- Strength training and overall strength are both linked to a longer, higher-quality life.
- Weightlifting that exceeds two hours or four sessions per week has been associated with reduced benefits and a potentially shorter life.
- Overtraining can reduce performance, increase your risk of injury, and weaken your immune response.
- For the biggest benefits, aim to get at least two 30 to 60 strength sessions per week and maximize recovery to avoid overtraining.
There’s no shortage of studies linking strength to a longer life. In fact, if all else is equal, research shows that stronger people tend to live longer than weaker people (1). Which is why some experts were quick to push back against the findings of a new study that suggests excessive weight lifting is a net negative for longevity.
The systematic review, which was published in Missouri Medicine, found that 30 to 60 minutes of weight lifting per week significantly reduced all-cause mortality, risk of cardiovascular events, and cancer, as expected (2).
However, “benefits were completely lost at strength training durations of ~130 to 140 minutes/week, with possible harm at progressively higher doses,” note study authors. In other words, strength training for a mere two hours a week could set your life expectancy right back to if you were sedentary, according to the report.
About the Expert:
Samantha Candler is a NSCA- and NPTI-CPT certified personal trainer who specializes in functional strength, corrective exercise, and performance.
This isn’t the first time science has pointed to too much strength training being potentially detrimental to health. For example, one study found that cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality were lowest in people who performed two weight lifting sessions per week, with potential increases in risk for people who knocked out four or more sessions per week (4). Another suggests mortality risk is lowest at up to two hours of resistance training per week (5).
“Anything done to excess can be harmful, including weight lifting,” says personal trainer Sam Candler, NSCA- and NPTI-CPT. Overtraining—consistently spending hours in the gym or pushing your limits when your body is giving you signs to take it easy (like excessive fatigue, sore muscles, or mental burnout)—can put undue stress on the body, which can reduce performance, increase your risk of injury, and weaken your immune system (6).
That said, total weekly workout time might not be the best picture of whether you’re overtraining. Your fitness goals and level paired with science-backed programming, appropriate progression, and proper recovery (including quality sleep, nutrition, and rest between workouts) might matter more for building strength and keeping health in check than the exact number of minutes you’re spending in the gym—factors the study didn’t take into account, notes Candler.
Certain groups may be at an increased risk of overtraining, including competitive powerlifters, weightlifters, or bodybuilders who commonly train at higher volumes, says Candler. “Compulsive exercise is also a serious and not uncommon mental health disorder, and it stands to reason that those battling this addiction could also be at risk of weightlifting to a detrimental effect,” she adds.
Should You Strength Train Less?
If you’re overtraining, maybe. But the vast majority of us don’t lift weights enough. According to the CDC, only 31 percent of U.S. adults squeeze in the recommended two muscle-strengthening sessions per week (7).
“A healthy, well-rounded individual has robust muscle mass, a healthy heart, balance, power, and agility to prevent falls and live independently, and ample mobility to support all of their daily activities, including their workouts,” says Candler.
Strength training is square one for building functional fitness—the ability to move throughout your day with ease. Without functional strength, your quality of life in your bonus decades is at serious risk (8). So, using one study as an excuse to skip out on strength training or do less isn’t the answer.
If you’re worried about overdoing it, focus on getting a healthy balance. “Hit two 30 to 60 minute strength sessions, two 30 to 60 minute cardio sessions, a yoga class, and some good old fashioned play time outside (soccer or hiking are great for increasing agility and power over real-life terrain) each week and you’ll be golden into your golden years,” says Candler.