In an ideal world, you would lift weights 3-5 times every week of the year. But sometimes life is designed to flood your days with unhappiness and for some reason — family, business, personal stuff, extended travel — you can’t devote much time to training until things get better. And so two options swim into your mind:

  • You can either stop training and face the consequences of training cessation on muscle and strength loss or…
  • You do the minimal amount of training necessary to preserve muscle and strength.

Obviously, the former is not particularly, or even fractionally, a capital idea. So you go with the latter and train only as much as necessary to maintain your current body composition and strength. But how much is that?

Well, Barry et al. (2021) conducted a brief review on how much training is necessary to preserve muscle and strength:

They looked at similar studies done on the topic and found that for the general population — you and me — very little training is needed to maintain your current size and strength:

To maintain 1RM strength, training frequency can be reduced to 1 session per week with volume reduced to 1 set per exercise; To maintain muscle size in: Younger trainees (∼20–35-year-old), training frequency can be reduced to 1 session per week with volume reduced to 1 set per exercise; Older trainees (∼60–75-year-old), training frequency can be reduced to 2 sessions per week with volume reduced to 2-3 set per exercise.

I’m pretty sure you just ​​gave a snort of disbelief but it really is all that you need to maintain strength and muscle — one to two workouts per week. And that’s exactly what I found myself and through working with clients — volume and frequency of training can be reduced by up to two-thirds to preserve muscle and strength.

But there’s an important caveat — most things in life come witha caveat so deal with it — training intensity must be maintained. This doesn’t mean lifting the heaviest weight possible. It means that you need to take sets to or as close to failure as possible (until you can’t perform another rep with good form). That’s exactly what this study concluded too:

Overall, exercise intensity seems to be the key variable for maintaining physical performance over time. Performance adaptations to endurance training and strength training seem to be relatively well-maintained in general populations despite relatively large reductions in exercise frequency (up to 66%) and volume (33–66%), as long as exercise intensity is maintained.

Practical applications

If your life turned to shit and you need to reduce the amount of your usual training until you find the way out of the dank hellhole you are in, don’t sweat — one to two sessions per week (depending on your age) is sufficient to fully preserve muscle and strength as long as intensity (relative load and proximity to failure) is maintained.

Also, this should go without saying and that’s why I’m going to say it: You will lose muscle and strength that you worked so hard to develop if you decide to do terribly stupid things such as trying to lose weight while training only once or twice per week or eating bean-sized protein portions.

If you would like me to walk you through the process of setting up a fat loss plan that’s actually sustainable long-term, check out my 1×1 Coaching Program. Cheers.

Train With Me Program | 14-Day Fat Loss For Life Free Course

Originally published by me on Medium on August 9, 2022

Leave a Reply