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How often do I have to train to still get gains?


I can’t live in the gym

STRENGTH TRAINING IS NOT something you need to do every day to see results. You’ll actually be more successful with a lot of rest and recovery, which is great news for busy kids with busy work schedules and personal lives that don’t revolve around muscle. Whether your time at the gym is limited out of necessity or just because you have other priorities, it helps to figure out how many days a week actually Need go to the gym and for how long.

This isn’t a concept that only gym slackers want to understand. Strength coaches and scientists have been equally interested in determining how little you can get away with committing to an exercise routine as they identify which exercises may be the most effective for instant results. This has led to years of study to determine the minimum effective dose of strength training—in other words, how little training you need to do to see results in the form of muscle and strength gains. A study published in the American College of Sports Medicines Health & Fitness Journal in 2013, found that as little as seven minutes of intense circuit training could be effective for improving strength and endurance, while another systematic review found that just a single set of six to 12 repetitions performed three to four times a week at high effort intensity can increase strength.

However, you won’t be training in a lab under the watchful eye of scientists who measure every single metric of your progress with clinical equipment. You also have real-world issues that will dictate the circumstances of your training plan, so you’ll need to learn about the real-world application of this approach. I spoke to a few trainers who had to make the most of limited time and limited schedules to figure out exactly how to build the most effective minimal plan and put it into action.

First, it might help to understand that a minimal amount of exercise is a great approach to ease someone into a new exercise habit. Starting slow may be the best plan for beginners, according to Tailored treatments Director of rehabilitation and training Dr. Cameron Yuen, DPT CSCS. There’s a lower chance of injury, there’s less muscle pain, it’s more time-efficient and it’s more sustainable, she says. Jumping right into a high frequency/intensity/volume program can limit your progression, lead to overtraining and stall your motivation.

It’s good to know if you’re starting from scratch. Once you get started, you’ll need to determine the best ways to maintain momentum and progress, so your muscles can continue to adapt. Doing anything with a level of consistency, even exercising once a week, can have benefits for muscle and strength gains, he says Men’s health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS That said, don’t expect to add a lot of muscle or strength with this approach.


To go beyond the absolute minimum for real progress, Samuel has a basic recommendation. In general, for clients looking to build muscle and strength and who are on time, I recommend dedicating a half hour a day to training twice a week, he says. To build muscle and strength at an appreciable rate, you need to find ways to not only move and sweat, but also incorporate progressive overload. A 30-minute workout gives you time to warm up enough that you can confidently overload one movement (or maybe a few) for three or four sets.

Men’s health Advisory board member and celebrity trainer Don Saladin agree as long as you are focused during the entire short session. I think it is very efficient, [if] it’s someone who comes in and puts in the work and uses their time, she says. In 30 minutes, you’ll do a lot.

Like anything worth pursuing, you’ll need a consistent habit to see results over time, even if you’re only in the gym two or three times a week. Progression is key to gains, so you need to focus on increasing effort and load in your short training bouts as time goes on. To progress key movements over a period of weeks and months, you also need to expose yourself to those movements frequently enough to improve them, continues Samuel. It can be difficult for this to happen if you only do an exercise once a week. Aiming to do this twice a week helps you build the mind-muscle connection needed to get more out of the movement and gradually push yourself to new heights.

You will be able to do this by abandoning the bro science approach of focusing on individual muscle groups during each training session for a more comprehensive approach. From a practical standpoint, two to three full-body splits using compound exercises with paired supersets work well here, as you work many muscles at once with relatively high loads in a short amount of time, says Yuen. That means you’ll be doing lots of big muscle lifts (think deadlift variations, heavy presses, and squats in your sessions), along with more focused accessory movements. Yuen says you can also use intensification techniques, like rest sets and drop sets, to squeeze even more gains out of a short session.

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Structuring your plan is also important. In order to push hard when you have time to train, you need to rest and recover properly. This also means eating right. You shouldn’t do this schedule on consecutive days, Yuen says. There should be at least one day between training sessions. There should also be a calorie surplus, with an emphasis on consuming more protein and carbohydrates for tissue building and energy.

If you get to the point where you’re able to put more time into your workout to go beyond the minimum effective dose, that’s great, but remember, finding the program that works for you is more important than just logging the hours to feel like you’re working. have reached an arbitrary standard. of commitment. A minimal, focused workout is better than a fuzzy workout, and the best workout plan is one that will keep you coming back to the gym.

If you put someone on a six-day-a-week 90-minute-a-day workout schedule, obviously, they’ll get into good shape, says Saladino. But the reality is, are you going to continue doing this after that? If you have a specific period of training, whether it’s a three month plan, whatever it is, if you can’t continue, the program hasn’t worked in my opinion. Adherence is what is important.

Putting all of these tips into practice can get you the gains you want without spending half your life in the gym, but as all these experts say, you won’t see any progress if you can’t focus and focus during those quick-hitting sessions. You will only see results if you are willing to put in every single moment of effort. Get in, give it your all, and get out, and you’ll have even more time outside the gym to enjoy the fruits of all that effort.

Headshot of Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former professional football player and technical journalist who divides his training time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts and running. You can find his work elsewhere on Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.

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