How Often to Lift WeightsUse scientific research to determine how often people should lift weights. One to three times per week is usually best.
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Lifting weights. The loaded barbell falls to the floor. The muscles on his powerful body are wet with sweat. Huge legs bulge from his tight shorts.

How often. If you want to transform into a strong muscular bodybuilder, you need to lift weights. Lifting heavy weights 3 times a week is best.

Tip Scientific research finds that two to three times per week is the best schedule for people in average shape.

Elite athletes They can lift weights even twice a day with good results. But lifting too often is harmful.

Heavier not always better Lifting lighter weights can yield better results. This is variable-resistance training.

Maintain. How often do you need to lift weights to maintain your strength? One study was done on professional soccer players. These guys are in good shape.

For soccer players Lifting weights one time per week was sufficient to maintain strength and muscle mass.

Quote The practical recommendation from the present study is that during a 12-week period, 1 strength maintenance session per week may be sufficient to maintain initial gain in strength and sprint performance achieved during a preceding preparatory period.

Effects of in-season strength maintenance training

Initial strength gains. When the soccer players first gained the new levels of strength, they trained twice a week for ten weeks.

Gains After this initial ten weeks, the gains were maintained for 12 weeks with only one workout per week.

Quote The players performed the same strength training program twice a week during a 10-week preparatory period (Effects of in-season strength maintenance training).

Weekly. There is a lot of medical research on weight lifting for older adults. Several studies have shown that once a week is sufficient for older people.

Quote A program of once or twice weekly resistance exercise achieves muscle strength gains similar to 3 days per week training in older adults and is associated with improved neuromuscular performance.

Once-weekly resistance exercise

Hormones. For younger people who have more natural growth hormone and testosterone, further advantages could likely be gained from more frequent weight lifting.


Study. Another study has shown that older people prefer once a week weight lifting workouts. No further benefits for older people were derived from twice-weekly lifting sessions.

Quote Further research is warranted given the once-a-week exercise intervention should cost less, had higher compliance and was nominated as the preferred exercise frequency by most of the participants.

Effectiveness, once-weekly exercise

Motivation. The study brought up an important issue with regards to exercise frequency. It is important to lift weights as often as you enjoy lifting—within certain constraints.

And For the subjects, the favorite schedule was once a week. This increased the likelihood they continued lifting.

Variable-resistance. This is a form of training that has been tested. This is where every lifting workout has a different level of resistance.

Note The study was done on older adults. Still the general principle could be applied to younger people.

Resistance groups. In the variable-resistance group, one workout each week done was at 80% capacity, 65% capacity, and 50% capacity.

And At 50% capacity the heaviest weight lifted was only half the weight of the heaviest that person could lift.

Quote Despite similar increases in strength and fat free mass, the [variable-resistance] group decreased difficulty of performing the carry task more than the [high-resistance] group.

Quote These data suggest that larger improvements... may be achieved if frequency of high-resistance training is less than 3 times per week.

High-resistance versus variable-resistance training

Not lifting heavy. This study provides evidence for not lifting as heavy as possible each workout. A bodybuilder might see better results if he lifted lighter weights.

Tip He might have more success with only one super-heavy workout per week. The other two workouts could be lighter.

So This study provides evidence for variable-resistance training, where lighter weights are sometimes preferred to heavier ones.

Three times. The standard weight lifting workout is three times a week. This schedule is used in medical research and in books like Starting Strength.

One study. One study done on overweight kids in New Jersey used the standard three days a week schedule. The results were encouraging.

Three days The three days a week schedule is great for young people and those with enough motivation.

Quote Subjects were randomly assigned to a control group or to a resistance training group that participated in supervised strength training 3 days/week.

The impact of a 12-week resistance training program

Too often. Lifting too often causes muscles to atrophy, to become smaller and weaker. A study was done on rats. The control rats did no resistance exercise.

And The other group did resistance exercise five days a week, with weight packs on their backs.

Quote Wistar rats were divided into two groups: trained and control. [Trained] group [was] subjected to a high-intensity resistance training program (5 days/week) for 12 weeks (The impact of a 12-week resistance training program).

Results, muscular rats. The rats that exercised five days a week with heavy weights gained less weight and had less strength and less muscle than those that did no special exercise.

Note To restate, the rats that worked out at the gym excessively became weaker and smaller.

And For these rats, five times a week is too much. If they were allowed more rest days, they would be in better shape.

Quote These data show that high-intensity resistance training with insufficient recovery time between bouts promoted muscle atrophy and a transition from slow-to-fast contractile activity in rat plantaris muscle (The impact of a 12-week resistance training program).

Humans and rats. Humans have a lot in common with the animals used in these studies. Lifting five days a week (in full-body, compound movements) is not often recommended.

Twice daily. A study was done on elite athletes—the best of the best. It found that these athletes had limited benefits from lifting weights twice daily over once-daily.

Comparisons: twice-daily, once-daily

Tip The testosterone levels of the men were influenced by this in a positive way.

Elite. There is an important thing to note about these lifters who exercised twice a day. These athletes are elite. They are above average in physical fitness and exercise capacity.

But For regular men who try to work out this much, the results are usually discouraging.

Testosterone, Lifting

A commitment. Physical fitness is a long-term commitment of many years—your entire life in fact. Choose a workout frequency you are comfortable with.

Tip For people who have jobs and families, a twice-weekly workout is likely superior.

And For many, lifting weights twice or three times a week is best. For older people, lifting only once a week is best.

Football players. How often do football players lift weights? In the book Starting Strength, by Mark Rippetoe, young men are trained with barbells to prepare for football.

And These are often teenagers—some close to 15 years old. The strength training program these boys use has three sessions a week.

Squats It focuses on squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and Olympic lifts. It is similar to a powerlifting workout.

So Football players, in preparation for their sport, lift weights three times a week. Recovery is essential.

Sore muscles. I hate it when things hurt. Sometimes after a heavy workout my shoulder hurts, or my knee, or my hand. Also my back and my legs and feet sometimes hurt.

That research. It shows that lifting weights one to three times a week yields the best results. For those in better condition, 3 times is preferable.

A warning. If you exercise more than your body can handle, your muscles will atrophy. They become smaller and weaker. This is not a bodybuilding goal.

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