How Many Times Per Week Should You Lift Weights?

Learn exactly how many times per week you should lift weights for minimum effective dose along with maximum benefit.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #290

I was recently on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, and one of my friends who was on the trip sidled up to me on the raft and asked me a question I seem to get quite frequently:

“How many times per week should I lift weights?”

Now, I’ll grant that the answer to this could be complex. For example, it could highly depend on whether you goals are maximum muscle gain, maintenance of bone density, building strength, maintaining strength, training for a specific sport, etc. However, let’s just say that your goal for lifting weights is to simply garner as many benefits as possible from weight training (strength, lean muscle mass, power, longevity, weight loss, metabolism boosting, etc.) with the minimum effective dose.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly how many times per week you should lift for this minimum effective dose along with maximum benefit.

How Much Exercise Do You Need for Longevity?

In How Much Exercise Do You Need for Longevity?, you learned that for ideal longevity, along with many other benefits of exercise, you should try to reach at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and have around 20 to 30 minutes of that be vigorous activity.

However, there is a distinct difference between “lifting weights” and “exercise.” For example, in “How To Look Good Naked And Live A Long Time," I discuss the importance of targeting specific energy systems, specifically cardiovascular fitness, muscle endurance, strength, mitochondrial density, metabolic efficiency, and stamina. Only one of these components (strength) is targeted with weight training, and unless you’re performing a hybrid form of strength-aerobic mix like Crossfit, the other components should be trained with exercise sessions that occur separately, before, or after a weight training session.

How Many Times to Strength Train Each Week

So what did I explain to my companion on the raft?

It started with this: the ideal goal for strength training should be maintenance of ideal ratios of strength and muscle mass, with a focus on functional movements that training many joints at the same time (as opposed to isolated movements such as biceps curls or leg extensions, or isolated workouts such as “upper body day” and “lower body day”.

Based on this, the goal to get the most benefit out of weight training should be to achieve the maximum amount of strength you can muster in one tightly-packed group of muscle fibers – in other words, the development of hard, wiry strength. Paul Jaminet at the Perfect Health Diet wrote an excellent article outlining why this is a better approach compared to purely trying to pack on as much muscle fiber as possible.

Now, sure, you can get strong and muscular doing Crossfit-esque workouts that require maximum deadlifts in two minutes or ungodly amounts of snatch reps or bodybuilding workouts that have you doing bicep curls until you’re bleeding out the eyeballs, but none of that is sustainable when it comes to maximizing longevity. Remember, you want to be able to do maintain strength and muscle when you’re 20, 40, 60 and 80 years old. For this, I recommend simply two strength training workouts per week, with each workout separated by approximately 72 hours, which is about how long it takes for the average person to recover from an ideal strength training workout (your individualized recovery time can actually be measured via something called “heart rate variability” measurement, also known as HRV measurement).

One example of such a scenario would be two “5x5” workouts each week, This workout requires a gym or access to some weights such as barbells or dumbbells. It’s quite simple. With as heavy a weight as you can lift with good form, you do 5 sets of 5 reps of:

  • Benchpress
  • Deadlift
  • Backsquat
  • Shoulder Press
  • Power clean

During the 90 second to 2 minute recover period between each set, you perform easy mobility exercises or core exercises, such as opposite-arm-opposite leg extensions, planks, side lunges, jumprope, etc. You could simply do this twice per week.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.