Working out 6-7 days a week is not sustainable, especially if you work full-time and want to have a social life on the weekends. Even a personal trainer, I struggle to work out 5 days a week.
After years of training, I’ve found my sweet spot of training 4 days a week to hit my performance goals, but for the general population and what I see with my clients, 3 days a week is enough to get you the results you want: whether it’s to lose weight, to build muscle or to get stronger.
So here are five tips on how you can get stronger without compromising your lifestyle.
Calories are often demonised, but calories measure of how much energy food contains. If you measure distance, you use metres. So when we measure food, we use calories.
Start thinking of food as energy for your body - just like how cars need petrol to run, and we need food to function.
To build muscle or to get stronger, you should have a positive energy balance (calories in > calories out i.e. you’re eating more calories than you are burning in a day). Several studies have shown that higher energy intake in combination with progressive resistance training induces greater increases in hypertrophy when compared to lower caloric conditions i.e. a calorie deficit1,2.
It’s not impossible to build muscle and get stronger in a calorie deficit because I’ve done it before, but it’s really slow…
Protein is an essential nutrient that makes up approximately 22% of muscle tissue3. It is the basic building block for muscle tissue and stimulates food's thermic effect. What that means is, your body uses more energy digesting protein than it does carbohydrates or fats.
Current daily protein recommendations for strength training are about 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight4. The higher the intensity or demand your workout, the higher the protein requirement.
On the other hand, carbohydrates are often seen as bad, but they are the main energy source when you train. It is stored in your body as glycogen and the harder and longer your train, the more glycogen your muscles need. Once your muscles are depleted of glycogen, you have no more energy to continue your workout. So eat your carbs too!
Progressive overload means doing more over time. For example, you could be adding some weight to the bar, doing more reps, and/or having more productive training sessions (Bret Contreas).
It’s one of the key principles in strength training because as your body gets used to the same sets, reps and load, results start to plateau. By progressively overloading, you put more stress on your muscles by making each session harder week on week. This helps you get bigger, stronger and more durable.
To learn more about how you can progressively overload, head to this blog.
Studies recommend 2-5 days per week of resistance training or weight training. For a couple of reasons, 3-4 days is an achievable number for most people.
The scientific reason: Training each muscle group at least 2-3 times increases the total weekly training volume, which provides a positive adaptive stimulus on muscular strength. More evidence is growing that shows the increased weekly volume in weight training is beneficial to different populations: healthy, athletic, disease or geriatric5.
The lifestyle reason (the one you’ll understand): 3-4 days a week is sustainable. Most of us are trying to juggle multiple things at once like working, studying, looking after your family or socialising with friends; we all know life gets in the way so if you don’t over-commit to your training, it’s one less stressor in your life if you can’t make it to the gym. If you follow point #3 and follow a structured training program, you’ll have programmed days of rest which leads me to point #5.
You’ve heard me say this before and I'll say it again: rest days are when the magic happens. When we’re lifting weights, microtears occur in the muscle fibres, which the body then needs time to rest to repair and adapt the muscles to handle better the same weight that caused the damage next time. It sounds counterintuitive, but this process of repairing and adapting to microtears to increase muscle mass is called hypertrophy.
If you’ve overloaded your muscles (see point #4), you need to give it time between training sessions so the body can rebuild the muscle bigger. If you don’t rest, it could lead to overtraining.