Are you strength training too much, or too little? Three experts explain how often you should really be lifting weights.
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. If you go off what you see on social media, you may feel as though you should train every day. But others swear by a twice-a-week full body session to keep them strong. So what’s the truth?
According to a 2016 Sports Medicine review comparing muscle growth in people who trained each muscle group once, twice, or three times per week over a couple of months, working a muscle twice a week will elicit fast change. But it’s a tough balancing act between doing too much and not enough, especially given the negative consequences of overtraining.
How many times a week should I strength train?
“This is tricky because everyone is different,” says head trainer at Rowbots Tess Glynne-Jones. “It depends on the intensity and the duration of your training, and it depends on if you’re a novice or if you’re advanced.”
Emma Obayuvana, fitness trainer from the Strong Women Collective, agrees that it’s important to consider your training experience. “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 to ease yourself in while getting the most from your sessions. It’s not about destroying your body. If you’re not able to recover, you’ll hate it.”
For those who are more adapted to their strength training routine, Tess and Emma both recommend aiming for three strength sessions a week, with the sessions lasting between 45 minutes to an hour.
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What type of weight lifting should I do?
“If you’re regularly training with general health and fitness as your goal, I’d recommend mixing up your training with body weight, lifting weights, using a TRX and mixing up endurance, hypertrophy and strength reps,” says fitness trainer Caroline Bragg. “There’s so many ways you can strength train. It’s just about what works well for you.
As for your workout split? “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 for maximum strength gains,” says Tess. “The best thing to do to get the most out of those sessions is to focus on the fundamental 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. You could do pushing movements as your compound and then bring in an isolated movement like tricep dips or triceps extension overhead. The more times you train per week the more flexibility you have with the exercises you can incorporate.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).