There’s no shortage of people who swear by the many benefits of strength training. Even researchers are all about it, producing studies that link strength training to everything from improved bone density and a revved metabolism to improved mental health.
If you’ve ever walked into a weight room at rush hour, you know that there are a multitude of ways to approach strength training. The best for you, of course, depends on your goals.
“It’s important to map out what your ultimate goal is in order to get the results you want,” explains certified personal trainer Vicky Loza, C.P.T. “Everybody is different, and it’s important to do what is best for you.”
Here, experts walk through how frequently you should strength train for your individual goal—whether that’s to shed pounds, build strength, boost your muscle, or just to feel good.
How Often To Strength Train For Fat Loss
Since folks with more muscle mass tend to burn more calories at rest, strength training is one of few ways you can boost your baseline metabolism. You see, while an abundance of calorie burning through exercise can help supplement a weight-loss plan, how many calories you burn at rest (which accounts for the vast majority of your day) plays a far larger role.
And while the most crucial component to shedding body fat is maintaining a calorie deficit, strength training is still a piece of the puzzle, explains personal trainer Roxie Jones, C.P.T. “[Weight loss] tremendously depends on diet, but, generally speaking, strength training two to three times per week is sufficient for supporting weight loss,” she explains. Just don’t expect it to make up for an otherwise sedentary lifestyle or poor eating habits.
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Another key here: staying consistent for at least eight to 12 weeks and making sure your sessions challenge you, Jones says.
How Often To Strength Train To Build Strength
Not only can strength training help you move through life’s physical demands with more ease, but it can also help improve your athleticism if you’re into sports or other active recreational activities.
For best strength-building benefits, aim for three to four days of heavy lifting per week. “Start with six sets of 80 to 100 percent of your one-rep-maximum (1RM),” suggests personal trainer Holly Roser, C.P.T. (FYI: Your one-rep max is the most weight you can lift in a single effort and is typically used for compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench press.)
That being said, a crucial part of building strength occurs outside of the gym. “Ensure you’re recovering correctly,” says Roser. This means building in at least one day of rest in between working out the same muscle group.
How Often To Strength Train To Build Muscle
For really seeing (and not just feeling) those gains, Loza is a big fan of a five-day-a-week strength training program. This training frequency gives you the opportunity to hone your workouts in on your back, chest, arms, and legs (which Roser recommends doing twice per week) to maximize your muscle-building potential.
As for how much to lift? Choose weights around 75 to 85 percent of your 1RM and shoot for three to five sets of six to 12 reps.
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As with fat loss, your food intake is key. “Nutrition is paramount in the hypertrophy, or muscle-building, phase,” explains Roser. Prioritizing protein intake, in particular, is typically a must. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends aiming for 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. (A protein powder comes in handy if you’re having trouble meeting your needs.)
How Often To Strength Train For General Health
Now, what if you don’t have any plans to shed weight or put on muscle but still want to reap strength training’s health benefits?
Two to three days of strength training per week is a solid start, says Roser, who recommends aiming for two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps of your exercises. And don’t stress about piling on the weights. Your own bodyweight works fine for exercises like lunges, squats, pushups, and planks. And, if you’re brand-new to strength training, starting with your bodyweight (and mastering your movement sans weight) is key.
For best all-around health results, pair your strength training with a few days per week of cardiovascular exercise, like walking, running, hopping on the elliptical, or taking a spin class.