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?”
What Does The Research Say?
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.
What Does The Research Mean?
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.
3 Rules If You Lift Weights 2-3 Times A Week
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
1. Full-Body Workouts
You will be able to train harder at each session, as most people’s bodies tend to recover faster from full body workouts.
2. Train Each Movement During Each Workout
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.)
3. Switch it up every 3-4 weeks
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.
4 Rules If You Lift Weights 4 Times A Week
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.
1. Full-Body Workouts or Split Body Parts
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.
2. Train Each Movement 1x/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
3. Try Not To Train More Than 2 Days In A Row
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.
4. Deload Every 4-6 Weeks
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.
To See Results – Lift Weights The Way It Works For You
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 most people 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!
- DiFrancisco-Donoghue J, Werner W, Douris PC. Comparison of once-weekly and twice-weekly strength training in older adults. Br J Sports Med. Jan 2007; 41(1): 19-22. ↩
- Faigenbaum AD, Milliken LA, Loud RL, Burak BT, Doherty CL, Westcott WL. Comparison of 1 and 2 days per week of strength training in children. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002 Dec; 73(4): 416-24. ↩
- Braith RW, Graves JE, Pollock ML, Leggett SL, Carpenter DM, Colvin AB. Comparison of 2 vs 3 days/week of variable resistance training during 10- and 18- week programs. Int J Sports Med. 1989 Dec; 10(6): 450-4. ↩
- Faigenbaum AD, Milliken LA, Loud RL, Burak BT, Doherty CL, Westcott WL. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016;46(11):1689-1697. ↩
Great article Marc!
Thanks, Stephen did a great job writing it
Really good article. My schedule has been:
Monday – Chest/Back
Tuesday – Cardio
Wednesday – Legs
Thursday – Arms
Friday – Cardio
Then start over with chest/back. From your article, it seems that I’m not hitting each body part enough. Should I switch to full-body?
Hey Zack, I only train full body, I only train clients full body, and all the program I develop are full body (even muscle building programs). So yes, I think full body is the way to go! Splitting the body based on muscle groups is just not how the body works, it works based on movement patterns, not muscle groups, just my opinion. That’s really what we promote at BuiltLean
Excellent article… I’m 55 but I’ve exercised most of my life… a little lifting not a permanent routine in my life… but I’ve started to lift 2 days per week now…my question is what is the best way to split my workout… work upper/lower both days? or one and one? I still do bicycle riding 2 days a week 10 miles each day
Hey Ramone, I strongly recommend to complete full body workouts and not think about breaking up your body into muscle groups. Training full body as nature intended. Check out this article for some more information => Movement Patterns vs. Muscle Groups. Thanks for the comment and I’m excited to hear you are committed to lifting 2x per week!
Succinct and clear! This article really clears up some questions I had. Thanks!
Thanks, Peter. Stephen did a great job with the article
Very good read. Thank you
So the problem is, if I don’t have some type full body experience 5 or 6 times per week I feel crappy. I hope Im not overdoing it. I’m basically on the Shred Programme fro BuiltLean, and chasing my kids on Saturday/Sunday. Then Sunday evening if I haven’t chased them enough, I do some weight and punch the bag for 10-20 minutes in the basement. So, am I way over the 4 day max limit??
Hey Dan, it’s entirely cool to weight train more than 4 times a week. In fact, I’ve lifted heavy 6 days a week before. I just manipulate the volume. In addition, powerlifters lift nearly every day to optimize their strength. I think the key takeaway from the article is from a law of diminishing returns perspective, around 2-3 strength training workouts is advisable. If you enjoy it, keep on training hard! Also happy to hear you are doing Shred, I really like that program
I am nearly 60 and training in Water Polo at least four days a week and sometimes five for 1.5-2 hours per evening. Since I started training in this sport, I’ve dropped the weight training to 1 day a week, if that, honestly. I think I should get back to weights and have wondered if I can do both in the same day. If so, how many days per week? Your article says 3 is optimal but doesn’t reflect the level of other activity.
Hi Jael, 1 day a week should be sufficient to maintain strength and even make some improvements depending on your strength level. I think the most important consideration is how many times you actually want to strength train per week, then make your decision based on that.
Can you kindly recommend any full body workouts. I would consider myself an experience lifter, and would not mine trying fullbody instead of split routines.
Hey Alan, all of the workout routines we’ve created use full body workouts. Because I created them or co-created them, I’m biased! You can check them out right here => http://www.builtlean.com/programs. Also, you can search on the BuiltLean website for free workouts as well if you want something less structured, we have a bunch of great ideas for you.
I am nearly 60 and training in Water Polo at least four days a week and sometimes five for 1.5-2 hours per evening. Since I started training in this sport, I’ve dropped the weight training to 1 day a week, if that, honestly. I think I should get back to weights and have wondered if I can do both in the same day. If so, how many days per week? Your article says 3 is optimal but doesn’t reflect the level of other activities.
Glad it was helpful for you!
Is it ok to do Cardio every day. I’m doing 30 minutes on the elyptical every day and weights every other day.
Hey Fred – many professional athletes do cardiovascular activity for several hours each day when playing sports and even separate workouts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with staying active and doing cardio daily. Daily exercise can be very healthful.
Amazing information Marc & Thanks ? I’m a 51 year old female and have done fitness most of my life tbh ! I started doing the ‘body pump ‘ at. Virgin active 4 times a week now and it’s a full cardio/weight lifting class !
I normally combined days for example sat- sun,then Tuesday Wednesday and fro-sat .them back to Mon-Wednesday
Is this an effective way to get good results ? I love the class ! many thanks ??
Hi Roch – We’re glad you enjoyed the article! Consistency is the name of the game and enjoying what you’re doing to make it sustainable. Whether it’s T / W / Sa / Sun or M / T / W, if it works for your schedule, you feel good doing it, and can be consistent, then from my perspective it sounds like it can work well. Many people want to know what’s “best”, but really, the best thing is to do what you enjoy consistently.
I used to be a 50% runner and 50% bodybuilder and NEVER lifted weights TWO days in a row.
This was good at the time. However, now that I am older my weights are smaller and in fact lift weights every day with running on the spot.
I see nothing wrong with this alteration!!