"Do I really have to strength train every... single... day?" If you're getting into this strength training stuff, this may be a thought going through your head.
Short answer: no.
Long answer: it depends.
Very clarifying, huh? Unfortunately, much of the information out there on the web about how you can design your own strength training plan is, shall I say, conflicting. Some gurus say you should hit the gym 6-7 days a week, exceeding the pinnacle of gym rat-ness. Others say 3 days a week. On top of that, you hear about every other answer in between.
Which to believe? What is really applicable to you and your needs?
Well today you're in luck -- I've got a cheat sheet for you to use to help you determine how many days a week you should hit the weights.
First, it depends on how the following variables apply to you. There are 3 variables that we'll be discussing today.
Experience level: extremely de-conditioned, beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Chances are, you fit into one of these categories and it'll make a big difference on how many days a week you'll start off with.
Goals: what are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to enter into a Figure competition? Powerlifting? Improve your Tennis game? Or do you just want to feel stronger and more energetic in your day-to-day life? All will have different needs.
Schedule: you may not have 8-12 hours a week to devote to strength training (and in the vast majority of cases, it's not required). Figure out how much time you can set aside per week.
Let's get down to the nitty gritty, shall we?
Variable #1: Experience Level
An extremely de-conditioned person who hasn't worked out in ages will not be able to workout at the same volume and frequency as someone who is an elite level Powerlifter. We're just not there yet.
And that's okay. You don't have to be there yet. If this person describes you, twice per week is probably going to be what you can handle in your strength training program initially. You'll want to space these days evenly in the week to allow for maximum recovery -- like a Monday/Thursday or a Tuesday/Friday.
Someone who now has a basic level of conditioning (i.e., been training consistently for 4-8 weeks) but is still a beginner would be best suited to strength train 3 times per week, if possible for their schedule. Two days per week is the absolute minimum.
An intermediate lifter will need a minimum of 3 days per week to achieve their desired results but I highly recommend 4 days per week, especially for those wanting to get to an advanced level.
An advanced lifter will need 4 days per week strength training.
Variable #2: Goals
What are your goals? You'd be surprised at just how few people actually sit down and write their goals out before beginning a strength training program. This is so important. You need to know your "why." The "why" will also instruct you on what you MUST do in the gym to succeed.
For Every Day Badassery:
If you are strength training in order to feel more alive, more energetic, and take life by the horns then you need 3 days per week. 4 days per week maximum (only if you want to). You'll want to strength train enough during the week to get your money's worth (ahem, 3), but anything more than that isn't necessary.
Hello friend! If you're serious about competing in strength competitions, 4 days a week is your sweet spot. If you're brand new, start with 2-3 and then build up to 4 days. I have found that an upper/lower/upper/lower split works best for me and many clients that I have trained. Don't get tempted to go down the traditional bodybuilding split path- it just isn't necessary for your goals.
The sweet spot for muscle development is 4 days a week. Some people will do more of a traditional bodybuilding split (6 days per week), but unless you are planning to compete in a figure or physique competitions, that's overkill. On the flip side, 3 days a week is required at a minimum for optimum muscle development.
Sport Performance: Get better at Tennis, Golf, Figure Skating, You Name It
Yay, good on you! You're most likely using strength training to boost your performance and reduce risk of injury in your sport. Great! Typically, the frequency with which you strength train will depend on if you are off-season or in-season. You should spend more time hitting the weights in the off-season and then, once your competitive season starts, you will transition to a maintenance phase (especially if you have tons of games/competitions/meets during your in-season).
This also depends on how much strength you need for your sport. An American Football player has MUCH different strength needs than a Gymnast. Yet, strength is still very important to both sports. It just manifests itself in different ways.
Depending on your sport, you want to spend a minimum of 3 days per week and a maximum of 4 days per week strength training in your off-season. During your competition season, you will still need to strength train a minimum of 2 times per week to maintain the strength you've developed in your off-season.
Variable #3: Schedule
At the end of the day, most of us are adults with more responsibilities than we can shake a stick at. We're not professional athletes- most of our jobs do not list "working out" in the job description. So at the end of the day, you have to make your strength training schedule match your real-life schedule.
With that being said, you'll never achieve your goals if you make excuses for "how busy" your life is. At the end of the day, you must prioritize your strength training or you'll never be able to reap the benefits of it in your life, your activities, or your passions.
That's the KEY difference between those who wish they had more strength, more muscle tone, or more energy and vitality and those who actually go out there and get it. Consistency is probably the most important variable in your strength training program.
So the short answer is: 2 days per week minimum, 6 days maximum. The answer is highly dependent on your current exercise experience/conditioning status, your goals, and your schedule.
"Okay great, now I know how many days a week I should be strength training. But what should I do on those days? Upper body? Lower body? Total Body? Chest and Triceps one day and Back and biceps the next?"
I'm glad you asked. All excellent questions, indeed. Ready for my answer?
There's not a clear cut explanation. Once again, depends on your exercise status, goals, and schedule. But that's a topic for another day.
I get questions on this kind of stuff all the time. So to answer your questions, I've written a Free 5-Day Course that addresses this very question, as well as 19 other questions and strength training mistakes. In the course, I've included a worksheet that details exactly what your weekly "split" should be- upper, lower, total body, or whether you should break it down by "body part" or not. To get your copy, click on the link below to sign up for free.
Top 20 Strength Training Mistakes You Are Making in the Gym (Free E-Course)
Till next time folks!