Is strength training only once a week worth it for muscle gain?
Here’s a better question: Why would you want to limit strength training to just once a week?
Here is the answer to the first question: Strength training once a week will induce a training effect, even in older people.
Many bodybuilders strength train one muscle group per week, and see plenty of gains. However, they do so very intensely.
I blast my chest muscles, for instance, once a week. But on other days I’m also exercising, but not the chest muscles.
The Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State did a study with literally once-a-week exercise.
It was strength training, however, and the researchers found that the study subjects (men over age 70) maintained the effects of strength training.
However, the experiments started the 10 men off with a three-times-weekly progressive resistance program for three months.
After that, they were divided into two groups: One group continued strength training but for just once a week for six months, and the other group stopped altogether.
After six months, the first group had maintained the benefits picked up during the three-month progressive program, and the second group lost significant thigh muscle size and strength.
These findings don’t mean you should settle for a once a week program. There are over 600 muscles in the human body.
Once a week strength training is not practical if you want your entire body to be affected.
I’ve heard of people spending several hours in the gym for one session, once a week, hitting all the major muscle groups.
But I can’t imagine doing bench press, dumbbell press, squats, dips, deadlifts, lat pull-downs, pushups, leg press, rows and chin-ups all in the same workout. There is no way I could go all-out on these routines in the same session.
If you’re used to giving a routine all you have, you’ll be trashed long before you’ve covered all the major muscle groups.
Of course, you can go lightly, but I’m an advocate of intense exercise. If you strength train lightly all muscle groups, once a week … again, expect minimal results.
If you are hell-bent on working out lightly, then you should do it three times a week, and not two days in a row.
The Ball State study involved low volume, high-intensity strength training, which does not surprise me; high-intensity workouts can maintain their effects with just once a week.
Apparently, the men in the study exercised only their legs. The study summary did not mention other muscle groups.
As for that second question, why would you limit strength training to once a week, the allegedly No. 1 reason is lack of time, even among retired folks.
Ask yourself where is all your time going week after week.
How much of that time is spent ‘Net surfing or watching TV?
How much of that time is spent dawdling around at shopping centers or gossiping with neighbors?
People actually have more time today to exercise than they did a generation ago, because these days, just about everything is done with the click of a button.
People who work 40 hours a week state they don’t have time to exercise.
This includes people without young kids.
Make strength training a priority, and you’ll magically find time for it. And make it at least twice a week.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.