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Is there a workout to help the time-crunched gain strength?

The question

I want to gain strength and lean muscle mass, but due to family commitments I can only strength-train two times per week. Am I lifting frequently enough to make strength improvements?

The answer

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The amount of training that is needed to see improvement is largely dependent on one's initial fitness level. If you don't lift weights regularly, your initial strength level is most likely low. So two workouts a week will make a noticeable difference.

More experienced weightlifters usually need to lift three or four days a week to see results.

Fortunately, frequency is not the only training variable that can be manipulated to produce strength gains.

Since twice weekly lifting sessions are all you can commit to, I suggest that you become meticulous about controlling other training variables such as reps, sets, load and rest intervals.

Plan your workouts so that they cycle through "phases" of training. This will ensure you constantly challenge yourself and force your body to adapt.

Try the following 10-week cycle:

Phase One: Do two weeks of endurance training – three sets of each exercise for 12-15 reps.

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Phase Two: Six weeks of strength and hypertrophy training. For two weeks, do four sets of 10-12 reps; for the next two weeks do four sets of 8-10 reps; and for the final two weeks do four sets of 6-8 reps of each exercise.

Phase three: Two weeks of relative strength and power training. Do four sets of 3-5 reps.

Take a recovery week after you finish the full 10-week cycle. Then repeat it.

Trainer's Tip: Make sure you have an adequate recovery meal within 45 minutes of the end of your workout. If you are trying to build muscle, two quality workouts a week followed by a recovery meal will offer you the same or better results than doing three non-quality workouts a week with no proper post-exercise fuel.

Send certified personal trainer Kathleen Trotter your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in the Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Kathleen Trotter

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