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How Often Should We Lift Weights?

by Fred Hahn on March 6, 2013

As many of you already know, strength training produces many positive health benefits including but not limited to increased strength, endurance, muscle and bone mass, decreased blood pressure, body fat, risk of injury and falls. Recently, research has revealed that strength training improves cognitive function and reverses certain genetic markers of aging. No longer is lifting weights just something you do to make your muscles bigger. We now know that it makes you smarter and younger!

At Serious Strength Personal Training (my strength studio), we have always advocated two weekly strength training sessions for best results. One weekly session does indeed provide good benefits, but not as good as two for the vast majority of people I have trained over the past 25 years and more than two has never seemed to produce significantly better benefits if any at all.

Below is a table sent to me from my friend Dr. Wayne Westcott. Dr. Westcott is one of the countries foremost experts in exercise science. He just completed a large scale study involving over 1600 subjects comparing 1,2 and 3 strength training sessions a week over a 10 week period. His training methods are very similar to ours – 20-30 minute sessions, single sets of each exercise, multiple exercises per body part, slow repetition tempo continued to total muscle exhaustion or as we describe it “muscular success.”

Table 2: Baseline to Post Test Changes (M±SD) by Training Frequency

1XWk Group                          2XWk Group                   3XWk Group

(n=81)                                   (n=845)                                 (n=693)

Percent Body Fat

(%)

-1.43a

(±1.35)

-1.85b

(±1.49)

-2.19c

(±1.52)

Fat Weight

(kg)

-1.34a

(±1.72)

-1.47a

(±2.04)

-2.01b

(±2.61)

Lean Weight

(kg)

0.33a

(±3.57)

1.40b

(±3.21)

1.40b

(±2.53)

Systolic Blood Pressure

(mmHg)

-4.19a

(±12.13)

-3.14a

(±13.53)

-4.63a

(±14.63)

Diastolic Blood Pressure

(mmHg)

-1.97a

(±8.33)

-1.36a

(±9.89)

-2.15a

(±8.89)

Values that significantly differ (p<.05) are denoted by different superscripts.

As you can see, 2 weekly training sessions produced significantly better gains in lean weight than one session a week (3lbs. vs. <1lbs.) and better losses in fat mass.  What is probably most interesting to many, is that three strength sessions a week did not produce better gains in lean tissue.

And though 3 weekly sessions did produce better fat loss than 2 sessions a week, since diet was not part of the study, we cannot attribute any amount of the fat loss to the training. It may have had an effect, but the added fat loss could not have been caused by the few extra calories burned in one, 20 minute strength session since most of the energy used when exercising come from stored muscle glycogen and not body fat. And even if it was pure fat being used, the math just doesn’t add up. It could just have been caused by continued preoccupation, meaning, they didn’t eat as many sugary, fat promoting foods since they were exercising.

Benefits to blood pressure were statistically equal for all groups. That’s nice to see!

If you look at the table up top on over training, since there is no evidence that more exercise is better, you can save yourself from the above mentioned symptoms. I mean, if three sessions is not better than two, do you think four sessions will be any better? Me neither.

So,  it behooves you to try and squeeze in two weekly strength sessions for best overall results. This is one reason why we created the Serious Strength Lite, 15 minute strength training session at our studio. Short, but really sweet. A little can go a long way. Even training 3 times in a two week period will benefit you to a greater degree than one session a week.

For fat loss, just eat right which research suggests is a low sugar, adequate fatty protein diet.

Now go get strong! Your thoughts?

I've been involved in exercise ever since I became a member of The Charles Atlas Club when I was 10 years old. In 1998, I founded and established Serious Strength on the Upper West Side of NYC. My clients include kids, seniors (and everyone in between), top CEOs, celebrities, bestselling authors, journalists and TV personalities.
my book. my Gym.

in Body Building,Health/Fitness,personal training,strength training · 25 comments

{ 1 trackback }

Fred Hahn Says Two Weekly Seesions of Weight Training Are Optimal | Advanced Mediterranean Life
March 7, 2013 at 6:34 AM

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

chuck March 6, 2013 at 11:26 AM

what was the average age of the subjects?

Fred Hahn March 7, 2013 at 12:56 PM

I’ll look Chuck but that shouldn’t matter.

Rich March 7, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Fred,

Do you have any thoughts on doing a full body routine (I’m thinking something like the BBS Big Five Workout here) 2x per week vs. doing some kind of upper/lower body split or some other method of breaking up the body parts?

My understanding of the 1x/week philosophy is to allow enough time to repair and rebuild without interfering with that process. Do you program your workouts (and your clients’ workouts) with this in mind or has your experience been that people are generally recovered enough between workouts to do another and keep improving!

Great post, btw! Thanks!

Paul Z March 8, 2013 at 11:44 AM

Since I started a more serious strength training program I have experimented with 1x, 2x and 3x per week. Over two years I’ve finally found that 2x works best for me, so I agree with the results above. I’m 50 years old, if that matters. With 1x I always felt I was starting each workout a bit from scratch. 3x was too hard on my body, and eventually one out of the three workouts would be light, so why bother. With 2x I work as hard as I can each workout and seem to be gaining ground each week. I do mostly the same workout each session, squats, press/bench press, dead-lifts and chin-ups. Sometimes I skip the dead-lifts since they seem to take a longer time for recovery.

Dwayne Wimmer March 11, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Fred,

You and I have been in this industry doing similar training for about the same amount of time. I have found, anecdotally, that when a client truly works to their potential, this is true. Most of my clients, however, work at somewhat less then maximum effort and if push to that point they would not workout at all. So, I have found for a lot of the general public that increasing the frequency to 3 times a week will yield somewhat better results. It also gets them into a more regular routine and they stick with their program longer so in turn get better long term results.

Dwayne Wimmer
Owner
Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio

Jeff Bissonnette March 12, 2013 at 9:56 AM

“It may have had an effect, but the added fat loss could not have been caused by the few extra calories burned in a 20 minute strength session since most of the energy used when exercising come from stored muscle glycogen and not body fat.”

The extra fat burned could still be attributed to the exercise due to the increase in EPOC as a result of the third session, not just the calories burned during the sessions.

Rosanna March 13, 2013 at 6:02 PM

I started your slow burn workout (have the Vook) a few weeks ago, and I have a few questions: Do you recommend or discourage doing any other workouts in between slow burn days? Like calisthenics or yoga, not weight-bearing. What about walking or jogging? My goal is fat loss (about 30lbs), and I’m also doing the Eades’ Protein Power plan. Thanks!

Ondrej March 31, 2013 at 3:46 PM

Hm. 10 weeks study. What does it tell us about 2x a week being optimal for more advanced subjects? Nothing. All it show is 2x a week is the best starting point, with possible reduction of volume in future when one learns to fatique himself more during a session and needs more recovery.

Tom Richards April 13, 2013 at 4:08 PM

I have been following a similar schedule but have not been doing any of the measuring. Good idea so I will get started although won’t know what my baseline was last summer when I started.

Fred Hahn May 13, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Dwayne -What do you mean by better results? Can you be more specific? Thanks and thanks for reading!!

Fred Hahn May 13, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Rosanna – More exercise isn’t recommended. Follow the Eades eating plan, strength train 2X per week and get good sleep. Very important! If you want to be active, do it for fun and enjoyment not for fat loss. :)

And thanks for buying my Vook app!

oscar May 16, 2013 at 2:31 PM

Lift as often as you want. People who like training and actually want to get good at it can get great results practicing their training and getting much stronger than Fred.
If you view lifting as a distasteful activity only to be done b/c you need to for health, then follow Fred’s recommendations.

Fred Hahn May 16, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Oscar said:

“Lift as often as you want. People who like training and actually want to get good at it can get great results practicing their training and getting much stronger than Fred.”

****Oscar – what you said above is silly. For one, you should lifts as often as it is productive. Research shows that more than three sessions a week does not produce superior benefits to three. 2 weekly sessions provide 95% of the benefits of three. You want to make sure that adequate recovery is achieved.

Secondly, one should never compare different people. Sure, there are men my size who are stronger than I am. So what? In the end, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses WRT their body type and genetics. What a person wants to do is to continually get stronger, using proper form for saftey. Over time, muscle and bone is built and if the diet is healthful, leaner and healthier.

“If you view lifting as a distasteful activity only to be done b/c you need to for health, then follow Fred’s recommendations.”

****What I said was that if you are lifting weights properly the effort is difficult and uncomfortable. It isn’t fun like a game of golf or tennis is fun.

oscar May 16, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Fred, you can, if you want, make lifting productive with higher frequencies. Practicing lifts frequency with surprisingly light weight (50-70% 1RM) can also lead to new records when one gets around to trying them – on lifts not even practiced, too. My experience of this is not unique at all. There are many high frequency training protocols that can work.
An eager lifter should not be dissuaded from lifting more often but be encouraged to do so and can now also include an adaption to this increased workload as a benefit unavailable to infrequent trainee.
Hard work in the gym can be fun. “Fun AND hard” can be a mark of a good workout.

Fred Hahn May 16, 2013 at 3:26 PM

“Fred, you can, if you want, make lifting productive with higher frequencies. Practicing lifts frequency with surprisingly light weight (50-70% 1RM) can also lead to new records when one gets around to trying them – on lifts not even practiced, too. My experience of this is not unique at all. There are many high frequency training protocols that can work.”

****The way I train myself and my clients every other session is a new “record.” But so what? The point is not to demonstrate strength – the point is to improve body composition safely, and efficiently.

“An eager lifter should not be dissuaded from lifting more often but be encouraged to do so and can now also include an adaption to this increased workload as a benefit unavailable to infrequent trainee.”

****To a point. Most trainees don’t have a clue what they are doing in the gym and waste enormous amounts of time doing unsafe and less productive exercises. An eager trainee should be made aware of the need for intense effort, rest and recovery and nutrition.

“Hard work in the gym can be fun. “Fun AND hard” can be a mark of a good workout.”

****Hard work is never fun. It’s hard work. What is your definition of fun? Training can and is rewarding and gratifying but fun? If you’re having a jolly good time in the weight room you’re probably not working very hard OR – you have made weight training a social endeavor – something you do with buddies. But THAT is the fun part – not the actual grueling lifting aspect of it.

oscar May 16, 2013 at 3:33 PM

You have a sad sounding and strangely mechanistic view of training.

A set of squats so long and hard that one needs to ask their spotters what rep it is, after every rep(!), is hard. The comradeship built with good training mates makes doing hard things “fun.” Sometimes you need to wait until you can breath or count again for it to be fun, though.

oscar May 16, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Fun and hard is when you know the next exercise will be challenging, draining and may test you, but you look forward to it beforehand, and are glad you did it afterward.

Fred Hahn May 16, 2013 at 3:43 PM

“You have a sad sounding and strangely mechanistic view of training.”

****Why? What I am trying to explain is that the entire purpose of training with weights is not for having fun but for improving yourself physically. In order to do this correctly, the work had to be hard – quite hard in fact – and then ample recovery from the workout is then required. You want to discover the least amount of strength training exercise you require to obtain positive results, not the most of it that you can withstand.

I like your use of the word “mechanistic”:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662433/

“A set of squats so long and hard that one needs to ask their spotters what rep it is, after every rep(!), is hard. The comradeship built with good training mates makes doing hard things “fun.” Sometimes you need to wait until you can breath or count again for it to be fun, though.”

****That is what I said – you have made weight lifting a social occassion no different than going to a pool hall with your mates. THAT is the fun part not the exercises them selves.

John C. A. Manley June 30, 2013 at 3:37 PM

I’ve been experimenting with 2-3 sessions a week versus 6. When I switched to six workouts a week I saw dramatic improvements. At 2-3 sessions a week I was gaining one pound of muscle a month. When I switched to six a week, I suddenly went to gaining one pound of muscle a week. This has continued now into fifth week of doing 6 workouts a week.

I do not, however, do a full body workout each day. Just five sets of a single body weight exercises (including two easier warm-up sets). Monday’s are just leg lifts, for example. Tuesday is push-ups, etc. I do them real slow like you teach (I love it slow) done to failure (and a little beyond, I like to finish each set even if I need to take a short pause).

I’m not convinced that the body is primarily burning glycogen during weight lifting (if one follows a low-carb diet). I follow a very a low-carb, ketogenic diet. I exercise on a empty stomach in the morning, after 12 hours of fasting, and feel like I’m relying on ketones, not glucose, for most 80% of my exercise fuel.

I don’t know if the ketogenic diet, the fasting or the bodyweight exercises is making a difference. Or maybe it’s just my genes. Though, I’ve been a “hard gainer” if you ever saw one. Yet in my case study of one, I’ve found that daily exercises produces 4x the muscle gain than exercising only 2-3 times a week. I also feel better, have just as much energy and can’t wait to get out and do another five rounds each morning.

I have logs of my routine and weight — if you are interested in seeing them or discussing my experiment further, feel free to me email me. I’d love to discuss this with you if you’re interested. I heard you talk with Jimmy Moore and was very impressed by what you had to say and agree totally about “slow-burn.”

Fred Hahn July 1, 2013 at 9:20 AM

“I’ve been experimenting with 2-3 sessions a week versus 6. When I switched to six workouts a week I saw dramatic improvements. At 2-3 sessions a week I was gaining one pound of muscle a month. When I switched to six a week, I suddenly went to gaining one pound of muscle a week. This has continued now into fifth week of doing 6 workouts a week.”

****John – Not to sound too harsh here but NO ONE gains a pound of muscle a week. Not even those on steorids. So I have to say unless you can prove it, I can’t take you seriously. You’re story is just to sensational.

“I do not, however, do a full body workout each day. Just five sets of a single body weight exercises (including two easier warm-up sets). Monday’s are just leg lifts, for example. Tuesday is push-ups, etc. I do them real slow like you teach (I love it slow) done to failure (and a little beyond, I like to finish each set even if I need to take a short pause).”

****I’m glad you like the feel of slow controlled movements. Much safer and better stimulation in my opinion. But if you are just doing body weight exercises like leg lifts, you’re making your story even less credible that you are gaining 5 pounds of muscle a month.

“I’m not convinced that the body is primarily burning glycogen during weight lifting (if one follows a low-carb diet). I follow a very a low-carb, ketogenic diet. I exercise on a empty stomach in the morning, after 12 hours of fasting, and feel like I’m relying on ketones, not glucose, for most 80% of my exercise fuel.”

****Feel like? You can’t feel what energy is being used. But if you are truly ketogenic as measure by blood ketone strips, then you are using LESS glycogen than someone who is not during your workouts. This has been reliably measured by Drs. Volek and Phinney.

“I don’t know if the ketogenic diet, the fasting or the bodyweight exercises is making a difference. Or maybe it’s just my genes. Though, I’ve been a “hard gainer” if you ever saw one. Yet in my case study of one, I’ve found that daily exercises produces 4x the muscle gain than exercising only 2-3 times a week. I also feel better, have just as much energy and can’t wait to get out and do another five rounds each morning.”

****Again, you’ll need to prove this to me somehow. I can you this – you will soon overtrain.

“I have logs of my routine and weight — if you are interested in seeing them or discussing my experiment further, feel free to me email me. I’d love to discuss this with you if you’re interested. I heard you talk with Jimmy Moore and was very impressed by what you had to say and agree totally about “slow-burn.””

****Again, many thanks for the endorsement. I’d like to see some actual proof of the lean gains. Q: How did you measure them? DEXA? Do you have comparison pix? Videos of your training everyday so we can see the proof of date? I hate to be a naysayer but gaining a pound a week of muscle is not very credible. Be well and thanks for reading!!!

Sergio July 7, 2013 at 12:20 PM

What if I add Barbell (70 pounds) to my 2x week exercises? Can I damage muscles?
Last year 200-300 times (10-20 each time) a day barbell lifting add a lot of muscles, when I stopped doing this muscles dissapeared in 3 months. I’m using Vook app.

Fred Hahn July 7, 2013 at 1:08 PM

Sergio – The Vook ap is probably not sufficient for you if you’ve been lifting for a long time. It’s for beginners. Lifting weights everyday works for a while, 2-3X a week is plenty however.

kim August 14, 2013 at 5:53 PM

Can i use this technique or BBS with free weights?

Fred Hahn August 14, 2013 at 7:33 PM

Sure Kim! If you have specific questions, ask.

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