Is it OK to Train With Weights 7 Days Per Week?
Is it possible to work out all 7 days of the week and make good progress? Is there ever a situation where that might be recommended? Do you even need rest days?
If you’ve read a bit about weight training, you’ll no doubt be aware that it’s usually recommended that you have rest days from working out and don’t train 7 days per week.
I generally recommend this (although there are situations where lifting 6 or 7 days per week can make sense).
It’s not the act of lifting weights that builds muscle and makes you get stronger. Lifting weights creates a stimulus to which your body responds by building muscle and getting stronger. There’s a subtle difference.
Lifting weights actually damages your muscles. During rest is when they’re rebuilt bigger and stronger, as a response to the stress they’ve suffered.
Think of it like getting a sun tan. The sun doesn’t give you a tan. The sun is a stress that damages your skin. Your body responds to the stress the sun provides by darkening the skin – so it can deal better with the stress in future.
What happens when you subject your skin to more stress from the sun than it can handle? Well, you get burnt. You don’t get a better tan or get tanned faster.
The tan also doesn’t develop while you’re still in the sun. If you stay in it you’ll just end up with worse burns.
To get the benefits of the adaptation, you’ve got to remove the stimulus (the sun, or the weight training) so that your body can get on with the healing and recovery processes.
Do you actually need to take full days off from training?
Sticking with the sun theme… time is a continuous flow, rather than something that is chunked up into days by the rising and setting of the sun.
The sun governs our lives, but it doesn’t necessarily govern all of the processes that are happening inside our bodies. Recovery and healing happens all the time, not just at night when we’re asleep.
What’s better? Training for an hour at 10pm, then training again at 6am on the next day? Or training for an hour at 6am then training again at 10pm the next day? In both occasions the training occurred on consecutive days. However, in the second example the second session takes place after 39 hours of rest compared to 7 hours of rest. The two situations are not equal because they’re both separated by the same amount of sleep.
What’s so different about a rest day? Aside from the 2.5-5% of the day that you would have spent training, the other 95%+ of the day is the same. There’s plenty of opportunity for rest. If you ensure you’re training different muscle groups when you train on consecutive days, you can still train without interfering with recovery processes from previous training sessions.
How long does recovery from lifting take?
I’m by no means suggesting that you train 7 days a week with full body sessions (good for beginners but capped at 3x per week), or even an upper/lower split. Research shows that muscles need more than 24 hours of recovery, ideally 48 hours or more, to be fully recovered.
If you train on all 7 days, you need to split your routine up so you’re allowing adequate recovery time for a muscle group before training it again.
This study examined the effect of different recovery periods on muscle recovery by testing subjects 8RM (8 repetition max) on bench press and then testing it again after 24, 48 and 72 hours. Performance 24 hours after the first session was significantly worse compared to when 48 and 72 hours were allowed for recovery.
Even after 72 hours, 63% of the subjects (trained men) were not fully recovered. However, the training had involved 4 sets to failure on 3 different bench press exercises (flat, 30 and 45 degree incline). Recovery would likely have been better without as much volume and without so many sets to failure.
In this study involving 3 sets to failure, 80% of the subjects (age 18-30) were recovered after 72 hours. At 24 hours, the subjects performed worse than baseline. After 48 hours they tended to match their baseline performance. At 72 hours they tended to exceed their baseline performance – suggesting that 72 hours is better than 48 hours for recovery. When the sets were increased from 3 to failure, to 7 to failure, recovery was lengthened to 96 hours.
The study also tested older men (50-65) with 3 sets to failure and found that even after 96 hours 70% of these men were not recovered. This highlights the extra importance of recovery for older men.
If your routine is split up properly, can you recover effectively while training 7 days a week?
Consider this: You train quads, hamstrings and glutes in a session. The next day you train shoulders and triceps. Is that going to impact the recovery of those first muscle groups?
What if you train back and biceps the next day, calves and abs the day after that, chest and triceps the next day and then train quads, hamstrings and glutes again on the following day? You would have trained on 6 consecutive days, but the first muscles you trained had about 120 hours of recovery time before you hit them again. Is that not sufficient time for recovery? Did working those other muscle groups really impact on the recovery of them at all?
Even if you argue that they’re not recovering while you’re training, it’s still 116 hours of time during which they can recover. Considering about 35-40 of these hours should be spent sleeping, there’s ample opportunity for recovery.
So, can you train with weights 7 days a week with no rest days and make progress?
The answer is yes, but you need a well designed routine that splits up your muscle groups effectively.
Here’s a few pointers:
- Train each muscle group about twice per week. Don’t go for a “bro split” that sees you wait a whole week to train muscles the second time.
- Allow 48-72 hours rest between sessions targeting the same muscle group.
- Keep the volume between 10-20 sets per muscle group per week. Do not exceed this.
If you follow all of this, you should be able to recover between workouts and build muscle. If you hit chest on day one, for example, you can hit it again on day five and it’s had plenty of time to recover while you were working other muscle groups.
This type of routine should also lead to shorter workouts, by design. You’re not training more, you’re just splitting up the same amount of training that someone would normally do with a good 3 or 4 day routine into more sessions. Therefore the sessions get shorter as they increase in number. Notice I said a good 3 or 4 day routine. One where muscle groups are trained twice a week with 10-20 sets per week. Not one where people are hitting chest 4 times a week with 20 sets per session.
A routine covering all 7 days also allows you to focus on some of the muscle groups that people often neglect, like hamstrings, calves, abs and forearms. While your attention is turned to these often neglected muscles, the “favourite” muscle groups get more chance to recover.
Here’s an example routine:
Monday: Bench press x 3 sets, cable lateral raises x 3 sets, triceps pushdown x 3 sets
Tuesday: Chinups x 3 sets, facepulls x 3 sets, dumbbell hammer curl x 3 sets
Wednesday: Barbell squats x 3 sets, lying hamstring curl x 3 sets, seated calf raise x 3 sets
Thursday: Bent over row x 3 sets, cable reverse fly x 3 sets, lat pulldown x 3 sets
Friday: Dumbbell seated shoulder press x 3 sets, dumbbell incline fly x 3 sets, overhead triceps extension x 3 sets
Saturday: Barbell romanian deadlift x 3 sets, seated leg extension x 3 sets, standing calf raise x 3 sets
Sunday: Farmers walks x 3 sets, ab wheel rollout x 3 sets, knee raises x 3 sets
This routine is packed full of stuff and leaves no muscle group untouched. However, each workout contains just 3 exercises for 9 sets per session. These workouts will be about 30 minutes in duration. Over the week, you’ll spend less than 4 hours working out.
Many people doing 4 day routines are actually doing this same amount of work or more, they’re just doing it with fewer sessions by combining some of the above sessions together.
Is it ok not to take rest days?
The main criticism of a routine like the above would be “there’s no rest days”.
There’s actually many rest days. Your pushing muscles rest on 5 of the 7 days, your pulling muscles rest on 5 of the days and the same goes for all the other major muscle groups.
Some people will argue that training raises levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which are not good for building muscle. When cortisol is high, you’re more likely to be in a catabolic state (breaking down muscle). If you’re training every day, your cortisol may be constantly at a higher level, making it harder to build muscle. Taking a rest day allows cortisol to return to baseline levels.
My answer to that? Test it for yourself. It’s going to depend on how much you’re doing in your sessions, how hard you’re pushing your training, your sleep quality, other lifestyle factors and how well you as an individual can recover.
Doing a 6 Day Routine Instead
If you wanted to be on the safe side you could take one of the days in the above routine as a rest day and make this a 6 day routine that repeats every 8 days instead of 7.
For example, take Sunday off every week and shift the routine by one day each week. On the second week the cycle would begin again with bench press on Tuesday, on Wednesday on the third week and so on.
If you wanted the routine to fall over the same days each week, you could shift some of the exercises to other days, or drop them entirely. You could move the farmers walks (or other loaded carries) and the ab training to the lower body days. It makes sense to put the loaded carries on deadlift day (as you’re taxing many of the same muscles here too) and put each of the core training exercises on each of the lower body days (one to squat day and one to deadlift day).
Alternatively, if you want a 6 day routine with one rest day that trains all the major muscle groups twice per week, you can follow a push, pull, legs routine.
Example Push, Pull, Legs Routine
Push, Pull, Legs also works as a 5 day routine. Just have a rest day on every 4th day (the day after each leg session).
If you want to train on weekdays only, you can train for all 5 weekdays, and have the weekends off, like this:
Monday: Legs, and so on
I recommend one of your push days focus more on horizontal pushing (so bench press or variations) and the other focus on vertical pushing (overhead press or variations). You still work shoulders and chest in both sessions, but make sure you give each a chance to be worked first. If you work chest first with a compound like barbell bench press, work your shoulders with isolation exercises in that session. If you work them with a compound like seated dumbbell press, performance will have been negatively affected by the chest focused compound (because your triceps will be fatigued, as well as muscles of the chest that also contribute).
The same goes for your vertical and horizontal pulling exercises. For your lower body exercise, have one day where you squat first (or leg press) and the other day can be deadlift/hinge focused.
What if I don’t have time for training 6 or 7 days per week?
5, 6 or 7 days routines are actually great for people with very little time to train.
If the problem with your time is more that you can’t make time for longer sessions of 45 minutes+, but you can make time for shorter sessions of 10-20 minutes per week, then more training days makes sense.
That might mean dropping some exercises from the first example routine I gave, and maybe focusing more time on the major muscle groups and leaving out some of the smaller ones.
Doing something is definitely better than doing nothing, and you can still build an impressive physique – even if you neglect to train calves, forearms and abs (the latter two will still get some work anyway from compound movements).
Example 6 day routine with short sessions
Monday: Pullups x 3 sets, Bench press x 3 sets
Tuesday: Barbell squats x 3 sets, Romanian deadlift x 3 sets
Wednesday: Dumbbell seated shoulder press x 3 sets, barbell row x 3 sets
Friday: Dumbbell incline bench press x 3 sets, lat pull down x 3 sets
Saturday: Deadlift x 3 sets, seated leg extension x 3 sets
Sunday: Seated cable row x 3 sets, lateral raises x 3 sets
In this example, you’re training 6 days of the week and each session should take no longer than 20 minutes. All of the major muscle groups are worked directly, and all of the main movement patterns are being covered (squat, hinge, vertical pull, vertical push, horizontal pull, horizontal push). Calves are neglected, forearms are worked by deadlifts, rows and pullups and abs are worked by all of the compounds.
Reverse Pyramid Training for Efficient Workouts
With shorter routines, you’re going to want to make sure you’re working hard on these sets and taking them close to failure. I recommend a RPT approach, on the compounds especially. The first set should be 6-8 reps, taking the set close to failure (1 rep left in the tank). Rest for 2-3 minutes, then reduce the weight 10% and do the same – go 1 rep away from failure. Rest another 2-3 minutes then do the same again.
Before you lift that first, heavy set, make sure you warm up. Do a few quick mobilisation exercises, then do a couple of practise sets. The first practise set should be with the empty bar. Then move straight into 50% of the weight you intend to use for the first set, then 75% of that weight. Don’t go anywhere near failure on these sets, just hit a good 5+ reps with controlled form.
This is exactly the kind of routine I followed when I was trying to keep up my training routine when I had young kids at home. It was no longer possible to train early in the morning or in the evenings (unless I wanted to get divorced) and I worked during the day. My solution? 20 minute workouts in my lunch break!
To my surprise, I actually made progress on these shorter workouts. I was getting stronger from workout to workout. It completely changed the way I viewed working out.
I’ve put everything I did and everything you need to know (with sample programs and nutrition guidance) in my program 20 Minute Muscle. That link will get you 50% off.
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