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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 11, 2008

Dear Mark: Weightlifting Weary

By Mark Sisson
25 Comments

After last week’s great discussion about chronic cardio, we wanted to highlight a related question we received recently.

Dear Mark,

I workout 5-6 days a week and do a lot of weightlifting in my routine. I’ve made good progress in the last several months, but I notice myself feeling more run down lately. Got any advice?

First let me say that weight lifting is, of course, a great way to build muscle mass, which is absolutely key to overall health. It also promotes insulin sensitivity and human growth hormone release. It’s a form of exercise I highly recommend to everyone. That said, there’s the question of how much. There’s always an optimum balance of effort and results. At a certain point, you hit the law of diminishing (and even detrimental) returns.

Our bodies are pretty darn good at regulating themselves, and we should sit up and pay attention when they ask for a day off. Our ancestors spent plenty of time kicking back by the fire, and we should allow ourselves the same much needed slack.

I usually recommend 1-3 weight training sessions a week. Incorporating lifting into 5-6 sessions can take a serious toll on the body. For many people, a routine of three sessions a week doesn’t allow adequate recovery. It’s imperative to allow time for the muscles to repair and rebuild. It’s all too common to assume you’ll lose momentum if you take a day off, but the process just doesn’t work that way: rest is essential for gaining the optimum benefit of resistance training. Weightlifting, by nature, stresses muscle and the body as a whole. (We forget that stress used to be about physical challenge and not office politics or whose turn it is to clean the kitchen.) Recovery periods, however, allow the body to mend and restore. Rest assured that you’ll return to your routine with added strength. For many people, two days in between sessions works well, but others may need three or more. Recovery time is different for everyone, and it’s essential to listen to what your body is telling you. It’s smarter than we think.

The alternating days between sessions are perfect opportunities to work in some moderate cardio like we talked about last week. Think cross-training, and don’t limit yourself to the treadmill/elliptical side of the gym. Dig out the yoga mat or head for the pool. Or get yourself outside and enjoy a local trail/slope or maybe just an afternoon of yard work.

Finally, it’s always worth taking inventory to make sure you have enough fuel. Especially if you’ve made significant strides in your workout recently, your needs simply might have changed. You might benefit from upping your protein intake and/or (no sales pitch intended) adding a critical nutrient supplement. A deficiency in sleep or sun exposure can contribute to general fatigue, as can stress. That yoga class just might kill two birds with one stone!

Comments? Additional suggestions or questions? Keep ’em coming.

Perfecto Insecto Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Sugar Cravings

My Weekly Workout Routine

zenhabits: A Guide to Cutting Back When You Feel Overwhelmed

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25 Comments on "Dear Mark: Weightlifting Weary"

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primalman08
primalman08
8 years 7 months ago
I used to be that person. Then, after reading Cbass.com for some time I decided to take the bait and try the low volume, low frequency, high intensity routines for awhile. It worked great and I have never returned to the old way. I spend about 90 minutes per week lifting. One day I spend about 45 minutes from the waist up and another day I work on the waist down. I do 3-4 different movements for each muscle, but only a single set for each exercise (as opposed to the mutiple sets I used to do). The brief, intense… Read more »
tatsujin
8 years 7 months ago

Primalman,

I agree fully! It’s amazing how long it takes to overcome the mindset that you have to do umpteen sets and reps to get results and to do that 5-6 days a week!
I read on CB’s website that he eats oatmeal regularly. What’s your feeling on that?

T.

eleighj
eleighj
8 years 7 months ago

I totally agree. I do 2/3 full body weight workouts a week with 3/4 cardio workouts on opposite days. I usually schedule 1 day a week to do nothing. I believe that you need to vary your workouts. If I am strength training 3 days a week, I do an A/B workout. If I am training 2 days a week, I do the same workout. Every 8 to 12 workouts, I change it up. Also, vary the cardio through time, effort and cross-training.

primalman08
primalman08
8 years 7 months ago
My feeling on oatmeal: you sure could do a lot worse for breakfast. Having said that, I gave-up the oatmeal less than a year ago when I decided to try this evol. diet experiement. I should say, I phased-out the oatmeal as I make all changes gradual. I have no big desire to start eating alot of oatmeal again, although maybe once in a while as a “treat.” Bass has always eaten a lot of grains. It is difference between him and those here. I am having better results without the grains. One must ask how Bass is able to… Read more »
tatsujin
8 years 7 months ago

Thanks, was just curious.
I have phased out grains also.
3 weeks ago while traveling I had a toasted bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. It did not make me feel bad or bloated or anything. Interestingly though, I was full from it the entire day. Mr. Bass sure is ripped!

Marc
http://www.feelgoodeating.blogspot.com

Charles
Charles
8 years 7 months ago
I understand the desire to lift 5/6 days a week. There are a lot of things that go along with that. The feeling that you’re doing something, the social aspect of the gym (even if you don’t socialize), often times it’s more enjoyable than what awaits you at home, because you’re only responsible to yourself for that period of time. it’s a positive addiction. But Mark (and the other commenters) are correct in that it really doesn’t give you the optimum results, and that’s also increasing shown by the research. it is also in no way “natural” from a Paleo… Read more »
Mike OD
8 years 7 months ago

Muscle grows outside of the gym. Train hard 2-3x a week, recover and you will see the results you want. More is not better.

ob
ob
8 years 7 months ago
Hi Its the overall combination of intensity, frequency and duration of reps and sum total of exercises thats important. You can shift&move weights up to 5-6 days a week but only work out at a “medium to hard” pace (see later) for 2-3 days AND you need to have breaks every few weeks for a week or so (ie either complete from weights or do a lot less. Also you need to cut back if you feel tired etc. I have been training this way for the last 10 years or so and keep on making gains in strength and… Read more »
carla
8 years 7 months ago

you are so right…Ill never forget when I first discovered my love for weight training (ahhh youth. about 14-15 years ago!).
I enjoyed it so much I did it every day.
the same exercises (who knew?).
I GREWGREW for about a month and then–duh–commenced both getting smaller and feeling horrible.

C.

bubba29
bubba29
8 years 7 months ago

it has been talked about already but i agree that one has to have variation in their training. vary exercises, weight, and rep/set schemes. i am not sure if you know this but big compound movements will give you the most bang for your buck.

also, this will be hard but take a week off every once in a while. just throw on your ipod and go for a few long walks that week. your body will love you for it.

Stu
Stu
8 years 7 months ago
I’m sure everyone is different but I’ve found that doing 4 workouts a week leads me to overtraining and illness, and I need at least 2 in order to maintain strength. 3 seems to be optimal for me right now. I’m 51, I expect at some stage my overtraining point and my maintenance point will meet and then I will stop making progress. I guess that will be when I start getting old. I’m curious to know how others have addressed that. I know people much older than myself are still able to exercise frequently and make progress so there… Read more »
Charles
Charles
8 years 7 months ago
Stu: I’m 56, and I’ve gone through the same cycle. But I’ve seen overtraining in 20- and 30-something professional athletes who trained more than 4 times a week, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting old! At least I hope not. I’m pretty sure I just read some research that indicated that even people in their 90s could put on muscle through weight training, though not as fast as younger people. So I’m hoping that maybe we’ll never reach that point of diminishing returns. I’m definitely finding that variety and intensity are keys. I never do the same workout twice… Read more »
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[…] Dear Mark: Weightlifting Weary – Feb. 11 […]

Weightlifting Routines
8 years 6 months ago

We have all been there. At one point I followed a 6 day per week routine published by some professional bodybuilder. I also tried double sessions, 4 days a week. In all cases I became worn down and burnt out. Recovery is what makes muscles grow. Try a 3 day per week, full body training routine, using varieties on the basic exercises deadlift, bench press, squat, overhead press, pullup, row, and situp.

Also, don’t forget to eat.

Chris
8 years 2 months ago

Great article! When I first started lifting, I tried doing it every day… after about two weeks, I could barely move. Now, I make sure I rest a day in between any heavy lifting, and use the off days for cardio training.

Martialarts
8 years 1 month ago

Sweet great Weight training write up!

Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

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[…] avoid the sabotages of chronic cardio. Check out the Dear Mark post this week for suggestions on a lifting and recovery routine as well as other activities to round out your work out […]

Affiliate Dot Com
6 years 1 month ago

I had no idea this was the way it was. I have now changed my views.

Muscle Warfare
5 years 11 months ago

I quickly got burnt out last year after lifting about 2 hours 7 days a week.

After 2 surgeries I havent lifted in 16 months.

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[…] Magnesium (and/or Zinc): ZMA is a popular supplement combining zinc and magnesium for workout recovery and sleep improvement. Natural Calm, as popularized by Robb Wolf, is a high quality magnesium […]

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[…] Strength training is the foundation. It helps you build and maintain a powerful, stable base of operations (your body) from which to conduct daily business. I would add that these weight training sessions must be composed of compound, full-body movements, rather than isolation exercises, because, well, compound multijoint movements are simply how we move around in the world. If you’re an advanced trainee with a strong foundation built by years of compound exercises, go ahead and hit the curls and tricep kickbacks if you like, but if you’re trying to establish or enhance your actual strength, stick with compound… Read more »
Graeme
Graeme
3 years 8 months ago

Hi, I am a 63 yr old male who has been lifting for about 8 wks. I have always been an athlete but don’t like the idea that I am losing my muscle mass.

I lift every second day with complete rest every other day. I am getting stronger every week. I consume various amounts of protein supplement with at least one good ‘normal’ meal a day.

Is there any advice/webbsite, anybody can give me to help me with my ambition to build muscle mass ?

Thank You

Graeme

Paul
Paul
3 years 7 months ago

This is why deload weeks rock. I can push hard 4 days a week (2 upper, 2 lower) for about 2-3 weeks, then I need an easy week. When I was 18-20, I could go a lot longer, but even at 28, I just don’t have the recovery capacity I did back then. I’m sure it’ll be more pronounced in another decade or two as well.

John
John
3 years 3 months ago

If I’m thinking of going down to 2-3 intense weight workouts a week from 5-6, how should my food intake change? Should I eat less, or stay at the same level?

My goal is to gain a little mass, but mostly I’d just like to maintain lean muscle without hurting myself by over training.

trackback

[…] is a popular supplement combining zinc and magnesium for workout recovery and sleep improvement. Natural Calm, as popularized by Robb Wolf, is a high quality magnesium […]

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