Most exercise enthusiasts know that strength training is an essential part of any well balanced fitness program. But how often do you need to strength train to reap the health benefits?
To answer that question it’s important to understand what makes a muscle strong in the first place. When forces such as increased weight or resistance are placed on a muscle group, the muscle fibers “breakdown”, and then with appropriate rest and nutrition rebuild bigger and stronger. It is the consistent cycle of resistance placed on the muscle, followed by rest and nutrition that keeps muscles strong.
If there is too much rest in between strength training sessions, the muscle fibers will slowly lose their size and strength. If there is not enough rest given to muscle fibers after training they are never given the chance to repair and rebuild, which not only prevents them from getting stronger but could lead to injury from overuse.
Which brings us back to the question of how often to strength train. Once a muscle group has been worked it typically needs 24-48 hours to recover, depending on the intensity of the workout. Ideally, the average person should be doing a full body strength training workout (approximately one hour session) 3 times a week. A person can maintain a solid strength base with an appropriately intense workout 2 times a week. Strength training less than twice a week will not produce significant strength gains.
The body can benefit from occasional longer periods of rest which gives it time to recover from the accumulated effects of wear and tear. So taking a 1-2 week “vacation” a couple times a year is fine. But after a couple weeks of not strength training the body will begin to lose strength, even as much as 30% as reported from research by the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
The elements of an effective strength training program must always include the consistent application of appropriately difficult exercises, followed by a day or two of rest and proper nutrition and hydration.