How Often Should You Lift Weights | Strength Training Frequency

Strength Training Frequency

How Often Should You Perform Strength Training?

Whatever your training goals, chances are that you would benefit from some sort of strength training. Strength is the basis of all movement in life, and sarcopenia (age related muscle wasting) is a real problem which ALL of us will at some point face. Whether your goals are to look like mutant with ungodly amounts of muscle, to perform better at your sport, or to simply age well and reduce falling risk and not break a hip, you fall into the category of people who would benefit from strength training.

In today's day and age where information is highly abundant and easily accessible, it can be hard to sift through the garbage and find quality, actionable advice. This article is intended to cover the basics of how any person can look at strength training frequency, regardless of their sport.

What this article will cover:

  • How often you should train for strength.
  • Factors to consider regarding periodization of training.
  • Multiple workout splits for you to try.

How often should you perform strength training?

As is standard with these types of questions, the answer is "it depends." What does it depend on?

  • Your genetics (how fast you recover)
  • What other training you are performing (sprint training, running, sport specific practice, etc.)
  • Whether or not you are in season (in-season athletes should focus more on specific work than non-specific work)
  • How hard you are training (both intensity and volume)
  • How much sleep you get (9+ hours is optimal)
  • How much you are eating (caloric deficits = lower ability to train hard, frequently)
  • The density of your training units (how frequently the same thing is being done)
  • Supplement use (both legal and illegal supplements, particularly the latter, affect recovery capability)
  • Your age (very young or very old people have an inherently lower ability to recover)
  • Your training age (the longer you've trained, the better you recover)
  • Your injury history (recent injuries generally require training volume adjustments)

While not a  complete list, these are some big ticket items to consider when planning the structure of your strength training.

 

1. Your training history matters.

An 80 year old woman with recent hip replacement is going to have different needs than a 30 year old with a 15 year training history and a gram of testosterone going into their glute on a weekly basis.

If you are new to training, you are more than likely going to benefit from 3 full-body strength training workouts a week, using a variety of rep ranges and exercises to ensure training variability.

If you have been training for 1-3 years, it is likely that you can bump up to 4-5 days of training per week. In this case, you can use an upper-lower split, where your strength training workout days alternate between upper and lower body emphasis.

If you have been training for 5 years or more, chances are you can handle 5-6 days of training per week, just as long as you aren't going overboard with the loading. Once again, an upper-lower body split might be most effective, but you might benefit from alternating high & low intensities while utilizing full body workouts.

If you have been training for 10 years or more, then you probably have a good idea of what works for you, but if not, I am glad you are still reading!

2. Your training goals are paramount.

What are you training for? Do you want to play tennis, or compete in powerlifting? Identification of your general training goals is paramount in determining how to plan the training itself.

Generally speaking, endurance athletes will need less high intensity strength training than speed, power, or strength athletes. Still, strength training should be present for all athletes.

3. Your point in the training year matters.

Depending on your sport, the closer you are or further into competition you are, the more specific your workloads are going to be. Someone whose sport relies little on strength would not need to be doing high frequencies of strength training work when they were prepping for a championship or other important competition.

During the off-season for a track & field sprinter, I'd advocate 2-4 strength training sessions per week, with two days dedicated to sprint specific work. Later in the year, a 2:3 or 2:4 ratios (strength training:sprint training) might be optimal to maximize specification of bio-motor qualities of the athlete.

4. Your current physical state matters.

If you are coming off of an injury, you more than likely need to adjust your training volume to ensure adequate resources are available for recovery. I am NOT saying you should train infrequently, but you should ensure that you are not going overboard.

If you have chronic aches and pains, this is a sign from your body that something you are doing is too much. Usually this happens when you do too much of the same thing (1 rep maxes too frequently, sprinting or jumping too frequently, doing bicep curls every day, etc), but can also happen if you are training for many days in a row without ever changing your schedule.

We do not live in a perfect world, so it is highly unlikely that you will benefit the most from training X amount of days per week, every week, forever. If you bust your nut on a big personal best one week, you should probably have an added day of rest, or at the very least have planned low intensity, low volume days to facilitate recovery.

5. Your food intake, sleep duration, and sleep quality matter (hugely).

The amount and quality of what you eat will determine how much substrate is available to fuel your strength training workouts, as well as all of the processes which facilitate recovery. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats fuel both the body and the mind, so a whole and complete diet is imperative to performance.

The amount and quality of sleep you're able to experience will determine how much time is dedicated to operating your body's recovery systems on full blast. The amount of time you sleep is essentially the amount of time you spend recovering from strength training. If you are sleeping 8 or less hours per night, chances are you are missing out on some of the benefits that sleep has to offer.

Lastly, eating just prior to bed can have an inhibitory effect on growth hormone release. Avoid carbs and fat within the hour or two before bed to ensure that your body can fully produce growth hormone while you sleep, enhancing sleep quality directly.

ZMA and GABA can help your sleep quality, with GABA having the ability to enhance growth hormone production during sleep. L-Theanine and Magnesium Glycinate help as well, mainly due to their effects on calming the nervous system. Hydrolyzed Collagen is one of my favorite supplements, paired with Calcium Ascorbate (Vitamin C variant), as this combination increases collagen synthesis which is vitally important for tissue health.

6. Your Genetics Matter.

Your inherent ability to recover from training will dictate how much work you can perform and still fully recover. With sprint training, I am lucky if I can perform two high quality sprint sessions per week, while others can sprint daily and recover just fine. On the flip side, I can lift nearly every day, and come back into the gym the next day ready to attack the workout. Dan Pfaff often spoke how some athletes were simply "allergic to iron," essentially saying that their systems did not do well with the heavier and slower strength training loads.

If you fall into the category of people who can lift and feel recovered the next day, then you clearly can perform strength training more often than someone who cannot. Similarly, if you can sprint, jump, run, cycle, etc. frequently without issue, chances are that you are going to perform less strength training work relative to the other work you are doing.

Examples of how to set up your strength training.

Strength Training 2 Days per Week

If training two days per week, I would implore you to perform each workout as a full body workout, with one workout focusing more on strength, and the other focusing more on bodybuilding or strength endurance. If you are relatively new to training, you will gain a lot of strength using sets of 4-6, just as long as your bodybuilding work is being performed with sets of 8-12 reps.

Example for Novice Lifters:

  • Day 1 (strength) - Deadlift, Bench, OHP, RDL, Seated Rows, Dips, Pull-Ups (3-6 sets of 4-6 reps per exercise)
  • Day 2 (hypertrophy) - Squat, Hack Squat, OHP, DB Flys, Bent Over Rows, DB Raises, DB rows, Lat Pulldown (2-4 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise)

If you can only train 2 times per week, but you have a solid base of experience training, you could likely benefit from having one day focus on strength, with another day focusing on power. In this case, I would perform a few main exercises in the target zone (such as 8x3 at 80% for an advanced strength workout), and follow those exercises up with bodybuilding style supportive accessory exercises.

Example for Intermediate Lifters:

  • Day 1 (power) - Clean Grip High Pull, Dead Rows, Back Jerk, DB Box Jump, Box Jump (4-6 sets of 2-4 reps per exercise)
  • Day 2 (strength) - Deadlift, Back Squat, Strict Overhead Press, Bench Press, Weighted Pull-Ups, Weighted Dips, Heavy Rows, Heavy Raises (3-6 sets of 3-6 reps per exercise)
  • Note: Hypertrophy work would be thrown in on each day, following a couple of primary exercises.

Strength Training 3 Days per Week

In a 3 day strength training week, I would once again advice a full body workout approach. In this case, I would include a strength day, a power day, and an bodybuilding/hypertrophy day. Whether you were a novice or an intermediate lifter, I would advise this program, and simply change the workloads to fit your current capabilities.

Example 3-Day per Week:

  • Day 1 (power) - Clean Grip High Pull, Dead Rows, Back Jerk, DB Box Jump, Box Jump (4-6 sets of 2-4 reps per exercise)
  • Day 2 (strength) - Deadlift, Back Squat, Strict Overhead Press, Bench Press, Weighted Pull-Ups, Weighted Dips, Heavy Rows, Heavy Raises (3-6 sets of 3-6 reps per exercise)
  • Day 3 (hypertrophy) - Squat, Hack Squat, OHP, DB Flys, Bent Over Rows, DB Raises, DB rows, Lat Pulldown (2-4 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise)

Strength Training 4, 5, or 6 Days per Week

If you are an advanced lifter with years of experience, chances are you will either want or need to train 4-6 times per week to get the most out of your training. At 4 or more days per week, I would advise and upper-lower or a push-pull strength training split. This is an easy way to avoid overuse, and allows you to distribute all training goals throughout the week.

Example Push-Pull Split:

  • Day 1 - Lower Body Pull (Deadlift, Dead Row, Clean Grip High Pull, RDL, Good Morning, Back Extensions, Sled Pull)
  • Day 2 - Upper Body Push (Back Jerk, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Push Press, Weighted Dips, etc.)
  • Day 3 - Lower Body Push (Back Squat, Front Squat, Belt Squat, Hack Squat, Prowler Push, Lunges)
  • Day 4 - Upper Body Pull (Bent Over Rows, DB rows, Seated Cable Rows, Weighted Pull-Ups, etc.)

Example Upper Lower Split:

  • Day 1 - Lower Body Power (High Pulls, Olympic Lifts, Jumps)
  • Day 2 - Upper Body Power (Bench at 50% or less, Push Press, Back Jerk, Med Ball Throw, Explosive Push-Ups, Explosive Pull-Ups)
  • Day 3 - Lower Body Strength (Deadlifts, Squats, RDL's, Sled Work, etc. at 75%+)
  • Day 4 - Upper Body Strength (Bench, OHP, Rows, Dips/Pull-Ups at 75%+)
  • Day 5 - Lower Body Hypertrophy (Squats, Hack Squats, Deadlifts, Leg Extensions, Leg Press, Leg Curls, RDL's, Good Mornings, etc. at 70% or less)
  • Day 6 - Upper Body Hypertrophy (Bench, Pull-Ups, Rows, OHP, Cable Exercises, DB exercises, etc. at 70% or less)
    • Days 5 & 6 can combine for a 5 day strength training program.

Conclusion

Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter, there are a variety of factors you must consider when deciding how often you should perform strength training. Strength training is not limited to 1 rep max grinders, but instead is composed of a balanced program which focuses on basic strength, power, absolute strength, hypertrophy, and strength endurance work.

Your training history is important, because what you can do now is the result of what you've done in the recent and not-so recent past.

Your training goals are extremely important, as they determine what your main focus should be and where you should spend your energy.

Your point in the training year is important because you want to be training as specifically as possible when you are close to or in competition.

Your current physical state matters, as you cannot perform intense work when injured. You can only work as hard as your body will allow.

Your sleep and food intake matters, as these are literally the foundation of your recovery capabilities. Without food and sleep, you will not recover from strength training.

Your genetics matter, primarily due to the fact that they are essentially the instruction manual for your body to do what it needs to do. Some people need more time to recover, and that is simply how they are genetically built.

If you are training two to three times per week, then you should follow a full body workout split, where the focus of each day is either power, strength, or hypertrophy.

If you are training four to six times per week, then you should follow either a push-pull or an upper body-lower body strength training split. Each day can focus on either upper body pushes and pulls, or upper/lower strength/power/hypertrophy.

Hopefully this article has provided you with some ideas and resources to be able to put your strength training plan into action. In the event that you still need help, I provide pre-built sprint training programs as well as custom programs & coaching, and would be happy to work with you.