Does training more often per week automatically equal better results? Some people can hit the gym five or six days a week, while others can barely manage two or three. Is it possible to achieve the same benefits?
If you’re like me, you may have no problem getting to the gym 4 times a week to train and lift weights. But, even I have to admit that I miss a day here and there. Hey, life happens, and the busier I get with my family and my career, the less time I’m able to devote to strength training.
In this article, I am going to take you through the research to answer the age-old question, “how many times per week should you be lifting weights?”
Studies show that in some cases the number of times per week you lift weights makes a difference, while in others it does not.
In older adults there is not much difference shown in strength 1 if the individual trains either once or twice per week2, but there is a significant increase in strength when the time spent training jumps to 3 times per week.3
When you look at studies of children training once or twice per week, there is a significant increase in the strength of the children who train twice per week.
The research points towards the “sweet spot” of strength training somewhere between 2 and 3 times per week.
I typically recommend most people strength train roughly 3 days per week to make sure they hit that minimum effective dose, especially if they are not getting any other activity in during the week.
You could also consider adding a 4th day if you have a flexible schedule and have strength or sport-specific goals. In this case, make sure to deload your training and take a recovery week every month or so.
There is nothing wrong with only training 2 or 3 times a week, and most of the research shows that this is the perfect amount for most adults. As I mentioned, you should strive to lift weights 3 times a week, but if you can only make it twice, you will still get most of the benefits.4
You will be able to train harder at each session, as most people’s bodies tend to recover faster from full body workouts.
Think in terms of movements, not muscles. You want to press and pull both horizontally (bench or row) and vertically (pull up or military press). For your legs, make sure to squat, deadlift, and train single-leg exercises.
You can train your core each day as long as you choose a different exercise (plank, side plank, anti-rotation holds.)
Your body will adapt to certain programs or exercises over time, so make sure to make your workouts progressively harder by doing different exercise variations, changing the sets and reps, and decreasing your rest time.
Strive to continually challenge your body and your limits.
If you have a more flexible schedule, are training for a sport, or are trying to make some serious changes to your physique, training 4 times a week might be the way to go. Again, it’s not necessary to get amazing results from your workout routine. But hey, it doesn’t hurt either.
When you train 4 days a week you can still train full-body each day, but if you are training to improve strength I recommend an upper/lower body split. This means you will train upper/lower/upper/lower throughout the week.
I recommend spending each day focusing on a specific movement pattern and choosing 2-3 exercises that train that movement.
Day 1: Horizontal Push/Pull (ex. bench press and dumbbell rows)
Day 2: Squats and Lunges
Day 3: Vertical Push/Pull (ex. pull ups and 1-arm dumbbell military press)
Day 4: Deadlifts and Hip Thrusts
It’s ok to train 2 days in a row, but I wouldn’t advise any more than that. Doing too many consecutive lifting sessions could affect your performance and increase your risk of injury.
Rest is a critical component of improving your strength, fitness, and body composition. It’s during rest that your body rebuilds and repairs your muscle tissue, so it’s always a good idea to take rest days to ensure proper recovery. This will allow you to keep training heavy week in and week out.
Deloading doesn’t mean not lifting at all, just lightening it up a bit. You can either decrease the number of sets you do, the amount of weight used, or even skip a few workouts during this week to allow your body to recover more fully and repair damaged tissue. Believe it or not, this will actually help your progress.
The optimal number of days to lift weights per week ultimately depends on your goals and your schedule, but planning your training sessions ahead will allow you to get the best possible results for you. The best number to shoot for is three days a week, with two as a minimum and four as a maximum.
I’ll also add a disclaimer that you should be doing more to stay active than just lifting weights! Three days of strength training is great but make sure to get out, enjoy life and use that hard-earned muscle!