be bigger and stronger than before.

With that in mind, you should give each muscle group at least one rest day between workouts — which means that although you can do some weightlifting every day, you can't work the same muscle group on consecutive days.

When you choose to work only some of your muscle groups each day — or to put it another way, you choose to split up a full-body workout over several days — that strategy is called, unsurprisingly, a split. More on that in a minute.

Soreness Is a Limiting Factor

Another limiting factor is soreness. A little mild soreness after a tough workout is normal, but debilitating levels of soreness are not. The good news is that you don't need to lift to the point of serious soreness to benefit from your strength-training workouts.

In fact, lifting to severe soreness can be counterproductive, because if you do find yourself extremely sore, you should stick to lift recovery workouts until the soreness has passed.

For many people, the typical after-workout soreness, also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness, comes on within 12 to 24 hours of a workout and then fades within three to five days. But in extreme cases, it can last longer, and if you're constantly lifting to that point, you might spend so much time recovering from your workouts that you struggle to consistently lift twice a week, much less every day.

And finally, the third limiting factor is time. Doing a full-body workout two or three times a week is a relatively fast, efficient way of getting your strength-training in. If you choose to do a split routine, working different muscle groups on different days so that each set of muscles gets adequate recovery time between workouts, then you're going to be spending a lot more time in the gym — which not everybody can manage.

Even if you have the time to spend every day in the weight room, you can't just leap into a daily weight-training regimen. You need to start slowly and gradually ramp up the frequency and intensity of workouts, giving your body time to adapt to the new challenges.

If you don't, you risk injuries and overtraining. A few signs of the latter, laid out by the American Council on Exercise, include excessive fatigue, reduced performance, mood and sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and chronic, nagging injuries.

Read more: 13 Benefits of Weightlifting That No One Tells You About

Upper/Lower Workout Splits

Let's say you have the time and lifting experience to start doing splits in the weight room. It's still a good idea to give yourself at least one true rest day a week to avoid the aforementioned overtraining. With that in mind, one of the simplest splits to balance lots of workout time with lots of recovery time is an upper-body/lower-body workout split.

As a general rule, the muscles you'll work on your upper-body workout days are your chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, while you'll work your hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves and core on lower-body "leg day" workouts.

Split 1: Upper/Lower Body Option A

This split gets you into the gym four days out of the week, allowing you to dedicate more time and sets to each muscle group, but still ultimately working each muscle group just twice a week — so your muscles still get a lot of recovery time.

  • Monday: Upper-body workout
  • Tuesday: Lower-body workout
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Upper-body workout
  • Friday: Lower-body workout
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Split 2: Upper/Lower Body Option B

You could also alternate workout days with rest days, switching between your upper and lower body for each workout. This is a two-week cycle, with the first week starting with a Monday workout:

  • Monday: Upper-body workout
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Lower-body workout
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Upper-body workout
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Lower-body workout

On the second week of the cycle, you'd start with a Tuesday workout.

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Upper-body workout
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Lower-body workout
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Upper-body workout
  • Sunday: Rest

The next week begins with a Monday workout, but this time it'll be a lower-body workout. This revolving schedule means each muscle group still gets worked out twice a week — as long as you keep track according to a revolving week (i.e., your major muscles get worked out twice in any seven-day period, if not necessarily in a given calendar week).

Read more: Should You Run on the Days You Lift Weights?

Pushing/Pulling/Leg Workout Splits

Do you want a healthy way to spend even more time in the gym without breaking your body down unnecessarily? Another very common workout split divides your body into three groups of muscles: upper-body pushing muscles (your chest, triceps and the fronts of your shoulders), upper-body pulling muscles (your back, biceps and the backs of your shoulders) and lower-body muscles (calves, glutes, quads and hamstrings).

Include your abs on whichever day makes the most sense as you choose exercises; for the sake of argument here, leg day will also be ab day.

Split 1: Pushing/Pulling/Leg Option A

This option gives you six days a week in the gym, with just one day of rest — so make sure you've gradually worked up to this type of workout volume, instead of jumping straight into such an intense program.

  • Monday: Pushing muscles
  • Tuesday: Pulling muscles
  • Wednesday: Legs and abs
  • Thursday: Pushing muscles
  • Friday: Pulling muscles
  • Saturday: Legs and abs
  • Sunday: Rest

Split 2: Pushing/Pulling/Leg Option B

You can also combine splits with full-body workouts, letting you hit that twice-weekly goal per muscle group while also enjoying some extra time in the weight room.

  • Monday: Pushing muscles
  • Tuesday: Pulling muscles
  • Wednesday: Legs and abs
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Full-body workout
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Sets and Reps for Strength Training

Tips for Safe Lifting

Regardless of whether you're doing two full-body workouts a week or doing a more intensive split so you can focus on different muscles each time you hit the gym, you should always follow some basic principles of safe weightlifting:

Always warm up and cool down. Warming up is as simple as doing light lifting or cardio — or a mix of both — for the first five to 10 minutes of your workout, giving your body time to gradually ramp up to a state of readiness for more intense exertion. Cooling down works the same way: Do a milder form of the exercises you were doing for five or 10 minutes, giving your body the time to gradually transition back to a state of rest.

Emphasize technique. Don't be too beguiled by the allure of hefting ultra-heavy dumbbells or barbells around right away. It's more important to build a base of solid technique, because that technique is what will let you safely lift heavy weights in many a workout to come. If you start lifting heavier weights than you can really handle, you'll build bad technique habits that increase your risk of injury.

Don't forget the cardio. In addition to DHHS recommending in its guidelines to strength-train your major muscle groups twice a week for health, they also recommend doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. If you can double those amounts to 300 minutes of moderate activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity, you'll see even more health benefits.

Vary your workouts. This adds interest to your fitness routine and also helps you avoid overuse injuries. That can mean switching from kettlebells to dumbbells to cable machines and back again, or just switching up which exercises you're doing every six to eight weeks — for example, switching from push-ups to bench presses to chest flyes when it's time to work your chest muscles. The same applies to cardio: Go ahead and mix it up.

Beware of extreme soreness. As already mentioned, mild soreness after a tough workout is normal, and moderate to severe soreness is also pretty typical if you accidentally go too heavy or try doing too much, too soon. But extreme soreness can be a sign of a dangerous condition known as rhabdomyolysis, which requires immediate medical attention.

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