Strength Training — When and How Much

By Kellyann Petrucci, Patrick Flynn

Strength training takes a heavy toll on the body, and your body needs time to recover because through the processes of recovery your body adapts and gets stronger. Although there are ways to practice strength every day and still recover from it, f three to four days a week of strength training is more reasonable.

The recommended strength-training schedule is as follows:

On/on/off/on/on/off/off

That’s two days of strength training followed by a day of rest, and then two more days of strength training followed by two more days of rest. You can fit it into your week however your schedule allows.

For example, the most classic approach puts your strength training on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with the weekend open. If you work weekends and have Tuesday and Wednesday off, you can revise the schedule so that you work out Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday with Saturday Tuesday, and Wednesday off.

You can get away with less if you simply don’t have the time in your schedule. Although four days a week is ideal, you can still have great results if you strength train only two to three days a week. Remember, some is always better than none.

As for how much, in any given strength-training session, you train only two to three full-body exercises. As for how to go about your strength training, you can take three general approaches, all of which are effective:

Practice sets

You can practice sets for time rather than a predetermined amount of sets or reps. A set comprises of repetitions (often called reps). A repetition is how many times you perform an exercise in a row. So, for example, two sets of five reps of the squat means you perform five repetitions of the squat, rest for whatever time deemed necessary, and then perform another five repetitions of the squat.

When working practice sets, you put a certain amount of time on the clock — 20 to 30 minutes. From there, you just practice whatever exercise you may have on the menu that day. When practicing a movement, keep the repetitions low (less than five) and rest as long as you need between sets.

Practice sets are about accumulating as many quality repetitions as possible in the allotted time. The key word is quality. Again, rest as long as you need, but as little as you have to between the sets to execute the exercise with impeccably good form.

For example, say you want to work a practice set with the push-up. You put 20 to 30 minutes on the clock, and practice sets of the push-up. You can practice sets of one, two, three, four, or five, but don’t go any higher than five, because fatigue will start to set in and compromise your movement quality.

If say you choose to do practice sets of three reps, you do three push-ups, rest for a short bit, do another set of three push-ups, rest, and so on for the full 20 to 30 minutes. As time wears off the clock, you’ll get more tired and may need more time between sets.

Just make sure you don’t allow your fatigue to affect your form. Take slightly longer rests between the sets if you need. You can even practice ladders.

Be sure to keep track of your repetitions, because the next time you do the practice set¸ your goal should be to beat your previous record.

Ladders

Ladders are ascending sets comprised of rungs. A rung is simply the term used for sets in a ladder. If a ladder has three rungs, then it consists of three sets. If it has five rungs, it consists of five sets. Each rung, however, typically consists of different reps, because the sets in a ladder ascend.

For example, if you do a set of one squat, then a set of two, then a set of three, you have just performed a three-rung ladder.

For strength training, the best practices are

  • Three-rung ladders, such as 1, 2, 3 (one rep, followed by two reps, followed by three reps)

  • Five-rung ladders, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (one rep, followed by two reps, followed by three reps, followed by four reps, followed by five reps)

For most exercises, performing two, three-rung or two, five-rung ladders is plenty, especially if you’re going heavy with the lift, which you should be.

To paint a clearer picture, say your strength training day calls for two, three-rung ladders of pull-ups. You do the following:

  1. Perform one pull-up.

  2. Rest for as long as you need.

  3. Perform two pull-ups.

  4. Rest again.

  5. When you’re ready, perform three pull-ups.

  6. Start back at one pull-up and work your way through Steps 1 to 5.

Three-by-three or five-by-five

Three sets of three (3 x 3) or five sets of five (5 x 5) are also classic strength-training protocols. They’re also the easiest to understand. Three sets of three means that you perform three repetitions of any given exercise three times.

For example, if you’re to work 3 x 3 on the dead lift, then you perform three dead lifts, rest for as long as necessary, three dead lifts again, rest for as long as necessary, and finally, three more dead lifts. The same goes for 5 x 5.