It’s a question that’s been bouncing around in my big noggin: can you get strong working out once a week? This topic is not new, but in this day and age when people are more time-crunched than ever, it is one worth contemplating.


The biggest excuse for not engaging in any strength training program outside laziness is time. With the benefits of strength widely known and no need to rehash it here, people still don’t do it because “I don’t have the time.”

Yet, they have time for all their social media apps but not the barbell. You could rightly argue that it is a matter of priorities, but that’s an argument for a different day. Before going any further, I’m talking about strength, the total weight you can lift on any given day. Fat loss and muscle-building are different beasts.

Now that we got that straight, let’s dive into what the research says about working out once a week.     

Strong Research

I’m not a huge research guy because of the time spent training humans, but research has its place, especially regarding how frequently you need to train to see gains. This study suggests that weekly training volume (total reps x weight lifted) is more important than workout frequency regarding strength.

The same study recommends performing at least four weekly sets per muscle group using a six- fifteen-repetition max loading range of 15-40 repetitions per muscle group. 1

Don’t worry about how much weight you need to use; I will get to that.

A different study concluded that getting strong was primarily driven by training volume because workout frequency does not significantly affect muscular strength gains when the volume is equal. 2

Here’s a research study comparing working out three days a week with once a week, with the same volume between both groups. Group one worked out one day per week doing three sets to failure, and the other group two worked out three days per week doing 1 set to failure (3-day split). The volume was kept the same between the two groups.

After 12 weeks, one rep maxes were tested before and after, and the results were.

Upper-body strength increased by 53% for group one and 62% for the 3-day split group.

Lower-body strength increased by 58% for group one and 63% for the 3-day split group.

Both groups made gains, but the three three-day split had better results, but group one still got strong. 3

My Strong Research

Most of my clients have vanity goals (not performance goals) because the focus is usually on fat loss and muscle. Rarely do I train a client who has purely performance goals, but Monica is one of those clients. Monica has been training for three years and switched from a fat loss focus to one of getting strong.

But here’s the kicker.

Like many of you reading, Monica has a full-time job and limited time and energy to get after it during the week. So, Monica spends an hour on most Saturdays with me getting strong. I focus here on one lower-body exercise (deadlift & squat) and one upper-body exercise (bench press).

After a warm-up set,  I select a weight she can lift around six times, starting at three to five reps, and she goes by one rep each week for each strength exercise.

She reaches the end of a rep range that I have in mind, usually between six to 10 reps, and as soon as she hits ten reps, she goes up in weight and down in reps. It’s not a perfect way to train, but her results have been impressive following this simple protocol.   

Monica started deadlifting 70 pounds and worked up to doing 180 pounds for three reps. It took a while, but that didn’t detract from her achievement.

She took to the bench like a duck to water, started at 45 pounds, and took around 15 months to bench 100 pounds. According to scientific research and my own, getting stronger training only once a week is possible. It is not ideal, but it is doable if you are willing to get strong and make yourself harder to kill.

Strength Training Once A Week Program

There are various ways to get stronger, and this is my way. My way is not the only way that works, but it’s my blog, so it’s the only one featured. Here are a few universal guidelines for getting strong training once per week.  

Compound movements: Exercises that train multiple muscle groups are more suited to lower rep training—movements like the deadlift, squat, bench press, chin-up, and pull-ups. Choosing one or two you can do and going for it is all that matters.  

Total Body: Ideally, you would choose one lower-body exercise and one upper-body exercise to improve full-body strength.

Intensity: Whatever reps you choose, you must select a weight that only leaves one to two reps in the tank. After a warm-up set of 8-12 reps, Monica does three to 10 reps for her strength exercises.  

Progressive overload: This means doing more work than you did last week. My way is leaving it the same weight and increasing it by one rep per set weekly.

Once A Week Strong Training Program

I’m not here saying you have to do barbell exercises, but choose a strength exercise that you can load when you’re ready. After a warm-up, follow the following template to get strong.

Core Tri-Set (optional)

1A. Farmers Carry Variation 40 yards

1B. Pallof Press Variation 12 reps

1C. Medicine Ball Slam 8 to 12 reps

Strong Training Program

2A. Barbell Squat or Trap Bar Deadlift: three to 10 reps

2B. Triceps Extension Variation: 12 to 16 reps

2C. Foam Roll Quads: 30 seconds

Run through this triset three times, resting when needed.

3A. Barbell Bench Press: three to 10 reps.

3B. Single-Leg Exercise Variation: Eight to 15 reps on each side

Run through this superset two to three times, resting when needed.

4A. TRX Row: 15-20 reps

4B. Isolation Exercise like a biceps curl, lateral raise, etc. 10-15 reps

Run through this superset two to three times, resting when needed.

Wrapping Up

Getting stronger is possible by training once per week for around one hour. It will take longer because working out two to three times is preferable when time-crunched and the willingness is there. Then, everyone will admire your ability to carry groceries from the car on one trip.

Contact me here if you have questions about setting up a once-a-week training program.

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