If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.—Dan Gable, legendary wrestler and coach
How often should a man or woman train?
That question is asked on every training site, nearly every day.
Is there an answer? Does it depend?
Yes, it does depend. And good arguments could be made for many different answers.
But I’m going to present some solid reasons to consider near-daily training:
#1: All good habits are best built with consistent, daily use.
#2. It’s mentally easier to knock out a quick workout than a longer one. And daily workouts lend themselves to quick sessions.
#3. The more often you move your body, the more often more you move blood (and oxygen) through it. This is particularly important for those overcoming injuries, particularly joint injuries. Joints notoriously don’t receive the same amount of blood as muscles when worked, so it’s important to get as much blood as possible through them.
#4. Working the body helps the mind, so daily work moves blood flow to the brain.
#5. Training near-daily improves exercise form faster, resulting in better results.
#6. The military and police need total physical readiness on their jobs, and moderate daily activity—assuming they are not overtraining—helps ensure they are not called into action after completing an exhausting workout session, which could render them essentially defenseless, resulting in tragedy.
#7. Working out hard some days and completely resting others is unnatural. How many animals do you see running around one day and resting the next? We were made for movement.#8. God commanded us to work six days, and rest the seventh. He was not only telling us we should work six days, He was also telling us NOT to work on the seventh.
This principle of work—with periodic rest thrown in—has been proven over and over, as those that work every SINGLE day inevitably end up burning out. I know, I’ve tried it. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Many modalities lend themselves to daily activity, such as walking, swimming, climbing, yoga, calisthenics (depending on intensity), many sports including even gymnastics, and yes—even weightlifting.
Weightlifting? What about training the full body three days a week, or “bro splits” (separate days for separate body parts), etc.? I have nothing against these “splits,” having used them extensively (particularly full body training) in the past as most others have.
And I’m not even saying that training (almost) every day will necessarily give you the best gains if you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or Olympic lifter (although many Olympic and power lifters have done quite well with this training frequency, first made popular in the Eastern bloc countries).
Note: Bodybuilding is a somewhat different animal than strength sports. Building muscle historically is best built by either resting completely some days or just working limited body parts per session, and rotating the body parts worked (“bro split”).
Whereas strength sports such as Olympic and power lifting have seen great success with near-daily training.
This makes sense because training daily has been found to improve the mind-muscle connection, causing strength gains, but not necessarily causing muscles to grow larger. This is one reason you will often see a smaller or thinner person lift more weight than a more muscular person.
Here’s the core of what I’m saying: for many people, training their full body nearly every day makes sense. And I mean fairly short sessions (a half hour is usually enough), in sessions that do not tax the body too much.
For maximum injury prevention, I suggest using higher repetitions, fewer sets, and lighter weight, with controlled movements that do not strain the joints. I do like to vary the exercises–as do many who train daily–to hit slightly different angles. This lessens the chance of overuse injuries.
At 58, and always battling joint issues, I have found near-daily, brief, moderate work effective at producing solid results while allowing me to train with minimal injury. As a personal trainer, I have had a number of clients use this technique with much success.
I’ve also come across a surprising number of top physique athletes who have used daily or near daily training to great effect… starting with the great Jack La Lanne, who famously worked out for two hours daily up until the end of his life at the ripe old age of ninety six. Jack did ninety minutes of weight training, rotating upper body one day, and lower body the next.
He also swam for a half hour each day, totaling at least two hours a day training! He did not say that this much work was necessary, though. He recommended that people only need work out for thirty minutes, three times per week.
Likewise, the legendary John Grimek, possibly the greatest natural bodybuilder of all time, often worked out for hours on a near-daily basis, though he said that to put on muscle (as I mentioned above), the best way to do that is to work out three times per week, allowing proper rest in between workouts.
Speaking of legendary, Herschel Walker, now 56 years young, was a Heisman Trophy winner (football) at the University of Georgia, a sprinter, an Olympic bobsledder, and mixed martial artist (starting the sport in his fifties!). He recently told TMZ he does 1,500 pushups and 3,500 situps daily! Yes, you read that right. He firmly believes in doing some type of exercise daily.
Here’s a great article detailing his daily workout routine.
You will note that one secret to his success with this plan is the variety he employs to keep things fresh and challenging mentally and physically.
I too believe variety is a key to successful daily training, for the same reasons.I’ve always gravitated toward nearly daily training, and lately I’ve seen more and more examples of physique athletes successfully doing it.
I purchased Victor Pride’s “Body of A Spartan” program, which I highly recommend. In it, he advocates up to six 30-minute, full-body workouts per week.And I just finished reading Matthew Perryman’s Squat Every Day book, which I also recommend. Perryman has some thought-provoking reasons to train every day to improve the joints. He actually recommends fairly heavy daily training, which I have not built up to yet, so I’m not quite ready to recommend that. Stay tuned.
Pavel Tsatsouline is a well-known fitness expert and author. He famously coined the phrase “grease the groove.” It means to practice strength work as if you were working to improve your serve in tennis–near daily (or very short “practice” sessions many times per day), while keeping as fresh as possible, and never pushing to “failure.”
Pavel wrote a book, Power to the People, Professional, in which he discusses a fascinating man named Valentin Dikul. Dikul worked in the Russian circus as a trapeze artist, but suffered a horrible fall, which broke his back.
Doctors told Dikul he’d never walk again, but he proved the doctors wrong. Not only did he walk again, he became a strong man in the circus, doing superhuman stunts that electrified the crowd, into his sixties.
Pavel describes Dikul’s near-daily massive workouts in the book. Here again, the principle of variety plays a role, as three of Dikul’s weekly workouts are noted as powerlifting (concentration on squats, deadlifts, and bench presses) workouts, with two additional workouts that concentrate on smaller muscle groups, and poor-leverage lifts.
Is near-daily, full-body training for you? Unless you’re highly experienced, I would proceed with caution. Most people want to overdo training, and can easily overtrain if they train every day.
My recommendation: Start slow, under-train at first, and work your way up from there.
I’ve created a complete, full-body workout that is joint friendly, can be done virtually every day if you desire, takes 30 minutes or less, works multiple attributes such as strength, endurance, balance, and cardio, and can be done anywhere with no equipment (other than a yoga mat).
Sound too good to be true? I assure you, it’s real. It’s called GREEK YOGA™, and it’s a great workout! If you’re looking for something different that the run-of-the-mill, this definitely fits the bill.
So if you have the proper discipline, and approach your training patiently as a life-long pursuit, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above, you may find near-daily training fits you like a glove.
I welcome your comments.
Patrick Rooney is the Founder of OldSchoolUs.com, a website that believes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Its focus is Health, Success, and Freedom—yeah, in that order. Patrick is the author of GREEK PHYSIQUE: The Simple, Satisfying Way to Sculpt Your Body—Even if You’re Old, Weak, or Broken Down; and is also the creator of Greek Yoga™ and the Greek Yoga for Beginners video. To reach Patrick, email him email@example.com.