I strength trained every other day for 20 minutes - and couldn't believe how much it boosted my fitness and mood

Keen to give it a go?

Strength training every other day: Ally Head works out at home with two dumbbells and a yoga mat
(Image credit: Ally Head)

When I tell people that I'm the Senior Health Editor here at Marie Claire UK, they normally assume I've done every workout under the sun. And while I've certainly tried some interesting ones in my time - voga, pole fitness and aerial yoga, I'm looking at you - contrary to popular opinion, I'm not always working out. Just like everybody else, I sometimes lack exercise motivation, which is why I often set myself challenges to counter this. Enter stage right, this month's challenge: strength training every other day.

Asking yourself, what is strength training? In short, it's any workout that increases your strength by making your muscles work against a weight or force (think a resistance band). You can understand, then, why there are so many benefits of strength training. It's one of the most effective workouts you can do to boost muscle tone, lower your risk of injury and, as the name suggests, increase your strength. It's also incredibly empowering and makes you feel badass. 

That said, I fell out of habit this summer as my training for Berlin Marathon ramped up. While I tried to squeeze in a session a week here and there, fitting in weight training sessions while also running a lot just wasn't feasible. So, come October, I made a vow - to opt for 20 to 30 minutes of strength training, every other day (so three or four times a week). 

One thing that was important, for me at least, was opting for a workout length that didn't feel overwhelming and that I'd actually have time to do every other day. Gone are my hour-long gym sessions, in, home workouts from the comfort of my living room. While you might think this would be less effective, actually it enabled me to train more (4x 30 minute sessions a week vs 1x hour long session a week = a no brainer). Plus, I didn't feel like I was constantly trying to cram too much in, either.

How did I get on? Spoiler alert: I've really enjoyed it, feel back in my fitness groove, and would highly recommend it. But before I share more - get two experts' take on why strength training is so good for you, plus why they recommend giving it a go from home tonight. Don't miss our guides to strength training for beginners and low impact strength training, while you're at it. 

I tried strength training every other day - and am a convert

What are the benefits of strength training every other day?

In other words, how regularly should you be aiming to strength train? Let's take a look at current NHS guidelines, first. According to the NHS website, we should be aiming for a minimum of two strength-based workouts a week and target all the major muscle groups while doing so (think legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). 

What do the experts reckon, then? Chloe Whylie, an elite athlete and FIIT trainer, is a big advocate for adding strength training to your weekly workouts. "There are no cons, only pros," she stresses. "Adding strength training to your routine will help you build muscle and burn fat, improving your muscle tone and definition. It’s a misconception that lifting weights will make you bulky. Instead, it helps create a lean and sculpted physique."

Not just that, but strength training will also lower your risk of injury, she continues. "It’s known to increase bone density, which can prevent conditions like osteoporosis and improve overall bone health," she adds. 

Most importantly, though, strength training is a brilliant workout to opt for if you're looking to positively boost your mental as well as physical health. As Jackson Anderson, personal trainer at Juniper, shares: "Regular strength training can improve your mood, reduce stress levels and boost your self-confidence." Not to mention, it promises to improve your muscular endurance - in other words, allows you to perform more reps and sets over time. "This can help you to progressively overload your training in your sessions," he adds.

That said, it's important not to overdo it, he continues. "Strength training every single day may not be the most effective training approach to take," he confirms. "It’s essential to align your workout routine with your objectives to maximise efficiency and give your muscles time to recover and grow."

Important to note, too - if you're only strength training, you'll be neglecting other essential aspects of your fitness and well-being, such as cardiovascular activity and functional training. Do be sure to mix it up and include other forms of workout if you're thinking of giving it a go. 

I strength trained every other day for two weeks - how I got on

Week one

Let's start at the beginning. Day one, strength session one, and I roll out of bed when my sunrise alarm clock goes off at 7am ready to smash my first session. I opted for the FIIT home workouts for the duration of my challenge, knowing that they have some of the best personal trainers and coaches in the UK on the app and workouts ranging from five minutes to 45 minutes for all fitness abilities.

After rolling out my mat and lugging my dumbbells down the stairs, I get started. It's as simple as choosing which trainer and workout length I want to go for - today, a full body strength session with Gus Vaz Tostes, coach and owner of WIT, and a 30-minute session. Thanks to the motivating background music and high energy of the class, it's over before I know it. Walking into work, I feel immensely proud to have ticked off my workout for the day already.

Day three and I'm a little short on time so opt for a shorter 20-minute session. Sure, I could have skipped it altogether, but thanks to the workout being so short, it doesn't feel like it takes as much of a chunk out of my day. By the time you've warmed up, you're essentially only moving for ten minutes or so, making it totally feasible for even the busiest person. 

Day five is a work-from-home day, which makes things immeasurably easier. Come lunch, out rolls my mat and I'm off, this time choosing to mix things up a little and do a lower body workout with another of my favourite PTs, Laura Hoggins. This one is spicy, incorporating weighted lunges, glute bridges, and squats, but love knowing that I'm getting in just as good a workout as I could have done at the gym but from home.

Come the end of week one, I'm enjoying my new challenge so much that I squeeze in an early morning weekend session, too. The great thing about these short but sweet workouts, I find, is that they don't feel as daunting as other workouts, so I don't put them off for as long. Knowing it's only a short session means I'm more eager to tick them off and get on with my day. 

Strength training every other day: Ally Head working out at home

Ally Head strength training at home

(Image credit: Ally Head)

Week two

Come week two and I'm really in the groove of things. What I like about these short workouts is that they leave me room for other workouts, like running and Pilates, too. While I normally wouldn't opt for two sessions a day, doing a 20-minute strength workout in the morning and a half-hour run at lunch has become my new Monday routine. 

This week, I squeeze a weighted workout in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday - slightly less than the week before but more feasible with a busy work week and events to attend, too. I find getting up first thing works best for me - on the Wednesday, I workout when I close my laptop around 7 pm and can confirm that sweating when it's dark outside is not the same as when the sun is rising. But each to their own - some love an evening session and the most important thing is working out what works for you.

Will I continue my strength training sessions? Almost certainly. I love the freedom of doing them at home and feel better in myself both physically and mentally. While I might not stick to every other day - I like the flexibility of incorporating other forms of exercise, too - I'll certainly tick off a minimum of two strength sessions a week, as per NHS guidelines. 

Keen to give it a go yourself? You don't need weights or fancy equipment - bodyweight will do - just a good mat and sports bra. That said, if you're looking to take it up a notch, I love my dumbbells (linked below for you). Enjoy.

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Is it better to exercise every day or every other day?

According to both of the qualified experts we spoke to for this piece, it's important to balance your workout days and rest days to ensure you're giving your muscles adequate time to recover.

They recommend aiming for anything from three to five workouts a week, depending on your current fitness levels, end goal, and lifestyle commitments. 

The NHS website advises aiming for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise. 

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.