This is a question I have received so many times via the gram and in real life conversation.
I’d say it’s more common among newer lifters, people who are just starting out or new to weight lifting specifically.
The question is multifaceted and I plan to cover the topics of:
I am sure you’ve either had or heard some rendition of these questions. People just want to know how to spend their time wisely in the gym in order to get the results they are wanting. And I don’t think we can blame them for that.
So, I’ll answer all questions with my fav answer + give a generalization then dive into things like training age and options for three, four or five day per week training sessions.
First off, to answer all training questions, IT DEPENDS. How many days you should train per week depends on your training history, your current goals, what you’re actually doing in the gym during your training sessions, and so much more.
To give a blanket statement would be ignoring all of the factors just stated. But I will give you a blanket statement, nonetheless. Then dive deeper into what all goes into that statement.
Generally speaking, three to five.
That is a VERY vague statement my friends! Is that three days a week at 30 minutes per session or 90 minutes per session? Is that high intensity work? Strictly strength training? Do you see why yes, it may be true that 3-5 days per week of training will get most humans the results they’re looking for, but there is SO MUCH more that goes into that answer.
Let’s lay the ground work here so you understand what context I am speaking from.
We’re talking about my humans who want to increase strength, mobility, work capacity or a skill of some kind. Skills ranging from a back squat to a pistol squat, pull up or muscle up. Okay? They are training upper and lower body. Whether that happens on the same day, we don’t know yet. But humans need to work their entire body, that’s where I am coming in answer this question.
With the above scenario… 3-5 days of training seems to work for most humans – why not two days per week?
If someone is wanting to improve one area, sure, two days per week would do it. But if you’re wanting to maintain strength, and muscle mass, MAYBE. With very strategically planned lifts. But we are likely NOT making gains training twice per week. The caveat here would be for a newbie. Yes, someone with a very young training age [meaning they are new to weight lifting] will make gains only training twice per week. Most of these gains will be neurological gains. Their body is learning A LOT of new skills and improving neural pathways from brain to muscle.
If you have experience weight training, two days per week might allow you to maintain if you’re working at 75% of your max. But I wouldn’t count on making any gains.
I don’t say six days per week because I honestly don’t think the average person looking to get stronger, increase mobility or work capacity or perhaps improve body composition needs to be training six days per week. And if they are, they better be able to get a proper amount of fuel and recovery for it. This is not of course scientifically backed. I am only speaking from personal and client experience. Training four to five days per week seems to be a sweet spot for gains, consistency, and joy in the gym.
This allows for work to be done on mobility, strength, and work capacity + play with training splits without exceeding 70 minutes in the gym per session. Because we must consider time and energy spent per session as well. We aren’t taking about body builders or competitive weightlifters or cross fitters. We aren’t training for two hours while taking supplementation during lifts in order to create more ATP and go harder for longer. And we’re not doing two a-days in order to work different energy systems or movement patterns throughout the day.
Let’s dive into your options if you are in fact wanting to train three days a week.
Three days per week is an option with Built By Annie and many of my 1:1 clients.
First off, no matter if you’re training three, four, or five days per week, this next point will apply.
Depending on your goals, you’ll want to hit the upper and lower body equally and still get in your squat, hinge, push, pulls, and carries. And then within that you’ll want to make sure you’re stressing joints decently evenly from different directions. For vertical pressing we should have vertical pulling and so on. For all that abduction work to build the glutes. We want to make sure there’s some level of adduction happening as well. You get the idea.
So, in a three day per week split, that will automatically mean doubling up on upper and lower body at least one of your three days per week. Maybe it looks like bench and squat on day 1, overhead press day 2, deadlift day 3. Or squat day 1, deads and bench day 2, overhead press day 3. You could literally combine it anyway you like. You just need to keep in mind total weekly volume and what areas you’re stressing, in what order throughout the week. For instance I once programmed bench day after deadlift day. Well during the bench day I had programmed bent over rows. And it was always TERRIBLE because my posterior chain was thrashed from dead’s and in particular my erectors were super fatigued. So I simply changed it to chest supported rows.
Same rowing stimulus, less demand from the lower posterior chain. So that’s just to say that you need to be aware of your entire week and the schedule vs just one lift at a time.
With three days per week, this would be amazing for someone who does other activities like running, swimming, boxing, skiing, WHATEVER. If you’ve got an activity that involves exercise but you also want to lift the weights, then three days is an amazing option to where you can still actually make gains and enjoy your other activities. That’s of course if you’re fueling your body properly and whatnot.
Three days is also great if it’s what’s realistic for you. I have nurses and clients with careers and lives that truly only allow for three days of training. It’s what’s realistic and what they feel good about when they look at their weekly schedule.
Now let’s hop to four or five days per week.
As is somewhat obvious, our options expand with training four or five days per week.
Remember the general aim here is strength, mobility, movement patterns and work capacity. Each day can be dedicated to a movement pattern + applicable accessory work, so squat, bench, dead, overhead press and then accessory that stresses those main muscle groups. That’s a pretty simple split. This also TYPICALLY allows for variance in daily intensity. Your lower body days likely being higher intensity, and upper body being lower intensity by nature.
Then we have more of an undulating periodization where you’re hitting the same lifts multiple days per week with differing intensities. Maybe you squat, bench and deadlift two days per week each, which means you’re doing two main lifts + a bit of accessory in one day. One day would be strength focused while the other might be power or hypertrophy. I hope that makes sense.
I believe this is easiest to do with five days simply because it allows you the most room to hit those muscle groups and movement patterns multiple times per week.
Four and five days per week also allow you theoretically to have shorter lifts and a higher weekly volume than three days per week, unless your three day lifts are quite a bit longer, matching the volume of the 4-5 days per week.
The more days you start to train, it’s important that rest and recovery are prioritized. Otherwise the extra work you’re doing won’t equal gains, because you’ll have a stimulus but lack the desired adaptation.
4-5 days per week seems to work for those who have a bit of experience training, and either already make their training a top priority or are willing to commit to hitting the gym 4-5 days per week.
I will say I find it’s easier to get in a flow and consistency with 4 days per week than 3 days. I think the three day for me causes too much leeway between lifts, too many rest days. I’ve heard this from my clientele as well. If you can get in a flow with 4-5 days per week it can be a pretty sweet gig.
But what’s most important is that your training fits your life and schedule. What will you adhere to? That’s what you always want.
So, which is best for you? 3,4 or 5 days?
Mind you that will change at different phases of life, right? So maybe it’s three right now when it used to be five. I don’t know. But YOU DO.
Hopefully after today’s episode you at least understand that consistency is key, and that you can def make the gains training 3,4 or 5 days per week if you have a solid program geared towards your needs, personalized or not.
I also want to point out that this was VERY simplified. You can do SO MUCH with programming, it’s truly endless with possibilities. But my hope was to simplify it so you can digest the answer of “how many days do I train? And what’s the difference between 3 or 5 days per week? And so on.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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