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I understand that working consecutive days without rest isn't ideal because it doesn't give your muscles enough time to repair themselves, but what if your daily workouts isolate particular muscles? Shown below is the workout routine I am currently using:

  • Monday: chest and back (mostly push-up and pull-ups)
  • Tuesday: biceps (isolated bicep curls)
  • Wednesday: chest, shoulders and triceps (lots of compound shoulder/tri/chest exercises)
  • Thursday: legs and back (mostly squats/lunges/raises)
  • Friday: biceps and triceps (mix of isolated and compound bi/tri exercises)

This workout gives me room to improve the areas that are underdeveloped (chest/arms) and simultaneously improves the supporting muscles (back/shoulders). My legs are already at their ideal level, so once a week of maintenance / small growth is all I need for them.

It seems that each muscle group would have a day (or more) of rest before their next workout, but I am no expert so I may be overlooking something. Would this routine be counterproductive due to my muscles not getting enough rest between workouts?

Note: I am considering this routine because I don't have much time in my daily schedule to fit in three large workouts each week, so instead I want to do 5 smaller (15-20 minute) workouts that I can do at work while on break.

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Based on your time availability, you may want to check out CrossFit... it's based on a daily, varying 20-minute exercise routine. –  eykanal Feb 2 '12 at 12:36
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Focus on compound exercises that involve multiple muscle groups; push-ups, dead lifts, pull ups, etc... Your body will thank you. –  Aaron McIver Feb 2 '12 at 18:09
    
@eykanal I regularly play sports, walk, and run, so I'm not looking for a cardiovascular focused workout. From what I can tell, CrossFit doesn't focus on strength training and has more to do with general fitness. –  Moses Feb 2 '12 at 21:44
    
@Aaron I'll keep that in mind when I'm building my workout routine. –  Moses Feb 2 '12 at 21:46
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From their about us page: "CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide." So yeah, I'd definitely classify them as a strength/endurance program. I don't do it myself, but hearing your situation, definitely check it out. –  eykanal Feb 3 '12 at 1:19
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No. This way of exercise is very common for top-athletes. By isolating muscle groups you can, as you describe, theoretically train and work on your muscle building continuously. It is very effective.

It is though a tough way of exersicing, and it requires a lot of self discipline, planing and routine. It is very difficult to totally isolate specific muscle groups 100 %. Usually you can almost never stop unintended muscles to "help" other parts of the body, during high pressure and hard work. See link below. You must work on the planing, so you keep exhausted muscle groups at a "distance" from those, you work on next.

http://www.readysetgofitness.com/newsletter/17_Isolating_muscles.shtml

On the other hand, you may wish to be very strict with your diet and overall health. When keeping a constant and never-ending high pressure on your body through constant muscle work, you must be aware of your immune system and always be sure to get plenty of high-protein food etc. Be sure your body has optimal conditions for super-compensation, which I believe is what you are seeking to improve effectivily.

Lastly, giving a specific muscle group just one day to compensate and regenerate is not much. It requires a good physical condition beforehand - or else you will need several days for the muscles to repair themselves and super-compensate.

This link is an article about a scientific research on different animals on how well they supercompensate (looking at specific brain functions and chemicals) and how their supercompensation is improved over time. http://jp.physoc.org/content/early/2011/11/07/jphysiol.2011.217919.abstract . It is not easy to find an article with exact information about how long one needs to rest between exercise. It's a very individual matter and depends both on physical condition in the moment and basically on how one is build.

This all depends on the level of training severity you are experiencing. You mention a 15-20 minutes of exercise at a time several times a day, but exactly how hard you are training I can't know. You must fit the advice for your needs. And have fun.

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These were all good answers and it was difficult deciding which answer to award the bounty to, because I am honestly taking advice from all three answers. Thanks to everyone for your input. –  Moses Feb 9 '12 at 4:26
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Working out on consecutive days is fine if you isolate muscle groups. In fact, a lot of routines are designed this way, since it would take too long to perform a one-sitting workout for all muscle groups. I spend 1.5 hours at a time at the gym, and that's with isolating muscle groups and alternating workout routines.

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Personally I wouldn't use a workout like that at all.

The problem is that the areas you are working on each day are not complementary. You're also over-working your arms and under-working your legs. A common exercise failing.

Think about it like this. Each of your major muscle groups has a complementary group. Your chest has your back, biceps have triceps, quads have hamstrings etc. When you work these muscles together you actually stretch the complementary group, which is a good thing, and you also ensure that you not creating an imbalance within these groups which can lead to injury.

@Aaron was correct when he talked about doing compound exercises. Just keep it simple. You don't need ten different exercises for your arms unless you are training for Mr. Olympia.

Are you sure you cannot devote more than 15 - 20 minutes each day for your workout? You certainly wouldn't be able to do anything particularly taxing in that time especially if you are training for strength.

An ideal workout would be something like this:

  • Monday - Chest and Back
  • Tuesday - Shoulders, biceps, triceps
  • Wednesday - Legs

You would also work your abs and calves on each day. Don't worry about over-training them as the muscle fibres are specifically designed to withstand a lot of punishment. Note how the larger muscle groups (chest, back) are trained before your arms. You really don't have to work your arms all that much to make them grow.

If you really can't devote a little bit of extra time then maybe something like this would be better:

  • Monday - Chest and back
  • Tuesday - Shoulders
  • Wednesday - Legs
  • Thursday - Biceps and triceps

Again calves and abs on every day (They really don't take long). This workout would give you three days to fully recover afterwards with a weeks gap between each isolated group so you should feel fresh still as each group repeats. You also have the benefit of developing a balanced physique.

As @Steeven noted also, it's very important to ensure that you are eating properly. You can't train if you don't provide your body with the necessary fuel and not doing so can be very detrimental to your health.

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As far as under-working my legs, since I've never owned a car I have to walk or run whenever I go somewhere (which until I started working out resulted in the opposite: a huge lower body on a skinny upper frame). This is why I only focus on my legs once a week, because they are already quite solid. As far as what my routine is, I just edited my question to include the workout schedule that I am thinking of adopting. –  Moses Feb 6 '12 at 20:38
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