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How Much Strength Training Do I Need To Do To Maintain Strength Levels?

atlanta crossfit dr. marcus performance running strength training Sep 08, 2022


So, you’ve been working hard, training hard, and enjoying life. Your body is a little achy, and dang you’ve been looking forward to a vacation for the last few months. Summer is here! You’ve got your chance to take a break from work and really, truly, relax. Or, maybe you’ve got a move coming and you know you won't be able to train as much.

So, the question arises… how little training do I have to do over a longer vacation or during a transition such as a move to a new home to maintain strength levels for my sport? For me it's soccer, but for you it may be running, tennis, basketball, or pickleball!

Let's dive into the literature. 

Luckily, a fantastic review titled “Maintaining Physical Performance: The Minimal Dose of Exercise Needed to Preserve Endurance and Strength Over Time” was just published in 2021 answering this very question. Let’s look at the abstract and I’ll highlight important lines:

“Nearly every physically active person encounters periods in which the time available for exercise is limited (e.g., personal, family, or business conflicts). During such periods, the goal of physical training may be to simply maintain (rather than improve) physical performance. Similarly, certain special populations may desire to maintain performance for prolonged periods, namely athletes (during the competitive season and off-season) and military personnel (during deployment). The primary purpose of this brief, narrative review is to identify the minimal dose of exercise (i.e., frequency, volume, and intensity) needed to maintain physical performance over time. In general populations, endurance performance can be maintained for up to 15 weeks when training frequency is reduced to as little as 2 sessions per week or when exercise volume is reduced by 33–66% (as low as 13–26 minutes per session), as long as exercise intensity (exercising heart rate) is maintained. Strength and muscle size (at least in younger populations) can be maintained for up to 32 weeks with as little as 1 session of strength training per week and 1 set per exercise, as long as exercise intensity (relative load) is maintained; whereas, in older populations, maintaining muscle size may require up to 2 sessions per week and 2–3 sets per exercise, while maintaining exercise intensity. Insufficient data exists to make specific recommendations for athletes or military personnel. Our primary conclusion is that exercise intensity seems to be the key variable for maintaining physical performance over time, despite relatively large reductions in exercise frequency and volume.”1

The first time I read this, my jaw hit the floor.

What this means is that for most people, endurance can be maintained for over three months and strength can be maintained for over a half a year with relatively few sessions per week. The key metric is INTENSITY. 

Strength only needs one session per week and just ONE set per exercise, as long as you’re intense and lifting your regular heavy weights. JUST ONE SET.

Endurance needs just two sessions per week, and only around 20 minutes of running, as long as you find an intense level of exertion. 

I’ll keep this blog post short and sweet. Just wanted you guys to know about this amazing article and hopefully gain something from it. If you want to actually read an article this summer, make it this one, as it's pretty straight-forward. Now, go and actually enjoy a break when you need a break! Just a few INTENSE sessions a week is all you need. You’ve earned it.

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​Thanks for reading!

Dr. Marcus Rein PT DPT

Athletes' Potential

1. Spiering, Barry A.1; Mujika, Iñigo2,3; Sharp, Marilyn A.1; Foulis, Stephen A.1 Maintaining Physical Performance: The Minimal Dose of Exercise Needed to Preserve Endurance and Strength Over Time, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2021 - Volume 35 - Issue 5 - p 1449-1458 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003964 

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