If you've already started your strength training journey, I applaud you. The benefits of regularly lifting weights are fantastic, and your mental and physical health will benefit so much from that one habit.
While you may see some progress showing up to the gym each week and hitting whatever exercises appeal to you that day, it's not the most efficient.
While all exercise is beneficial, there's a big difference between training and working out. If you want to build a greater understanding of strength training principles and rapidly accelerate your progress in the gym, this guide is for you.
Keep reading for complete guidelines on strength training for fitness, weight loss, strength, and muscle gain frequency. Plus, I share the tips for sticking to an exercise routine I've learned in my 10 years as a fitness coach.
The Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training can have tremendous benefits on your physical and mental health. You’ll likely increase muscle mass, support your mental health, boost your metabolism, and improve your posture.
Bigger Muscles, Stronger Bones, and Fewer Injuries
Strength training is crucial for your health because it makes you physically stronger, more resilient, and more coordinated.
All of these adaptations reduce the likelihood of injury by preventing falls–something that's especially important as you age.
Muscle and bone are active metabolic tissues, so increasing muscle mass and bone density benefits your health. Both tissues tend to decline with age if actions aren't taken to maintain them.
Mental Health Magic
Research continues to show that strength training is as beneficial to your mental health as aerobic exercise, yoga, and all other forms of movement. Strength training releases endorphins, which boost your mood and can help treat symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Boosted Metabolism and Better Weight Management
Strength training builds muscle, and bigger muscles burn more calories. So, strength training is a crucial part of any weight loss or weight management strategy.
Better Posture and Movement
In our modern world, we've inadvertently engineered movement out of our lives.
While modern medicine and the many social advances we enjoy are amazing, this has made fighting disease and maintaining lean muscle and a healthy weight much harder.
Regular strength training can help strengthen the weak and inactive muscles due to a sedentary lifestyle, improving posture and reducing low back pain.
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Guidelines for Strength Training Frequency
To optimize your strength training program, you must first understand the recommended exercise minimums for achieving these health benefits.
Recommended cardio: A minimum of 30 minutes on five days per week (150 minutes total), or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days per week.
Recommended strength training: A minimum of two days per week.
These are the minimum effective doses for maintaining physical function and fighting disease. That does not mean they'll be enough to help you meet your physique or performance goals.
Training vs. Working Out
Working out is showing up to the gym without a strategy. There's no underlining master plan guiding your exercise selection, sets, or reps other than what you're feeling up for that day. It's exercising when you feel like it and skipping when you don't.
Training, on the other hand, means you're taking your fitness goals seriously.It means you've carefully considered what you want to achieve and dedicated yourself to it.
You've educated yourself about proper exercise form, selection, and programming (or have paid someone to do that for you), and you're committed to the process.
Assessing Your Training Status
Congratulations if you're ready to take your fitness more seriously and dedicate yourself to strength training! That makes you one of the less than 30% of Americans who regularly strength train.
As you move through the world of workouts and strength programs, you'll notice that they're categorized by your current training status, such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
So, how do you know your training level? There are no hard rules regarding how to categorize your training status, as there are variations in interpretation between sports and coaches.
That's partly because specific lifting disciplines, like Olympic weight lifting, are highly technical and take years to master the exercises.
Other considerations for your training status include your strength, skill level, rate of progression, and athletic background. The metrics are subjective, but the below guidelines can help you find an appropriate program for your current abilities.
Beginner Strength Training
Strength training beginners should aim for two to three weekly sessions.
If you've been lifting consistently for less than a year for general weight training, if you've been Olympic Weight lifting for less than two years, or if you've never run a formal strength program–you're considered a beginner.
Another measure of lifting level is raw strength. If you haven't mastered barbell movements technically and built a base of strength enough to have tested your one-rep maximums in lifts like the squat, bench, deadlift, snatch, or clean, you're a beginner.
Intermediate Strength Training
If you have intermediate strength training skills, you should aim for training four to six times a week.
If you've been lifting consistently for at least one year for general weight training or if you've been Olympic Weight lifting for less than 2 to 5 years, you're considered an intermediate lifter.
Intermediate lifters should be able to deadlift 2x bodyweight, squat 1.5x bodyweight, and bench 1x bodyweight (if they're training on those lifts).
Advanced Strength Training
If you have advanced skills in strength training, you should aim for four to six weekly sessions.
If you've been lifting consistently for three or more years for general weight training or if you've been Olympic Weight lifting for 5 years or more, you're considered an advanced lifter.
Advanced lifters should also eventually be able to deadlift 2.5x bodyweight, squat 2x bodyweight, and bench 1.5x bodyweight. If those numbers sound crazy and impossible, do not stress!
First, I promise you are so much stronger than you realize. Second, only a tiny fraction of humans on Earth become advanced and elite lifters.
You don't need to deadlift hundreds of pounds to reap all of the tremendous benefits of strength training (but you probably can if you want to!)
Understanding Strength Training Specificity
Each component of your training program should maximize your progress toward your chosen goal–this is the concept of training specificity.
Training specificity is the key to achieving your goals as quickly as possible.
Is it possible to work toward multiple goals at the same time? To a certain degree, sure. But for every goal you add, the effectiveness of each discipline goes down. I recommend that most folks choose one goal that is most important to them and commit to it for the long haul.
Building muscle or losing weight safely takes a long time. The journey is hard enough without you bouncing around to less effective exercises, slowing down the process.
Workout Frequency Is Goal Dependent
Your workout frequency, like your exercise selection, depends on your primary fitness goal. A marathon runner cross-training with strength training will train very differently than a competitive bodybuilder dedicated to muscle gain.
Setting Your Training Goals
Once you understand training specificity and frequency, you're prepared to choose a goal and dedicate yourself to it.
Make sure your goal follows the SMART format:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
R - Relevant
T - Time-bound
Understand that you can achieve multiple fitness goals, but training is optimized by pursuing one goal at a time.
Aside from these considerations, other important factors to consider when setting your fitness goals include the following.
- Your preferences
- Your schedule
- Your exercise history
Training Status Affects Frequency
Beginner lifters should focus on building the habit of regular exercise, learning lifting form, and fitting training into their schedule. Their programming should be simple and fun.
Beginners should get at least two 60-minute total body workouts per week centered on compound exercises.
Intermediate and advanced lifters will also prioritize compound movements but can play around with different lifting splits if they want to switch to muscle gain or break their workouts into shorter sessions.
Their sessions can be anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes typically.
Training Frequency for Increasing Strength
|Training Status||Training Frequency|
|Beginner||2-3 weekly sessions|
|Intermediate & Advanced||3-5 weekly sessions|
|Advanced||5+ weekly sessions|
How Does Training Status Affect Frequency for Strength?
Like most other programs, beginner lifters who chase strength should focus on learning exceptional exercise form. They should also keep their program simple and lift consistently to build overall strength and size.
Suppose they're lifting to compete in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting. In that case, most of their program will be dedicated to getting stronger in the core movements of their sport and gaining muscle.
The length of these sessions will vary widely depending on the training goal, as those pursuing general strength can get away with 60 to 75-minute sessions. In contrast, powerlifting and weightlifting sessions can be longer.
Intermediate and advanced lifters will likewise prioritize compounds and pursue more muscle gain.
Rest between sessions becomes even more critical for advanced strength athletes as the demands of lifting heavy on the nervous system and joints are more pronounced.
Strength Training Frequency for Gaining Muscle
|Training Status||Training Frequency|
|Beginner||2-4 weekly sessions|
|Intermediate||4-6 weekly sessions|
|Advanced||6-10 weekly sessions|
How Does Training Status Affect Frequency for Gaining Muscle?
Beginner bodybuilders will focus on achieving excellent exercise form focusing on compound movements, but they must pay much more attention to their diet.
Most folks trying to gain muscle are not also trying to gain fat, which will be entirely based on diet.
Other differences between bodybuilding training status include:
- Program structure
- The mind-muscle connection
They will get into fun lifting options such as pyramids, drop sets, as well as different exercise variations and tempos.
The main difference between advanced bodybuilders and all other training levels is their mind-muscle connection.
Advanced bodybuilders have perfect form in all exercises, regardless of intensity, keeping them safe even when pushing their bodies to extremes.
Strength Training Frequency for Weight Loss
|Training Status||Training Frequency|
|Beginner||1-2 weekly sessions|
|Intermediate||3-4 weekly sessions|
|Advanced||4+ weekly sessions|
How Does Training Status Affect Frequency for Weight Loss?
Lifting for weight loss and general fitness are very similar.
If you're new to strength training and you want to lose weight or fat, focus on building the habit of regular exercise, learning excellent lifting form, and enjoying the process.
Fat loss is a long-term goal that takes months to years of carefully programmed weight training and dieting cycles to do safely and effectively.
Weight loss is determined by your energy intake, so your diet is the most crucial part, but an excellent training program will help considerably.
Beginners should get at least two 60-minute total body workouts per week centered on compound exercises. As with lifting for fitness, more is not necessarily better, and intermediate and advanced lifters will benefit most from lifting 4 to 5 sessions per week in addition to 2 to 3 cardio sessions.
Tips for Progressing Weights
Form rules in the weight room, regardless of your fitness goal, so work with an experienced coach if possible to learn proper exercise form.Good form is crucial for preventing injuries and speeding up your progress.
That's because poor lifting form is ineffective; ineffective workouts don't produce optimal results.
Because the human body is built to adapt to its environment and adjust, you must continue to increase your training stimulus each week to see results. This can include adding more weight, reps, sets, or changing your lifting tempo.
You will also need to tweak your program every 3-5 weeks to give your body some variation. Swap out a new version of the same movement, such as changing goblet squats to barbell squats, to maximize your results.
Only consider adding an additional training day if you have 100% adherence to your current training program for at least 3 months.
Tips for Incorporating Strength Training
When you’re strength training, it’s important to focus on progress, make time for recovery, find your community, and create accountability in order to see the best results.
Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
Learning to train strength involves adapting new skills, terms, and movements. And every advanced athlete started as a novice.
Remember that at the end of the day, getting enough exercise to promote your mental and physical health is an incredible accomplishment, and you should celebrate yourself for that.
If you decide to pursue a specific goal, such as muscle gain or fat loss, know that those journeys are measured in months and years–not weeks.
So be patient with yourself, and fall in love with the process of moving your body and how that movement makes you feel.
Simply showing up is a feat to be celebrated.
Rest and recovery are as important as your training sessions and diet. So ensure you get seven to nine hours of sleep each night and rest enough between sessions to feel fresh and ready to tackle your next workout.
Exercise should be fun. A hot take, I know. But I believe this fact often gets overlooked.
One way to make exercise more fun is to find a community to share the journey with. Whether it's a training partner who does your workouts alongside you or an online community of like-minded individuals, your community can give you perspective and encouragement.
Let me share with you a little secret from a lifelong athlete. No one is motivated all the time. Absolutely no one. Motivation is a fickle beast, and it abandons us all eventually.
So what keeps some of us chasing our goals, month after month? We've engineered accountability into our lives. Whether it's a paid coach, a spouse, or a friend. We have asked someone else to help hold us accountable for our fitness goals.
I highly recommend finding a coach –in person or online–for your first few years of training. This level of accountability will keep you on track, and your progress will soar.
Strength Training Frequency FAQs
How much strength training should I do per week to build muscle?
If gaining muscle is your goal, shoot for 3-6 sessions weekly. Your exact workout frequency will depend on your training status, lifestyle, and schedule.
Is there a recommended amount of strength training for weight loss?
Three to five strength sessions per week are effective for building muscle, which will increase your metabolism and help you lose fat while giving you enough time to hit 2 to 3 cardio sessions per week as well.
Combining strength training and a minimal effective dose of cardio in the presence of a calorie deficit is the single best way to lose weight or body fat.
Can I do strength training daily, or should I have rest days?
No, you should not train every day of the week. You must prioritize rest to grow muscle, recover from the nervous system demands of strength training, and come in fresh for your next training session.
Most people benefit from at least 1-2 rest days per week.
How often should I do strength training exercises for general fitness?
General health and fitness training allows the most flexibility with training session frequency.
Most people benefit from strength training 3-4 times per week to develop general strength and fitness.
How does the amount of strength training differ for beginners and advanced individuals?
The most significant difference between strength training for beginners vs. advanced lifters is how strictly they must adhere to their training program and nutrition to see results.
Beginners will continue to see progress simply by following any training program with half-decent nutrition, while advanced lifters must fight through plateaus while gains come much slower and more irregularly.
How does age impact the recommended amount of strength training per week?
Some older adults will experience symptoms of frailty from muscle and bone density loss, resulting in poor posture, poor balance, and limited range of motion.
These deficits must first be addressed, in addition to building a foundation of cardiovascular and muscular endurance, before they should be progressed to a traditional strength program.
However, regressions for the main movements, such as the squat, deadlift, lunge, row, and press, should be incorporated wherever possible.
People over 50 should start with the general health and fitness or weight loss frequency protocol.
How frequently you strength train will depend on your goals and training status or how experienced you are with lifting weights.
If you’re a beginner, starting with 1-2 weekly strength sessions will help you master exercise form, build the habit of training and help you develop a foundation of fitness and strength. If you have intermediate or advanced experience strength training, then you can ramp up your weekly sessions to four to six times.
Want a comprehensive guide to all things strength training? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Strength Training: Benefits, Workouts, and Tips
Interested in maximum muscle growth? Read our Ultimate Guide to Bodybuilding: Get the Body You've Dreamed of in 2023
And if you're ready to start lifting but don't know which exercises to choose, our Top 10 Strength Exercises guide is perfect.
More Strength Training Advice from GymBird Experts
- Ultimate Guide to Strength Training
- Ultimate Kettlebell Strength Training Guide
- Functional Strength Training Benefits
- Best Strength Training Exercises
- Resistance Band Strength Training
- Understanding Reps in Strength Training
- Ultimate Guide to Olympic Weight Lifting
- Building the Ultimate Powerlifting Home Gym
- How to Start Powerlifting
- Bodybuilding Guide
American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Muscle-Strengthening Exercise Among 397,423 U.S. Adults: Prevalence, Correlates, and Associations With Health Conditions.