What's a healthy weightlifting schedule?

Dear Alice,

Is it healthy to lift weights everyday, or is it better to lift every other day?

Dear Reader,  

Lifting weights (sometimes called resistance training or muscle-strengthening), is considered a key component of overall physical activity. Through resistance training, muscles and bones in the body grow stronger, which can help prevent injuries and falls and improve balance. Both the World Health Organization and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults over 18 years old engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. Beyond that, the recommendations for how often you to lift weights will vary based on individual needs and goals. It’s good to keep in mind that just like any other training regimen, rest is an essential factor to muscle and mental health. By resting in between working out a specific body part or muscle, you’re giving your body enough time to reap the benefits of your hard work.  

To determine how often to allow for rest within your physical activity routine, you might consider the impact both weightlifting and strenuous physical activity generally have on the body. Weightlifting can cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers that temporarily reduce muscle strength and cause the type of soreness felt after trying a new exercise or a tough workout. Rest time allows the muscles to build up the protein necessary to heal and become stronger. Generally, it takes about two days to heal any muscle fibers torn by weightlifting. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends two to three days of strength training a week, on non-consecutive days, for each main muscle group (such as back, chest, legs, arms, etc.).  

An approach called periodization in which you switch up the exertion level, type of physical activity, and muscle group targeted, can help reduce stress on the muscles and allow them to rest. Better yet, varying your workouts can make them more engaging and reduce burnout! For instance, you could try changing the type of equipment used (body weight, free weights, resistance bands, etc.), the number of repetitions, and intensity of the workout along with the major muscle group. Other tips you may want to consider for safer strength training include:  

  • Start with light cardiovascular activity: Warm up your muscles to help prevent injury. 

  • Go slow and steady: Avoid rushing through your workout to help make sure you’re keeping the correct form.  

  • Ask for help: Seek support, either by asking a trainer or reviewing resources online, if you aren’t sure about your technique. You might also workout with a buddy who can spot you as you lift heavier weights.  

  • Keep breathing: Inhale and exhale normally while you lift.  

  • Remember to rest: Allow muscles to recover between workout sessions.  

While weightlifting may seem intimidating to some, the truth is that there are ways to make it accessible and enjoyable for everyone. And no matter the means of strength training, time for rest is critical to recovery and resilience. For anyone hesitant to take time to rest, you might consider the rest you’ll have to take if you overtrain and get injured. Hopefully this information leaves you in tip top shape — and keeps your muscles happy too! For more information, you can check out the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archives.  

Last updated Mar 26, 2021
Originally published May 26, 2000

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