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Do I need to resistance train 3x per week to get stronger?

A look into training frequency and strength gains in young women in the context of adherence to a program.


There has been plenty of research published to support that resistance training 2-3x per week can aid in overall well-being and health. Some research suggests discrimination between sexes in adherence to resistance training programs. This discrimination is evidenced by an increased dropout rate of young women for programs with the frequency of 3x per week. Recently, there has been an emphasis on researching the psychological barriers that are creating this discrimination. Much of this research suggests that frequency might be a variable that can contribute to adherence from more young women in the weight room. Especially for those who are beginners or new to the weight room.


The good news is, there is research out there that supports strength adaptations from resistance training 1x per week.


However, this particular research article resulted only in gains from strength rather than outcomes relevant to weight loss, body composition, or muscle mass gain. So, we cannot assume that it will be a great method for those who have goals centered around these adaptations.



"The primary finding was that a 12-wk-resistance training program with 3 sets of 10 repetitions at 60% RM performed once a week resulted in an increase in the strength of previously untrained subjects, which was comparable to the increase in strength previously untrained subjects using the same training protocol performed 3 times·wk-1. This finding indicates that a frequency of just 1 time·wk-1 is sufficient for young untrained females. " (1)


This is great news for young athletes of team sports as there is evidence to support that they can at least grow strength if not maintain it while utilizing resistance training only once a week, especially during the season.


Even for individual sports, this evidence supports that 1x resistance training per week can help young women to adhere to a supplemental resistance training program (which data supports participation leads to injury prevention, muscle mass maintenance, all things that are necessary to CONTINUE to perform at high levels) while participating in their other training regimens.


Let’s think triathletes or distance competitors (who aren’t typically found in the weight room!) leading into a race, dialing back frequency while maintaining strength and muscle mass would be an advantage while also implementing and prioritizing other training modalities for adaptations specific to the race itself.


An opposing consideration to this is for those who are truly new to resistance training and don’t have the constraints of other training regimens. When we are attempting to implement a new habit or action, like training, into our day frequency is our friend. If you haven’t established a fitness routine in your day, it may be best to start there and not rely on only participating in that action once a week.


That does not mean you have to resistance train every day or even 3x a week for that matter. What this DOES mean is that you should start with 1x per week resistance training but begin to build a DAILY routine around increasing that frequency with other forms of activity.


For example: walking for 1 hour a day then replacing that hour with a training session in 1-2 months


The term “graded exposure” is very common in the strength and conditioning world. We start with a small stimulus and build upon that to increase adaptations. When building a brick wall, we must carefully apply layer after layer of brick. However, there are a few ways for your enemies to still get around that wall. You need to continue to build walls, brick by brick, to protect your weak spots. This same theory holds for those just beginning to resistance train. You will see gains from training 1x per week, but you need to build on what you’re doing over time. Otherwise, we get stuck on the same plateau and leave ourselves prone to injury and dropout.


Building 10-15 minutes 6 days a week to supplement the 90 minutes spent on resistance training (these research protocols were 150 minutes long) to do something fitness-related you enjoy might lead to a hell of a lot more adherence. It will help you build more wins, each of these wins compounds on the last and soon, its a habit. The next goal will pertain to building frequency in resistance training as we implement graded exposure.


You don’t NEED to train 3x per week to remain strong/get stronger, especially if you have other priorities or constraints that won’t allow you to resistance train that frequently. However, as time passes, your frequency will have to increase just to adjust to the new baseline you’ve created. This is what we call graded exposure, you can utilize this tool by starting to train 1x per week and then slowly grow on that number and fit it into your lifestyle.


What are the key takeaways from this?


🔑If you’re a young woman, new to resistance training, and an athlete this is a great way to implement the training into your routine by breaking down the barrier of frequency BUT, you’ll want to look to increase frequency over time

🔑If your goals are mainly centered around weight loss, body composition, or muscle massing this is NOT going to be a great method to utilize as the frequency of training will drive results (direct and habitually)

🔑If you don’t currently have a routine around fitness or training this is NOT going to be a great method. Again, frequency of training will drive results (direct and habitually)




References

  1. Lee, H., Kim, I.-G., Sung, C. S., & Kim, J.-S. (2017). The Effect of 12-Week Resistance Training on Muscular Strength and Body Composition in Untrained Young Women: Implications of Exercise Frequency. Official Research Journal of American Society of Exercise Physiologists, 20(4).



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