How often can I work out? (Strength training)
June 16, 2016 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Currently I'm seeing a trainer twice a week for an hour each time, and working out on my own one other day. It is exclusively strength training, mostly involving resistance bands, dumbbells, cables, and leg extensions. I recover extremely quickly - he works me to exhaustion but I am nearly fully recovered in a few hours and I'm rarely sore the next morning. Can/should I work out every day?

Other possibly salient points: I recover so quickly because I'm taking testosterone as part of my gender transition. I'm doing this mostly to improve my strength and physique. I don't need to lose weight; in fact I am working on gaining. I have access to a very well equipped fitness center at work.

Bonus points if you can settle the question of how many days are in a week.
posted by AFABulous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Info I don't see; how long have you been doing this? If it's less than 3 months, then I'd definitely stick to the 3 days per week that you're doing it. Primary reason, your ligaments and bones will recover/strengthen slower than your muscles. Bones take about 10-12 weeks to respond to increased stress.
posted by nobeagle at 10:47 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would suggest finding a well-developed/reviewed lifting program that sounds like fun as those tend to have been worked out to match the amount of exercise you're doing to the amount of time you're spending exercising. e.g. I am doing Wendler 5/3/1 which is set up for four sessions a week distributed as you see fit. Stronglifts 5x5 is three days a week. I can't tell but it looks like P90X is a 7-day program but there's lifting only every other day.

Taking your time is super important with weightlifting unless you're trying to get cast in a Marvel movie or have to avenge your family on a very specific date in the near future. You could work out every day but you're not necessarily going to see a benefit from it because recovery is important and overtraining is very real.
posted by griphus at 10:48 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

More is not better especially for gaining muscle.

You could work out different muscle groups consecutive days, but you will lift harder and better if you rest between days. 5x5 Stronglifts is a fantastic starting program that has A/B days and only goes 3 times a week.

Bench Press
Barbell Row

OH Press
1x5 Deadlift

It is very specific on the rest period being mandatory.

However, I've had lots of success going consecutively by doing Chest/Tricep, Back/Bicep, Leg days. But I just really like being in the gym. This was probably not the optimal exercise routine. I've been doing a lot of reading on it... anyway, Stronglifts is free and great. Starting Strength is also an excellent resource. Use one of those. Don't overtrain.

If you have more specific questions, let me know. I've been doing A LOT of research on just this topic lately because I hate skipping days just from a motivation standpoint...

edit: I guess I should add that I'm going for a leaner Captain America look vs. a huge muscly muscle Hulk so I've not been researching how to gain the most mass.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:50 AM on June 16, 2016

There are lifting schedules where you lift e.g., 5 days a week (google "5 day split"), and there are also things like CrossFit where you work out several consecutive days in a row, but at least the received wisdom is that you should still rotate through different parts of the body and, in general, avoid training the same area twice in a row.

Googling around it seems like even people on anabolic steroids still take rest days for maximum muscle growth. You also have to think about joint/tendon/ligament health as well as just muscle recovery.

Also, not everybody gets DOMS to the same degree or at all; whether or not your lifts are progressing steadily is a better indication of whether or not the program is working. I never really got much until I tried compound lifts a la Starting Strength/Stronglifts; squatting, deadlifting, barbell pressing, etc. However, that's also when I got the strongest (though I'm still totally weak in absolute terms so maybe I shouldn't even be giving advice here).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:52 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can work out every day if your body allows for it - the key is to listen to your body and take days off when you need them. If you are getting structural pain (joints, ligaments, bones, etc.), you aren't sleeping particularly well (where a lot of your true recovery will take place) or you are doing something at a level of intensity that you will plateau on results (such as powerlifting) that's a sign it's too much.

I have weeks in the summer where I put in 4 hours of weight training, 5-7 hours of cycling and 2-3 hours of running and do so by working out all seven days. In the winter when I weight train heavier, I typically cut the cycling and running in half and move to three hours of weight training. I have some weeks I put in four days of light workouts because my other commitments have limited how much sleep I am getting.
posted by scrittore at 10:53 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

So the basic idea is that you want enough time for your muscles to recover. Are you increasing the weights each session with your trainer? As you use heavier weights, it may become harder and harder for you to recover so quickly.

It's also important to note that there's a difference between a muscle in recovery and soreness - soreness is usually just DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which for many people is associated with doing a new exercise. I can squat a shitton one day and not feel sore the next day because I've been squatting consistently for weeks, but I know it was hard on my muscles so I don't squat for the next couple of days.

As you probably already know, the act of strength training is actually hurting your muscles - it's in the recovery that they grow, so the recovery period is important. You might be able to get away with training more frequently now without issue, but to me it wouldn't be worth pushing myself too hard and risking an injury (which would then keep me out of it for months in recovery).

What I would suggest in the short-term is asking your trainer to focus on either upper or lower body each training session, and then you can do the opposite on your own, to allow more time for specific muscles to recover. So an example would be like:
Sunday: train upper body with trainer
Monday: train lower body on your own
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: train upper body on your own
Thursday: train lower body with your trainer
Friday & Saturday: rest

In the longer term, though, compound lifting movements with a barbell will provide you with more strength for your effort (dumbbells, resistance bands, etc, only go so heavy, and they don't work as many muscles at once). I agree with the suggestions above to look at a beginner lifting program like 5x5 or starting strength. There's actually a lot of information on the subreddit /r/fitness (the comment sections can be iffy, but the FAQ has good resources).
posted by jouir at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think it is valuable to consider which muscles you are training which days. Today is quads? Make tomorrow hammies. I learned the hard way that having one set of supporting muscles stronger than its complementary set of supporting muscles makes for knee caps not staying where they are supposed to stay. Similarly, don't be that stereotypical meathead that had the HUGE biceps and shoulders but scrawny little chicken legs. Leg days suck, but they are necessary.

So, by alternating which muscles you are training, allowing one group to rest while you fatigue the next group, means you can work out more often.
posted by jillithd at 11:04 AM on June 16, 2016

You have a trainer. Ask your trainer. Your trainer knows you and is (theoretically) programming for you and your needs. If your trainer says to only lift two days per week and you disagree, find a different trainer.

Personally, I found Starting Strength to be the bomb for quickly gaining strength. Eat a caloric surplus, lift heavy three days per week, do compound lifts (squat, press, deadlift), add small increments of weight each time, rest, repeat. I get that you're recovering quickly, which will help you extend the duration of linear progression. If anything, lift every other day for a while and see how your body responds. But lifting every day won't get you anything extra.

(The reason behind compound lifts is the much larger homeostatic disruption. Heavy deadlifts will exhaust almost every muscle in your body simultaneously, which triggers a large hormonal signal to your body that it's time to build. Breaking things up into arm day and leg day and doing a fuckton of curls doesn't have the same biochemical effect.)
posted by disconnect at 11:05 AM on June 16, 2016

Doesn't testosterone have possible cardiac (and other) side effects? Maybe you should ask an expert, i.e., your doctor.
posted by amtho at 11:16 AM on June 16, 2016

how long have you been doing this?

Seven weeks.

whether or not your lifts are progressing steadily is a better indication of whether or not the program is working.

Are you increasing the weights each session with your trainer?

Yes, we've gone up considerably in weight and resistance in seven weeks.

I've been told by my trainer that he purposely does not want me to be doing deadlifts because it places a lot of stress on the spine (I have severe scoliosis). I don't know if that will ever change. It is certainly not something I will attempt on my own.

I can't afford to continue with this trainer after this period is done (5 more weeks) so anything I do needs to be based on what I've already been taught. I've looked at Starting Strength, etc. and every program I've seen out there includes barbells.

Doesn't testosterone have possible cardiac (and other) side effects?

amtho, I am not at any more risk than the average dude in the gym. My testosterone levels are well within the expected range for cis guys (probably still at the low end). I've also had my heart thoroughly tested (as in EKG, ultrasound, stress test, CT scan).
posted by AFABulous at 11:33 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

resistance bands, dumbbells, cables, and leg extensions.

This? Yes, I think you could safely do that every day or most days. Presuming you progress slowly and take breaks when needed. Dumbbells only go up so high in weight (same for bands); I'm assuming you're not using the top weights, currently? And will be ready for them when you get to them.

Cables, yeah there's more of a top end there - but if you're careful and slow, and stop 3-4 reps shy of failure, I think you probably could do this daily. People do physical jobs that involve at least that amount of stress. Get cleared for it, though.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:40 AM on June 16, 2016

I have scoliosis too but not severe. I certainly take my time on squats/deadlifts, but they're not out of the question. I would consult a doctor rather than just listen to your trainer because squats and deadlifts are really top tier for a fit body.

Lamar Gant exists and he has severe scoliosis and deadlifts 5x his weight (over 600 lbs).

Whatever its origin, scoliosis is serious, possibly even life-threatening, and it's progressive. In an average case, after an early period of rapidly increasing curvature, the condition worsens each year by about one degree. It's standard medical practice to keep scoliotics under careful observation if the curvature is 20 degrees or less, to apply a brace if the scoliosis is in the 20-to 40-degree range and to operate if the curvature exceeds 40 degrees. Gant's curvature is between 74 and 80 degrees.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:43 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wait, leg extensions in terms of e.g. weighted leg raises, or leg extensions on the leg extension machine? Maybe stop doing that if so :/ It's not great for knees.

But yeah if you kept weights/resistance on the low side, especially if you did only 1-2 sets, you could probably do daily training. (A proponent: 1, 2. Also bootcamp-style workouts that incorporate lighter weights are probably fine.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:46 AM on June 16, 2016

Sorry - from the same blog - this person trained with bands daily for 20 -120 mins, and did pretty well.

(You may not want that kind of result, but that's a function of diet, hormonal profile, exercise selection, etc. Although it might be worth checking out her banded squats. No direct pressure on the spine. There are lots of alternatives to barbell exercises that work the major muscle groups. You could follow exrx's guide for selection and choose from among alternatives in their exercise library.)

In theory, you can get a good result with enough volume - weight x sets x reps - over the week. Some recent studies have suggested that "failure is failure", ie that you can get good increases in size and strength as long as you're past some minimum threshold (I think the studies I saw had people lifting 50% of their one rep max). If you're using dumbbells and bands, I think you're probably training under your likely capacity and could probably handle more load/reps etc.

But there are pros and cons to different approaches. With lower weights & higher reps, you might get to be really good at form (if you're mindful of it and don't fatigue early); it might be easier to comply, given the daily routine; you might not get injured by losing concentration at a critical moment under a heavy weight. However, there may be a greater risk of repetitive strain injury, and your concentration would still have to be solid to avoid bad form / repetitive strain. (Generally, reps in the 6-12 range are a kind of good spot. You get a range of kinds of stimulus, and enough practice without overdoing it. That's why a lot of beginner programs use that rep range. But because that's likely to be a higher intensity than e.g. the kind of daily band workout I linked to above - you're supposed to lift as heavy as you can with good form in that range - you need more rest for that scheme. Which is why people recommend only doing it a few times a week.) In all, some kind of beginner program with appropriate modifications would *probably* be best, but you could still do some kind of daily training... if you're careful.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:32 PM on June 16, 2016

While I agree it might be a good idea to get a second opinion on deadlifting (maybe from a PT experienced in sports medicine?), you don't necessarily have to deadlift to do a compound lifting routine. For a while I did a program that was just squat, press (shoulder/bench), and pull-ups/chin-ups, because my gym didn't have bumper plates (very useful for deadlifting light weight, since they bring the bar up to the same place as the full 45lb plate).

It's also possible that you'll be less into the idea of daily training as the weight continues to get heavier; what kind of rep range are you doing? Based on what I've read about this kind of stuff, compound lifts three days a week at low-to-medium-low rep ranges (5-8) are likely to get you the biggest strength gains. Higher-rep weight training tends to build less mass and size (though still some compared to straight-up cardio).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2016

'nthing staying on the same regimen for now; re: let your bone density and ligament strength catch up with your muscular strength.

If you really want to try increasing frequency, I'd suggest replacing your off days with lots of stretching and some high rep multi-muscle exercises (especially those you aren't actively working with your current regimen). Strengthen your rotator cuffs!
posted by porpoise at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2016

I think if you are early on (a year or less) you're still in the region of linear gains, and might want to hold to three days a week of lifting. You will be progressing quickly as is, and I think the risk of adding more days (and therefore volume) is from getting ahead of what your ligaments and bones can take safely.
posted by zippy at 11:48 PM on June 16, 2016

This has been my experience; I'll do serious strength training with little aches and pains and will see nothing for weeks/months.

Then one day in the shower I will think I'm dying because of the massive lump in my arm which is of course a tricep muscle. that was NOT THERE the previous day.

My body likes to pretend all that work is for nothing and then BAM MUSCLES everywhere overnight. YMMV.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:34 AM on June 17, 2016

My recollection is that AAS (like the testosterone that you're taking) are most beneficial to athletes who are already very well developed. Deadlifting > 500 lbs takes a lot longer to recover from than whatever you're at right now as you're starting out. Keep the 3/week volume that you're at right now while you're building up your bones and all the stabilizing muscles that get worked with compound lifts. Your accelerated recovery is still pretty awesome; when I've done that kind of volume on Starting Strength, there would be stretches were I was exhausted at work pretty much all the time, no matter how much sleep I got or what I ate.

Or maybe you could go farther, I don't know. There are people here better qualified than me who compete in power lifting and are more familiar with steroid use, hopefully they will drop by and share their views.
posted by indubitable at 7:42 PM on June 17, 2016

Yeah, I'm not taking steroids.
posted by AFABulous at 9:02 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

You destroy muscles in the gym, you build them in bed. Both pieces of that are equally important and other factors like diet have an effect as well.

There are a ton of questions about what to do in the gym, a lot less about what to do outside of it. If you want to progress faster, what you really need to train is your recovery time. You do that by focusing on recovery. Make sure you get plenty of good sleep, eat lots of protein and work on flexibility and mobility on off days.

Stretching is important because it stretches the sheaths around your muscles which I've read can sometimes be the limiting factor in muscle development. It acts like a container for the muscle and it's normally the muscle getting larger that causes it to expand, stretching speeds that up and gives the muscles more time to grow. Even if that's not true, stretching has a lot of other benefits. Look into doing some yoga, DeFranco's Agile 8, or just hit up your trainer for a basic flexibility routine.

The only supplement I use is creatin. It's been proven to be pretty safe, it's super cheap, and it really works. I take a dose both before and after a workout. I feel a bit of a difference when I workout but I mostly feel it in how much more quickly my muscles stop feeling sore.

As long as you keep trying to add weight, pretty much any program will give you good results. There are tons of different programs and theories and research out there but they're all like at least 90% optimal and they'll all get you stronger over time, the differences are all about that last 10%. I think that some of that 10% is down to the specific details of the person (their unique physiology, time, preferences, injuries, goals, etc).

I favor heavy weights with fewer reps and compound lifts (like starting strength and stronglifts) because they take up less of my time and are pretty well fool proof. Squats and deadlifts are especially useful movements in my day to day life. Just find what you like and you'll stick with and that will be the most effective thing you can do. The most effective plan in the world won't do anything for you compared to other programs if you give it up in six months.
posted by VTX at 5:54 AM on June 18, 2016

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