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Maybe you hate lifting, but you have goals to achieve. Maybe you worry about doing too much or too little in the gym. Maybe your schedule is busier than your Netflix queue.
Whatever your situation, you’re here because you want to know how often you need to strength train to achieve your goals.
Forward, your answer.
Let’s start by eliminating that: strength training zero days a week is really not an option. Even if you’re not interested in building a bulky core or carcass-like arms (no shade – every fitness-er has their own fitness goals), you should be strength training.
Why? Because the health benefits are LEGIT.
If you still need convincing to get started, read on.
1. Stronger Muscles, Stronger Heart
Whether you’re trying to run faster, hike up a small mountain with a hot date, or dance for hours at the club later, strength training might just be the answer. Because yeahyour aerobic form will benefit from some suspensions in the weight room.
Of course, lifting weights is known to build muscle and tone your physique. But, according to a research report 2013it can also increase your aerobic capacity, which means it can help move blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your muscles more efficiently.
In addition, weight training improves your lactic threshold.
“The lactate threshold is the time it takes for your muscles to get tired,” explains Jordan MetzlMD, sports physician and author of Run hard. Essentially, the higher your lactate threshold, the longer you can train without getting tired. Go ahead and register for this race.
2. Injury Prevention
Gaining strength also minimizes your chances of injury. *throws triumphant fist in the air*
“Strength training has been shown to increase bone density as well as the resilience of your tendons and ligaments,” says Michael Boyle, a strength and conditioning coach and functional training expert in Boston. “So not only are you just able to lift more weight, but you also develop resistance to injury.”
Strength training will also strengthen your midline. A strong midline = better balance. And better balance = reduced risk of falling and injury!
3. May help with weight loss
Would your brain burn if you learned you could achieve your weight loss goals without walking on a treadmill?
Well, get ready for a blast, ’cause recent studies showed that people who train with weights can see similar fat and weight loss to those who spend the same time doing cardio.
4. Improved mental health
Mental health is health! (If you read this punctuated with clap-hand emojis, you read it correctly.)
And guess what? Lifting things and putting them back is probably good for your mental well-being.
A 2013 study of 341 women found that participants who started strength training twice a week had better body image and began to enjoy physical activity more than before.
Also, in a small study 2020 in 24 adults, participants reported a reduction in anxiety symptoms after an 8-week resistance training program.
We need more and larger studies to learn more about these mental health benefits, but the results so far are encouraging!
The short answer: 3 days a week.
Talk to almost any gym rat or trainer and they’ll tell you that’s the recommended number of times you should get your hands on certain weights.
And for good reason: “When you train 3 days a week, you train often enough that you can really learn how to lift weights,” says the strength trainer and dietitian. Albert MathenyDirector of ARENA Innovation Corp. and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab At New York. (Yes, it’s a skill!)
“Working out 3 days a week also allows you to prioritize both the intensity of your workouts and recovery when you’re not exercising,” he says.
To top it off, strength training 3 days a week still leaves plenty of room in your schedule for other types of workouts, if you’re interested.
Can’t get to the weight room more than once or twice a week? It’s not bad at all !
Lifting once a week is enough to get some advantage, according to trainers.
“I have clients who only train once or twice a week, and they still see significant strength results,” says Noam Tamir, founder of TS-Fitness.
“Once a week is enough to see results for beginners and is usually enough for more advanced athletes to maintain most of their current strength gains,” adds Matheny.
But Matheny points out that if you have the option of working out 2 days a week instead of just one, it’s a good idea to do so! “The difference between training once a week and twice is significant.”
Learning new lifts will also be much easier if you go twice a week than if you only go once. Again, learning to lift is half the battle for new (more) active people.
If you lift twice a week, you can bring your full punch at each session. Assuming you don’t train for 2 consecutive days, that means you’re maxing out the intensity.
For people who train for marathons or triathlons, adding anaerobic (weight training) training 2 times a week may even be more optimal than adding more strength training days, according to Tamir.
Why? “Because the extra strength will give the body the tools it needs to handle the repetitive stress of movement like running, biking, or swimming while still leaving time in your schedule to train,” says Tamir.
If your fitness goals are strength specific, you may benefit from strength training more than 3 days per week.
“If you have a goal, like ‘be able to squat X in X months’ or ‘increase overall muscle hypertrophy,’ strength training might help you reach that goal faster,” says Matheny.
However, if you train more than 2 days per week, you will have to rethink what each of these workouts looks like.
“The typical rule of thumb for programming is that if you strength train 1-3 times a [week], every workout should focus on the whole body,” says strength and conditioning coach Jake Harcoff. “But if you train more frequently than that, it makes sense to start incorporating splits into your program.”
In practice, it looks like training legs on Monday, back and biceps on Tuesday, etc.
TBH, if you’re reading this, you probably have don’t need to lift 6 times a week.
“Strength training 6-7 times a week should most likely be left to the more elite lifters and long-time resistance trainers,” says Harcoff.
According to Harcoff, if you’re an average gym-goer, you would only benefit from going to the gym often if:
- you only have a short time to allocate to training (think: less than 30 minutes) each day
- your overall volume on the days you train is low
This workout is often not recommended because it doesn’t give your body enough time to recover between sessions. And, as Matheny says, “If you don’t recover, you don’t really get stronger.”
No matter how often you train, certain training rules can help you achieve your goals.
Do at least *some* compound exercises
What do the deadlift, squat, clean and press have in common? These are all compound exercises.
Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups at once and therefore offer better value for money than isolation exercises.
To understand the distinction, consider the difference between a front squat and a bicep curl. While a front squat works your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, core, back, forearms, and chest, the biceps curl only works your biceps.
Especially for people who are short on time, compound exercises are the way to go for maximizing strength (and fat burning) gains.
Boyle’s recommendation: Perform a variety of compound exercises that target different muscle groups (upper and lower body) in each session.
Do with what you have
Of course, your options can be extended if you have a barbell or kettlebell handy, but that is possible to get a full body strength workout without equipment!
If you can’t get to a gym, Boyle recommends combining moves like push-ups, pull-ups, planks, lunges and squats.
Metzl agrees, adding that burpees, along with plyometric jump squats and arm walkouts to pushups, can be a good way to change things up. “These moves fire up your metabolic furnace for the day,” he says.
Lift more weight
“Keep the principle of size in mind: the higher the resistance, the greater the muscle recruitment,” says Tamir.
That means you shouldn’t hit 3 or 5 pounds if you can actually lift 10 or 12 pounds with good form. The more weight you can safely lift, the more gains you will see.
Warm up well
No, it’s not just lip service – actually warming up is important.
“A good warm-up is crucial before starting a high-resistance, high-intensity workout, especially if you’re sedentary the rest of the day,” says Tamir.
Also track your post-training activities
“Good nutrition is always paramount when it comes to getting the results you want,” says Matheny.
And that includes what you eat right after your workout. “Eating healthy carbs post-workout will replenish your glycogen levels and help your muscles recover faster,” says Tamir.
More important is the protein consumption window. To maximize protein synthesis, Matheny recommends having 20 grams or more of protein within an hour of working out.
When it comes to bodybuilding, doing something is better than doing nothing. The recommended frequency is 3 days a week for good gains.
Hitting the weight rack or the mat once a week may not be enough to achieve your highest goals. But any workout you do in the weight room — along with proper nutrition and hydration — is still enough to improve your overall health and fitness.
And if you prefer to go to the gym more often, as long as you recover properly, go for it!