How Many Days Per Week Should I Lift?
Finding the ideal numbers of days to exercise, especially with weightlifting can be a tricky problem. If you find yourself confused on how often to exercise and what workouts to perform on your training day, then this is the post for you! One of the biggest mistakes you can make is go into the gym without a plan, performing exercises at random that are swapped out regularly, and not measure your progression for each exercise on a regular basis. I highly recommend that for all lifters, ranging from beginners to advanced trainees to adopt a proven weightlifting strategy that is most enjoyable and best suited for your strength training goals. But above all else, an effective lifting program should be based on compound movements, have a progression strategy in place, and you should be able to stay consistent with it for an extensive period of time (at least 6-12 months). If you’re currently struggling to execute on this, consider the recommendations I provide below for a method to approach your strength training workouts.
As a beginner to strength training looking to optimize results, a fullbody program will always be the most optimal strategy to maximize “newbie” gains. A 3x/wk fullbody program has shown significantly greater hypertrophy potential to individual body splits (Schoenfeld et al 2015), proven to provide more than enough stimulus to achieve linear progression on a weekly basis. With proper form, nutrition, and an effective training strategy in place, beginners can expect to add strength to their main lifts on a daily basis, and see faster muscle gains than they will at any other point in their lifting careers. In addition to this, as a beginner coming from no previous strength training experience, it is advisable to limit heavy lifting to fewer days per week to optimize recovery and avoid overtraining. I see so many beginners making the mistake of lifting almost every single day, justifying that decision based on the thought of maximizing the amount of muscle and strength they could gain in the gym. Listen, if you’re in that position I honestly understand where you’re coming from, because I personally had the same mindset when I first started out. But taking a look at the research and the personal gains I’ve experienced throughout my lifting career, I realize now that’s sometimes less is more. There’s a reason why some of the most popular beginner strength training programs of all time (such as Starting Strength and Fierce 5) are based on compound lifts performed no more than 3 days per week. I promise you that if you stick to a program for a long period of time, and maximize your nutrition and recovery, you will be amazed at the progress you’ll make on a week-to-week basis.
Lifters in the intermediate stage should take a different approach to their training strategy. As a lifter becomes more experienced, they require more volume per session/week to yield additional gains in strength and hypertrophy (Schoenfeld et al 2017), and therefore it is advisable to develop a more split-based routine (i.e. Upper-Lower) to maintain a similar frequency while providing additional volume to each muscle group. In order to build muscle and strength you have to progressively overload over time by adding weight, sets, reps, etc. and increased volume is a prime factor in achieving such progression in the gym (Häkkiken et al 1994) (Wernborm et al 2007). I talked in the last paragraph about beginning lifters who achieve linear progression when they first start out, but unfortunately the same rate of progression does not apply as you become more experienced, and therefore you have to manipulate additional variables in your training. What defines an intermediate lifter varies from different organizations, but in general I would recommend sticking to a beginner’s fullbody program until you are able to complete at least 1 repetition on a 135-pound Overhead Press, 225-pound Bench Press, 315-pound Squat, and 405-pound Deadlift. I know those may seem like very high numbers, but that helps highlight my point on the progression potential you can have on a proper strength training program. Focus on building a solid foundation of muscle and strength, then adopt more advanced training factors that will ensure continuous gains in your new phase of training.
In addition to the same reasons for intermediate lifters that additional volume is required in order to elicit more gains to an experienced lifter over time, it is important to consider the principle of diminishing returns when programming for advanced lifters. Diminishing returns refers to the fact that as one approaches their genetic potential for muscle size and strength, their rate of development decreases accordingly (McMaster et al 2013). Due to this fact, it becomes necessary to increase specialization each workout (i.e. perform 3-4 exercises for each muscle group in PPL as opposed to 1-2 in a fullbody workout). Increased training volume, combined with a more specialized routine and equal frequency of training each muscle group is a proven strategy to maximizing gains for an experienced lifter. A Push-Pull-Legs Split (or performed as Legs-Push-Pull) is an incredibly popular lifting approach for advanced trainees, and for good reason. This workout split is based on compound lifts, allows you to hit each muscle group 2X per week, and still adds plenty of volume through additional exercises to provide an overload stimulus required to get stronger and build muscle. Another example of a proven workout split for advanced trainees would be splitting your lifting sessions into “strength” and “hypertrophy” days. At least 2 days of the week, focus on more compound movements in the lower rep ranges (1-6), while the remaining days are more focused on exercises for hypertrophy performed in higher rep ranges (6-12). A good example of this type of program that I recommend is Layne Norton’s PHAT (Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training).
The amount of days you train per week based on your lifting experience is an important factor in the subsequent muscle and strength gains you’ll see from the gym, but it’s certainly not the only factor in your progress. Outside of experience/training age, it also essential that you consider time availability, adherence, and personal preference all as key factors when selecting a lifting program to pursue. As I mentioned before, there is no sense in picking up the most optimal program if it is not going to be sustainable to follow on a long-term basis. With that being said if you’re not currently seeing the results you desire from the workout program you’re following in the gym, I highly recommend looking into the exercises you’re performing, how often you’re training, and the progression you’re experiencing on a week-to-week basis. Consider each these principles when finding the right program for you, stay consistent with a workout routine that you enjoy and progress on, and continue to make lifting something that enhances every area of your life. I hope I was able to shed some light on this topic, and help you guys make the best decisions when it comes to your exercise routine.
What weightlifting program are you guys currently following and how is it going? I would love to hear down in the comments below! And if you’re new here, please introduce yourself and let me know what topics you’d like me to cover next.