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Dear Mark: Weightlifting Weary

Posted By Mark Sisson On February 11, 2008 @ 1:18 pm In Dear Mark,Fitness,Health,How To,Men's Health,Women's Health | 20 Comments

After last week’s great discussion about chronic cardio [7], 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 [8]. 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 [9] Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Sugar Cravings [10]

My Weekly Workout Routine [11]

zenhabits: A Guide to Cutting Back When You Feel Overwhelmed [12]

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