strong woman lifting weights

How Often Should You Lift Weights to Build Muscle?

by Evelyn Valdez

Despite contrary belief, you don't need to train every day to drive results. It might even drive poorer results because rest days are essential for recovery! Not getting enough rest can lead to constant muscle soreness thus reducing your exercise performance. So, when it comes to lifting weights and working out in general –more isn't always better. This doesn't necessarily mean that having a higher frequency training is wrong, it just depends on how you approach it.

So, what is the sweet spot... How many days should you work out to build muscle?

It depends on a few factors, like your schedule! We'll help you find your magic number, so, stick with us as we guide you through how often you should be strength training for optimal results.

HOW MANY TIMES A WEEK SHOULD YOU BE LIFTING?

Most lifters train up to 6x a week due to training using a workout split in their workout program. Workout splits typically entail training one muscle group at a time, for example, working on your legs on Monday, back and biceps on Tuesday, and so on. Many like this approach over full-body workouts because it allows you to extensively work a muscle group for better growth... However, a majority of the research has found that the total amount of work completed on a muscle in one training week is more important than how you do the work. Meaning, you may not need a workout split that forces you to work out 6x a week – if that approach doesn't work for you.

Let's take a look at a study conducted in 2016... The International Journal of Exercise Science compared subjects doing a body-part split to a group that followed a full-body training split. The group following a training split did nine sets per muscle group once a week, the full-body group trained each muscle three times a week with three sets each. They had the same training volume, the main difference being that one group worked a muscle once a week, and the other three times. After the eight-week period, the two groups made roughly equivalent progress in muscle and strength.

This means that it doesn't necessarily matter how many times a week you lift, instead what matters is the total amount of work you're putting in each week for each muscle. 

WHY A HIGH TRAINING FREQUENCY IS IDEAL

Having one to two weight training sessions a week isn't going to be effective for muscle gain. The key is to train at a higher frequency and focus on the total amount of work for each muscle per week. Lifting heavy weights triggers muscle hypertrophy or growth for a window of up to 48 hours. Once that window is up, the growth stops, that is unless you train that muscle again to promote growth for another 48 hours. Over time, that muscle gain accumulates. Hitting a muscle group once or twice a week isn't going to put your body into an optimal muscle-building state.

Here are three other reasons why high-frequency training is beneficial:

  • Reduce your risk of injury.
  • It'll help you train smarter.
  • Help establish a good habit.

Training three days a week

If your schedule is a bit hectic or you're a beginner, consider doing three full-body workouts a week. Total-body training is better than a body-part split for those with tough schedules because just missing one day could cause you a week without training a muscle group, costing you progress! So, it's better to stick to a routine that you can stick to, and if three days is what works for you then make sure to structure your routine accordingly. 

If you want to follow a three-day full-body training program, here are two ways to structure your routine:

Do two sets per movement pattern 

There are four movement patterns in total, this includes squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling. Squatting could be doing any type of squats, leg press, and even lunge variations. Hinging involves deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, and any movement that involves hinging at the hips. Pushing movements involve pushing a weight vertically, like overhead presses, or horizontally, like chest pressing. Pulling movements involve pulling a weight vertically, like pull-ups, or horizontally, like rows.

Do a single push, pull, and leg movement

If the method above seems overly complicated or you don't have enough time to do that many exercises, then try this method!

It involves choosing one pushing exercise (ex: dumbbell chest press), one pulling exercise (ex: barbell rows), and one leg exercise (ex: Goblet squats). You can also play around with the volume of your workout. Opposed to sticking to the same number of sets, you can switch things up and do 5 sets of 6 reps one day, and 3 sets of 12 reps another day. You can also choose to rotate the exercises every session, or every week. Limiting yourself to three movements keeps the volume of your workout under control, but of course, you can throw in a few isolated exercises that target your core, biceps, triceps, or delts at the end of your workout!

Training four or more days a week

If you want to train more than three days to create a consistent habit of working out, or simply because you have time to then the best approach would be to follow an upper/lower training split. This will allow you to train the same muscles at least twice a week which is great for muscle hypertrophy.

An example of an upper/lower body split would be focusing on rowing and pulling exercises one day, focusing on squatting exercises the next day, doing pushing exercises in your second upper body workout and followed by hinging leg exercises on your second leg day. You can also extend it to a 5-day split, like doing a quad-focused leg day, followed by pulling exercises (back and biceps), followed by a hamstring/glute-focused leg day, followed by pushing exercises (shoulder, triceps, and chest), and finishing off with a full-body workout.

There are so many ways to approach your workout split, so find the one that works best for your goals! And, for those with specific goals involving growing a certain muscle group, plan your workout split so that you hit that muscle at least three times a week.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the recommended duration for each strength training session?

The duration of each strength training session can vary depending on your fitness level, goals, and the specific workout plan you're following. However, a general guideline is to aim for 45-60 minutes per session. This timeframe allows you to perform a thorough warm-up, complete your main exercises with proper intensity, and cool down effectively.

2. How should rest and recovery be incorporated into a weekly workout schedule?

Rest and recovery are crucial components of any effective workout plan. For those following a higher training frequency, try to incorporate at least one to two rest days per week. These days can be complete rest or active recovery days involving light activities like walking or yoga.

3. How many reps and sets should I do for each exercise?

Read our guideline on how many reps and sets you should do based on your fitness goals.

1 comment

  • So loving all this new content, EVERY article feels like it’s written for me and your workouts are fantastic. Loving all that you are doing at the moment. Thank you

    Dawn -

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