How Much Strength Training Is Too Much?

When considering the guidelines for exercise, keep the FITT principles in mind (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type).

Frequency: Number of strength training sessions per week aim to train each muscle group at least two times per week, and up to three if you have the time or are more advanced. One day per week may help you maintain your current level of strength, but in most cases, it will not be enough to build muscle. It is important to rest 1-2 days in between working the same muscle(s) again. Rest days give the muscles time to repair themselves from small tears that occur during strength training, and this is how you get stronger. For example, if you do a full body routine on Monday, do not lift again until Wednesday or Thursday (1-2 days).

Intensity: How much weight or resistance should you lift? This is a tricky one—and if you’re new to exercise, it will take some trial and error. The intensity of the resistance you lift should challenge you. It should be high enough that as you approach your last repetition, you feel muscle exhaustion. Exhaustion means your muscle is so tired that you can’t do another full repetition in good form. Many people do not lift to exhaustion, mostly because they don’t know that they are supposed to. They tend to just lift the number of reps that they have subscribed to and stop.

Time: Number of reps and sets you should do going from the starting position, through the action and back to the starting position counts as one rep. Most people lift somewhere between 8 and 15 reps, which equals one set. Most people do 1-3 sets with rest in between each set.

The ideal number of sets has been debated about for years. A good rule of thumb is 1-3 sets. Research studies have shown that performing 2 sets is not significantly better than one. And performing 3 sets is not significantly better than doing 2. The only significant difference is between 1 and 3 sets.

Type: Activities that count as strength training perform exercises to target every major muscle group when strength training: your arms (biceps and triceps), shoulders, chest, back, core (abs, obliques and lower back), and legs (quads, hamstrings, gluteus and calves). Make sure you work opposing muscles, not just the ones you see when you look in the mirror (biceps, chest, abs, quads). The opposing muscles are the ones that work in opposition to those (in this case, the triceps, back, lower back, and hamstrings). Also be sure to work the sides of your body: obliques, hips, abductors and adductors (outer and inner thigh). The idea is to achieve balance. The same goes for the upper and lower body. Don’t neglect one or the other just because one is more important to you. This can create imbalance and set you up for injury and pain.