As most of you know, muscles take time to recover. Thus when it comes to how many days a week you should lift, more isn’t necessarily better. So what’s the optimal number of days you should lift to optimize strength?
How many days a week should I lift?
One meta analysis found that untrained participants (lifting for less than 1 year) gained additional strength when training each muscle group up to 3x a week. Trained participants (lifting for more than 1 year), however, achieved maximal strength gains by training each muscle group 2x a week. Another meta analysis found that college and professional athletes gained no additional strength from training each muscle group 3x a week (see below).
To clarify, these numbers are days training each muscle group, not total days training. One study found that doing 4 total body workouts produced similar results to doing 2 upper body and 2 lower body workouts (while controlling for volume and intensity). For that reason, it is typically recommended that beginners do 3 total body workouts versus splitting them over 6 days (it’s less demanding that way). For intermediates it’s recommended that training be split into 4 days in order to increase volume (2 days of upper body and 2 days of lower body, for example). For the advanced, 4 to 6 days a week, or more, is recommended.
If you’re a beginner, doing a total body workout 3 non-consecutive days a week is the best way to go, even though you will still make gains with less frequency. Intermediates and the advanced should aim to train each muscle group 2x a week. How you want to structure your workout in order to accomplish this depends on your personal preferences and goals.
American College of Sports Medicine. “American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults.”Medicine and science in sports and exercise 41.3 (2009): 687.
Calder, Aaron W., et al. “Comparison of whole and split weight training routines in young women.” Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology 19.2 (1994): 185-199.
Peterson, Mark D., Matthew R. Rhea, and Brent A. Alvar. “Applications of the dose-response for muscular strength development: a review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 19.4 (2005): 950-958.
Peterson, Mark D., Matthew R. Rhea, and Brent A. Alvar. “Maximizing strength development in athletes: a meta-analysis to determine the dose-response relationship.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.2 (2004): 377-382.
Rhea, Matthew R., et al. “A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 35.3 (2003): 456-464.