A very common question is ‘How much strength training do I actually need?’, this article looks at
- what is the right relation between input and output?
- what do most people generally overestimate?
- what do most people likely underestimate?
Back to the question ‘How much strength training do I actually need?’ while this question isn’t very specific in asking how much strength training do I need to achieve a certain goal. The answer to that question depends on the desired goal, if you are training to maintain general health and wellbeing you need less strength training as an athlete competing in a strength and power determined sport.
The first question you need to ask yourself is what is your ultimate goal, what is the desired outcome and from there you need to work backward and determine the amount of strength training sessions, Strength training intensity, and strength training volume. For a more detailed approach have a look at the article
Once you have clarity on your goal and desired outcome, it’s time to have a closer look at the question of ‘How much strength training do I need?’ How much can refer to a few variables, such as
- Strength training frequency (the amount of strength training sessions per week)
- Strength training duration (the amount of time per strength training session)
- Strength training volume (the amount of sets and reps in a strength training session)
- Strength training intensity (the intensity of a strength training session)
Let’s go through these points step by step.
How many strength training sessions per week do I need?
This is one aspect most people overestimate and believe they need to train every day or multiple times a day to see the desired results.
The truth is, you can make significant gains and progress with two to three strength training sessions a week. We have shown that over and over again with our athletes, who train two to three times per week on a regular basis.
For a more detailed overview of the appropriate training frequencies depending on your training goal, please check out
How long should a strength training session last?
This is another aspect most people overestimate and believe they have to train for hours to achieve the results they want to see.
There is good evidence that longer training sessions are actually counter-productive to the desired results, whether you are interested in building muscles or becoming stronger.
The length of a strength training session also depends on your goal.
- Maximum strength training 75 – 90 minutes, you need complete rest between the sets and exercises (more than 3 – 5 minutes)
- Power training 60 – 75 minutes, you also need complete rest between the exercises, but perform fewer sets and exercises as compared to maximum strength training
- Hypertrophy training 60 – 75 minutes, the rest between the sets is shorter compared to Maximum strength training
- Strength endurance training 45 – 60 minutes, there are multiple ways to train strength endurance, generally speaking, you perform more repetitions (more than 15 – 20 reps) but the rest between the sets is short (less than 60 – 90 seconds). The combination of high reps and short rest between the sets will lead to fatigue quickly which will result in you not being able to train for very long
These numbers are just general guidelines and not written in stone. The length of a training session can change depending on various factors.
For example one big factor for us is, whether we are in the competitive season or in the preparing for the competitive season. If we are in the competitive season, we keep the volume and duration lower to avoid accumulated fatigue, if we are in preparation for the competitive season strength training sessions last longer.
How many reps and sets do I need to do in a strength training session?
The amount of sets and reps you need to do is closely related to your training goal.
Maximum strength training
1 – 3 repetitions at an intensity of 85 – 100% 1RM
2 – 6 repetitions at an intensity of 0 – 70% 1RM
more details on the intensity range in the article The Importance Weight Training Has On Power
Functional Hypertrophy training
4 – 8 repetitions at an intensity: 75 – 85% 1RM (even better to stick to 80 – 85% 1RM)
Non-functional Hypertrophy training
8 – 12 repetitions at an intensity of 65 – 75% 1RM
Strength Endurance training
More than 15 – 20 repetitions at an intensity of 60% 1RM or less
In order to understand how the total amount strength training volume (reps and sets) influence the strength training intensity and vice versa have a look at the article The Holy Grail of Strength Training – Sets and Reps
How intense does a strength training session need to be?
This is what most people underestimate and where it goes wrong in most of the cases and people not reaping the benefits from their strength training – the strength training intensity.
And with strength training intensity I am not talking about performing a set to failure and believe everything is done. Quite frankly, the opposite is true. If you are interested in making long-term gains stay away of deliberate training to failure. I say deliberate, because once in a while when you approaching maximum intensities failing in a set might be a result, but it should not be the goal.
Strength training intensity has to be seen in the whole context of an overall plan, including deload or unload strength training sessions or strength training weeks.
Generally speaking, in a well-structured program strength training intensity increases from week to week and is followed by a deload or unload week. The length of a cycle can vary from 2 weeks of increasing intensity followed by one week of ‘deloading’ (decreasing intensity and volume to allow recovery) to six weeks of increasing intensity followed by one week of ‘deloading’.
I usually plan cycles of two weeks of increasing intensity followed by a week of ‘deloading’ or three weeks of increasing intensity followed by a week of ‘deloading’. But again nothing is written in stone, these schemes have worked best for my athletes.
From experience, the longer you are into such a strength training cycle or your second or third strength training cycle, the more difficult things become due to accumulated fatigue. And this is the point, where it becomes difficult for athletes to push through that accumulated fatigue and all the side effects (such as feeling tired and exhausted, low mood state, etc). And then there is another phenomenon, athletes tend to train less hard, when they should train hard and train harder during their deload weeks, because they believe they need to catch-up on what they missed in their heavy weeks. The result is, they never really recover and due to even more accumulated fatigue, they are not able to train hard or intense enough in their heavy weeks.
And to make things worse, there is a phenomenon called the law of diminishing returns a concept from economics which explains a non-linear relation between input and output. In the beginning, the input might equal output, but over time the relation changes where the input is greater than output until a saturation point, where regardless of input there won’t be any output.
Taking that concept into sports and training, this is what we see with our athletes. Once they start with strength training there is an almost linear relation between input and output. I have written about the increases you can expect depending on your strength training level in the article How to get a stronger Back Squat in 7 steps and outlined that start out can make improvements of 20 – 50% in 12 weeks (always considering technical mastery is consolidated), while experienced athletes just make marginal improvements of 2 – 5% over 12 weeks.
This is the law of diminishing returns in action. These athletes work hard day in and day out to improve their Back Squat from 220 kg to 227,5 kg in 12 weeks (which equals 3,4% improvement) or their Power Clean from 140 kg to 145 kg in 12 weeks (which equals 3,6% improvement).
This image is taken from the article http://sustainablebalance.ca/the-diminishing-returns-of-strength-training/
Concluding How much Strength Training do I need
Set your goals on what you want to achieve first, this will determine the amount of strength training sessions per week, the length of a strength training session and the total strength training volume (sets and reps) and strength training intensity.