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I know this question has been asked before but my situation is a bit different. Beside going to the gym, I literally have no other physical activity. I'm a programmer and I spend most of the day behind a computer.

I have heard that you have to wait 48 hours after weight-lifting for muscles to rest, but since I have low physical activity, would 24 hours be enough for me?

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Bob, the short answer is: yes, do train the same muscle every 24 hours if it pleases you. I think you would see great improvements.

The long answer is that this is quite a subjective topic, and your goals are a consideration here. Let's discuss why.

Some of the strongest men in the world (olympic weightlifters) often train the same muscle for hours per day, seven days per week. Their training volumes are greater than you or I can likely imagine.

On the other hand, the biggest men in the world (bodybuilders) are concerned with 48 hour recovery windows because muscle damage, soreness, perceived exertion, strength deficit, and so on often peak within that time frame (according to studies -- and anecdotes of course). It's a concern for bodybuilders because they wish to have a "full tank of gas" when performing their sets in order to gain maximal muscle size. These gentlemen/women eat 8,000-10,000 calories per day and wake up multiple times during the night to ingest more calories and protein. Again though, these athletes have training volumes greater than we can imagine. The average Joe Gym Rat is leagues away from concerning themselves with this.

This is a complex question for many reasons, and that's why I say it's subjective. For example: how much exertion is actually required to warrant 48 hours of recovery -- just one set to failure or 40 sets to failure? How does this window vary between well-trained individuals and untrained ones? We know hormone levels have an adaptation period as we get in shape, so how big of a part is our current hormone level playing in recovery? Are we an individual that has naturally high testosterone levels? How much sleep have we had? How much protein/amino acids? How much training volume did we do last time? The body is quite complex and we're basically just trying predict the weather here. We shouldn't be talking in absolutes, or arbitrary numbers. It's hard to say how all the systems are going to work together in your case without study.

All of that said, the easiest thing to do here is just to try it out and measure your progress. You may start to plateau while training under this modality, in which case you would incorporate longer rest periods. On the other hand, your physique might start looking awesome, but your lifts may not improve much. Some things to measure are: circumferences of muscles and waist, body fat %, 1RM numbers, etc. In any case, I think you would be well into the advanced/elite athlete category before you should even begin thinking about this. In my experience, more training volume precipitates better results. After all, elite athletes train all day, every day.

Just a side note: be wary about injury. Training at higher volumes can be dangerous, especially if you are not using your body for most of the day. Muscle tissue is not the only thing we are concerned about here. Be sure you are adequately prepared for your lifts by building up to them.

Here is some further reading on the 48-hour window:

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    I think your answer would be even better if it were to also touch on CNS fatigue. That is generally a large factor in why beginners are able to move near maximal weights so frequently compared to more experienced lifters needing to undulate intensity with volume. – Alex L Dec 9 '15 at 22:47
  • @AlexL I think that's fair to bring to bring up, but perhaps out of scope. If you root around on pubmed a little, you'll find that little is known about central fatigue in relationship to exercise. I would say that could be classified under concerns about overtraining, which I think this quote does well in addressing: "Why is it that those most inclined to worry and ask about 'overtraining' are about as likely to set a new record in the Olympic Decathlon as they are to ever overtrain?" – Daniel Dec 10 '15 at 0:01
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There seems to be a basic problem that you are perhaps confusing these two things:

(1) aerobic exercise -- say jogging (perhaps on a treadmill), or exercise bike, or rowing machine, or jazzercise or other aerobics classes

(2) weightlifting

These two things are completely and totally different.

If you are literally every day ... that is 365 days a year ... going to the gym, then you should be doing a lot of aerobics exercise. You can, and should, do that every single day. So maybe swim two days a week, run for an hour two days a week and do jazzercise three days a week .. whatever.

Regarding literally weightlifting (ie, to make your muscles large), that is a fairly technical topic. (Note some of the very technical information in Daniel's excellent answer, for example.) If, incredibly, you are literally weightlifting every single day, it's hard to believe you wouldn't have a trainer at least once a month or something. That person would have specific technical ideas on weightlifting science. I mean it could be that you do different groups on different days .. whatever. There's no "broad general rule" like "don't weightlift every day".

A footnote - many are trying to reduce body fat. If that's you, it's fine that you're doing aerobics exercise every day, as it will burn a small amount of calories. But don't even bother with that until you slash carbs from your diet and also generally control your calorie intake. As they say "weight loss starts and ends in the kitchen". Indeed, a huge problem is that aerobic exercise makes you hungry: this is a danger if your goal is indeed fat reduction. (Regarding weightlifting, it has no connection to eliminating body fat; it just makes your muscles bigger.)

  • bigger muscles means your BMR increases so it will help eliminate fat. Not to mention it burns a decent amount of calories doing weight lifting – Aequitas Dec 13 '15 at 21:49
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Full Disclosure: I am a programmer and sit at my computer all day. I do have a treadmill desk but I forget to use it!

To answer your question: You should not be working out the same muscle groups back to back. You should work different muscles on each work out and have a rotation to do so. The same is true for running, you shouldn't do a two hard workouts back to back, you should have a rest or easy day in-between. In your case, if you want to do a 6 day schedule it might look something like this

Day 1 - Hamstrings And Deadlifts

Day 2 - Chest

Day 3 - Back

Day 4 - Shoulders

Day 5 - Quads

Day 6 - Arms

Day 7 - OFF

You can workout everyday, just work a different part of your body

Of course you can Google and find a plan that fits, or if you are at a gym they will have plans for you.

  • After a week of chest, back, and shoulder work, I hardly think you need a separate day for arms. Also, "hamstrings and deadlifts" sounds odd, because hamstrings are a muscle group, and deadlift is an exercise that works hamstrings, among many other things. I wouldn't go to the gym just to do leg curls and deadlifts. – Alec Dec 11 '15 at 11:42
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There are some good answers here but what I suggest is the following routine (I'm also a software dev but love working out and being stronger than bodybuilders at my gym). You can train everyday if you wish since the same muscles are only trained every 4 days:

Day 1: Legs/Shoulders/Traps

Day 2: Back/Biceps

Day 3: Chest/Triceps

Day 4: start day 1 again or rest or do some sports

I recommend not using isolation exercises or machines, mostly use free-weights and olympic bars for squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, standing shoulder press, etc. Compound movements are the key for strength and balance. My abs get strong from doing heavy standing shoulder press for example, my core needs to balance the weight.

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The only reason to wait 48 hours is to maximize hypertrophy (muscle growth) post-exercise. The strongest people you've ever met are dudes who dig ditches every damn day. The 48-hour window came out of bodybuilding, NOT health and fitness. Strength and health have only tangential correlation to muscle size. You can work out every day. You may not see the GAINZ, BRO! But you will be healthier. Note that this all goes out the window if/when you start overtraining, but here's the dirty secret: most people are NOT strong or... uh... endurancey enough to overtrain, with the exception of most runners who've gotten into the 30+ mile/week club and or ANYONE who doesn't have enough sleep/nutrition going on to allow them to adequately recover.

  • I would like to add that overtraining or CNS fatigue are always tied to psychological stress. There is of course also a dependency of the type of training aka slow lifts or fast lifts. – mitro Dec 10 '15 at 21:41
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The 48 hour figure is to allow your muscles to recover. As noted by brentwpeterson above, this can involve different parts of your body. This is specifically for recovering from the exercise itself, so your activities outside of the gym don't really apply. Sitting at the computer for 8 hours at a stretch isn't going to rebuild your muscles faster (actually, if you can, try to get up at least once an hour and take a short walk and/or stretch. I personally do it between cups of coffee or refilling my water bottle at work).

On a side note, the 48-72 hour rest is, I believe, partially predicated on workouts that nearly exhaust your muscles. Lighter activity in the gym can be done on a daily basis, but that's more for maintenance, not for gains. Less intensive activities such as moderate cardio and calisthenics or "greasing the groove" (you'll see the term for a number of activities from weightlifting to calisthenics to stretching and basically refers to doing a few reps when you have a spare moment, not even enough to break a sweat, but enough to get you in the habit of exercising) won't require that sort of rest period, but you will want it for something more intensive.

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