By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 7 November 2016)
There is a lot of disagreement among the experts regarding ideal strength training frequency. However, most say that it’s a good idea to leave a day or two between workouts targeting a particular muscle or muscle group. That means you can work out two to three times a week if you’re doing full-body workouts, or do split routines in which you work different muscle groups on different days if you want to train more frequently.
The split strategy is typically used by more advanced strength trainers because it allows them to work out four to six days per week and do more sets overall. However, studies suggest that you can get similar strength gains with fewer full-body workouts as with split routines, assuming you do the same number of sets over the course of the week (Heke, 2011; Crewther et al., 2016). For example, you could do 20 sets three days a week (full-body routine), 15 sets four days a week (split routine), or 12 sets five days a week (split routine) for a total of 60 weekly sets. Of course, many strength trainers use their split routines to get in more weekly sets than they could with two to three full-body workouts per week.
Research findings regarding ideal strength training frequency
A meta-analysis of strength training studies conducted by Rhea et al. (2003) found that working each muscle group three times a week for beginners and twice a week for more advanced strength trainers yielded the most significant benefits. Other research (cited by Wescott, 2010) indicates that allowing several days of recovery after working a muscle group is ideal because it supports proper recovery and muscle adaptation. The twice-a-week-per-muscle group approach is also supported by the research of Candow and Burke (2007), who found that strength trainers can get the same results from two workouts per week as three.
- American College of Sports Medicine. (2013). Resistance Training for Health and Fitness [PDF].
- Candow, D. G., & Burke, D. G. (2007). Effect of short-term equal-volume resistance training with different workout frequency on muscle mass and strength in untrained men and women. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(1), 204-207.
- Crewther, B. T., Heke, T. O. L., & Keogh, J. W. L. (2016). The effects of two equal-volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in male rugby union players. Biology of Sport, 33(2), 111-116.
- Heke, T. O. (2011). The effect of two-equal volume training protocols upon strength, body composition and salivary hormones in strength trained males. (Doctoral dissertation, Auckland University of Technology).
- Karp, J., PhD. (2003). Weight Training Q & A. IDEA Health and Fitness Association.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association. (2014). Foundations of Fitness Programming [PDF]. NSCA.com.
- Rhea, M. R., Alvar, B. A., Burkett, L. N., & Ball, S. D. (2003). A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(3), 456-464.
- Wescott, W.L. How Often Should Clients Perform Strength Training? [PDF] ACSM’s Certified News 2010, 20(2), 10-11.