How Often to Lift Weights

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45 pound weight plate for Olympic barbell

How often should a trainee lift weights? Research finds that for best results he must not lift every day. The number of workouts per week depends on his physical condition. A strong man lifts only on some days.

Tip:Scientific research find that two to three times per week is the best schedule for people in average shape.

Chart: how often to lift weights based on conditioning

Elite athletes:They can lift weights even twice a day with good results. But lifting too often is harmful.

Heavier not always better:Lifting lighter weights can yield better results.
This is variable-resistance training.

Maintain

Legs of muscular man in shorts: quadriceps

How often do you need to lift weights to maintain your strength? One study was done on professional soccer players. These soccer players are athletes. Lifting weights one time per week was sufficient to maintain strength and muscle mass.

The practical recommendation from the present study is that during a 12-week period, 1 strength maintenance session per week may be sufficient to maintain initial gain in strength and sprint performance achieved during a preceding preparatory period.

Effects of in-season strength maintenance training

Initial strength gains. When the soccer players first gained the new levels of strength, they trained twice a week for ten weeks. After this initial ten weeks, the gains were maintained for 12 weeks with only one workout per week.

The players performed the same strength training program twice a week during a 10-week preparatory period. Effects of in-season strength maintenance training

Once

Plus

There is a lot of medical research on weight lifting for older adults. Several studies have shown that once a week is sufficient for older people. This schedule causes muscle growth and strength increases.

A program of once or twice weekly resistance exercise achieves muscle strength gains similar to 3 days per week training in older adults and is associated with improved neuromuscular performance.

Once-weekly resistance exerciseIGF-1: insulin-like growth factor

For younger people who have more natural growth hormone and testosterone, further advantages could likely be gained from more frequent weight lifting. But for older people—around age 65 years—once per week is sufficient.

GH

Another study has shown that older people prefer once a week weight lifting workouts. And this study also confirms that no further benefits for older people were derived from twice-weekly lifting sessions.

Exercise dependence: addicted to lifting weights

Further research is warranted given the once-a-week exercise intervention should cost less, had higher compliance and was nominated as the preferred exercise frequency by most of the participants.

Effectiveness, once-weekly exercise

Motivation. The study brought up an important issue with regards to exercise frequency. It is important to lift weights as often as you enjoy lifting—within certain constraints. For the subjects, the favorite schedule was once a week.

And:For them, this increased the likelihood they continued lifting, one key to excellent levels of physical fitness.

What Motivates You?

Variable-resistance

Percentage

Variable-resistance training has been tested. This is where every lifting workout has a different level of resistance. Some workouts use light weights, some use medium weights, and others use the heaviest you can lift.

The study was done on older adults. Still the general principle could be applied to younger people. The weights and percentages would be different. It tested two groups of people who both lifted three times a week.

Strong and healthy: tips

In the variable-resistance group, one workout each week done was at 80% capacity, 65% capacity, and 50% capacity. At 50% capacity the heaviest weight lifted was only half the weight of the heaviest that person could lift.

Despite similar increases in strength and fat free mass, the [variable-resistance] group decreased difficulty of performing the carry task more than the [high-resistance] group. These data suggest that larger improvements... may be achieved if frequency of high-resistance training is less than 3 times per week.

High-resistance versus variable-resistance trainingMedical research: microscope

This study provides evidence for not lifting as heavy as possible each workout. A bodybuilder might see better results if he does not max out each rep of each workout. His condition would be better if he paced himself.

Instead:He might have more success with only one super-heavy workout per week. The other two workouts could be lighter.

So:This study provides evidence for variable-resistance training, where lighter weights are sometimes preferred to heavier ones.

Three times

Muscles, blond man chest flexing

The standard weight lifting workout is three times a week. This schedule is used in medical research. It is also recommended in weight lifting books such as Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.

Starting Strength

One study done on overweight kids in New Jersey used the standard three days a week schedule. The results were encouraging. The three days a week schedule is great for young people and those with enough motivation.

Subjects were randomly assigned to a control group or to a resistance training group that participated in supervised strength training 3 days/week.

The impact of a 12-week resistance training program

Too often

Caution: exclamation mark

Lifting too often causes muscles to atrophy, to become smaller and weaker. A study was done on rats. The control rats did no resistance exercise. The other group did resistance exercise five days a week, with weight packs on their backs.

Wistar rats were divided into two groups: trained and control. [Trained] group [was] subjected to a high-intensity resistance training program (5 days/week) for 12 weeks.

The results were interesting. The rats that exercised five days a week with heavy weights gained less weight and had less strength and less muscle than those that did no special exercise.

Medical: blood cells

To restate, the rats that worked out at the gym excessively became weaker and smaller. For these rats, five times a week is too much. If they were allowed more rest days, they would be in better shape.

These data show that high-intensity resistance training with insufficient recovery time between bouts promoted muscle atrophy and a transition from slow-to-fast contractile activity in rat plantaris muscle.

Humans have a lot in common with the animals used in these studies. Lifting five days a week (in full-body, compound movements) is not often recommended. This will not result in good strength and muscle size gains.

Twice daily

Tired bodybuilder

A study was done on elite athletes—the best of the best. It found that these athletes had limited benefits from lifting weights twice daily over once-daily. The testosterone levels of the men were influenced by this in a positive way.

Comparisons: twice-daily, once-daily

There is an important thing to note about these lifters who exercised twice a day. These athletes are elite. They are above average in physical fitness and exercise capacity. Their bodies are used to this level of stress.

But:For regular men who try to work out this much, the results are usually discouraging.

Testosterone and Weight Lifting

Motivation

Strong man with stomach, smiling

In exercise, motivation is important. The best workout is simply one that you will actually do. If you try to lift weights every day, and it makes you discouraged due to fatigue, you are more likely to give up.

Physical fitness is a long-term commitment of many years—your entire life in fact. It is key to choose a workout frequency that you are comfortable with for your entire life. For elite athletes, a twice-daily workout may be acceptable.

Tip

Therefore:For people who have jobs and families, a twice-weekly workout is likely superior.

And:For many, lifting weights twice or three times a week is best. For older people, lifting only once a week is best.

Football players

Question

How often do football players lift weights? In the book Starting Strength, by Mark Rippetoe, young men are trained with barbells to prepare for football. These are often teenagers—some close to 15 years old.

The strength training program these boys use has three sessions a week.
It focuses on squats,
deadlifts,
bench presses,
and Olympic lifts. It is similar to a powerlifting workout. It builds large muscle mass quickly.

So:Football players, in preparation for their sport, lift weights three times a week. Recovery is essential.

Rugby and Football Muscle Mass

Summary

Muscle pictures, arms

Research shows that lifting weights one to three times a week yields the best results. For those in worse physical condition, once a week is best. For those in the best physical condition, at least three times a week is best.

But:If you exercise more than your body can handle, your muscles will atrophy. They become smaller and weaker.

Sore Muscles: DOMS
Strong