Strength training: how many times a week should you lift weights?

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Are you strength training too much, or too litte? Fitness trainers explain how often we should be pressing, squatting and lifting in the gym.

While we know that lifting weights is important for a strong body and mind, the messaging around how and how often we should be working out is often unclear. Should we be traipsing to the gym every morning before work to blast out a push-pull training plan, or is a once-a-week visit to the weights room going to be enough?

A Sports Medicine review from 2016 compared muscle growth in people who trained each muscle group once, twice, or three times per week over a couple months. They found that when you work a muscle twice a week, it grows more than when you train it once a week.

But is that enough? Or too much for the average person with a busy schedule?

It’s a tough balancing act, especially as overdoing it can have negative consequences on your training. So, we asked three fitness trainers, Nike ambassador Tess Glynne-Jones, Sweaty Betty ambassador Caroline Bragg and member of the Strong Women Collective Emma Obayuvana, to explain how often we really should be weight training.  

Strength training advice from Stylist Strong trainers
Strength training: how often you train depends on the intensity and the duration of your workout.

How many times a week should I strength train? 

Tess Glynne-Jones:

“This is tricky because everyone is different. It depends on the intensity and the duration of your training, and it depends on where you’re at; if you’re a novice or if you’re advanced. Three times a week is a very good aim, with the sessions lasting between 45 minutes to an hour.”

Emma Obayuvana:

“If you are somebody who hasn’t done any type of weight training exercise, let’s say someone whose only done Pilates, yoga or running, I would say start with one session a week. Use exercises that are functional and compound. It’s about easing in, not going and destroying your body. If you’re not able to recover, you’ll hate it. If you’re an intermediate trainer, then three times a week is a good target.”

Caroline Bragg:

“It really depends on your goals. If you’re just regularly training for a long life I would say three times a week strength training – it could be body weight training, lifting weights, TRX – there’s so many ways you can strength train. It’s just about what works well for you.

“If you’re trying to improve your endurance, for a marathon or something like that, do two cardio sessions as well. Or, if you’re not working on endurance, then maybe you might go for something like an extra yoga session.”

What type of weight lifting should I do?

Tess Glynne-Jones:

“If you’re training between one to three times a week then it’s quite good to make every session full-body because then you’re targeting all the muscle groups several times. 

“The best thing to do to get the most out of those sessions is to focus on compound lifts, where you’re working multiple muscle groups at a time. Focus training around squats, deadlifts, press-ups, overhead press, pull ups or any kind of big movement.

“If you’re going four to six times a week you can do more of an upper/lower body split and you can start to bring in those more isolated movements to start getting the specific muscles. So, you could do pushing movements as your compound and then bring in an isolated movement like tricep dips or triceps extension overhead. So, I guess the more times you train per week the more flexibility you have with the exercises you can incorporate.”

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