Go big or go home, right? If you're looking to build muscle fast, you could be forgiven for thinking the harder and more often you train, the quicker you'll see results. However, the opposite is usually true. Your muscles need rest to grow, build strength and perform at their peak.
Here are three reasons you want to avoid working the same muscles every day, plus how to schedule an optimal workout regimen.
1. You're Sabotaging Your Muscle-Building Efforts
Ironically, working the same muscles day after day is one of the worst ways to build muscle. When you strength train, tiny tears form in the working muscles.
It's when you give your muscles time to rest and recover that they repair themselves by pumping extra blood to the affected muscles, causing them to grow bigger and stronger, according to Muscle Growth, Repair and Preservation: A Mechanistic Approach.
If you don't factor recovery time into your exercise routine, this process won't take place (or takes place but doesn't have sufficient time to finish) and your muscles won't grow.
2. You Risk Burning Out and Quitting Your Workout
Training the same muscles every time you hit the gym can leave you constantly tired and sore. If you hit the gym without energy and enthusiasm, it's unlikely you're going to give 100 percent. And if you don't give your best effort in each session, you won't see results, starting a vicious cycle.
Resting muscle groups between sessions breaks this cycle. A December 2019 study published in PLOS One found that switching up your routine with different exercises that work various muscle can help boost your motivation, while providing the same muscle-building benefits as progressive overload (doing the same exercises but increasing the weight).
3. Your Chance of Getting Injured Increases
Working the same muscles too hard and with insufficient recovery can lead to overuse injuries, according to a December 2018 review from the Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research.
Muscle-building workouts like lifting weights puts stress on your tendons, which connect muscle to bone. If your tendons don't have time to rest, they become inflamed, resulting in pain. Plus, if your muscles are tired from your previous strength session, your technique can get sloppy, upping your risk for injury.
To ensure that you get the most out of each session — and, just as important, avoid injury — you need to focus on the action of the muscle group you're working and perform every part of a given exercise with good technique. Keep your reps slow and controlled, working through each muscle's full range of motion, which is difficult to do if soreness is limiting your movement.
Schedule Some Rest and Recovery
In general, a minimum of two strength-training workouts per week is recommended in the second edition of the U.S. government's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
But you'll need to schedule at least one full rest day in between training sessions for any given muscle group, according to the American Council on Exercise. Even then, if your muscles are still sore from the previous workout, avoid training them until they have recovered.
Organize your sessions so you work a combination of upper and lower muscle groups on varying days. For example, on the first day, you might train the muscles of the lower body — abdominal, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles — and the next day, while these muscles are resting and rebuilding, you might train your chest, back, shoulders, triceps and biceps.
And make sure you also allot time for stretching and foam rolling. According to an August 2019 review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, even six to 10 minutes minutes of active recovery has a positive effect on performance.
- ResearchGate.net: "Muscle Growth, Repair and Preservation: A Mechanistic Approach"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- PLOS One: The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men
- American Council on Exercise: 8 Reasons to Take a Rest Day
- Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research: Overuse injuries in sport: a comprehensive overview
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: A Systematic Review on the Effectiveness of Active Recovery Interventions on Athletic Performance of Professional-, Collegiate-, and Competitive-Level Adult Athletes