Skip to content

Secret Effects of Lifting Weights Just Once Per Week, Says Science

Research is confirming that there are major benefits for your strength, mood, energy levels, and more.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Most Americans say they want to work out more but just don't have the time when they're also focusing on a career, maintaining a social life, and everything in between. In fact, a recent survey found that 79% of working Americans feel much happier when they exercise consistently, even though 48% are usually too preoccupied by their job to work out at all.

Of course, smart time management can go a long way toward carving out some time for bench presses and bicep curls. Ask yourself: How many minutes (or hours) per day do you scroll away on a smartphone or tablet? Eye-opening research from the CDC published in Preventing Chronic Disease that studied over 32,000 U.S. subjects found that the average American actually has about five hours of free time daily, which is usually wasted on screen time.

There's nothing wrong with wasting some time on TV or Instagram here and there, but these findings just go to show our schedules may not be quite as packed as they seem. Finding the time for a single weekly exercise session should be doable for even the most dedicated workaholic.

If you can only manage one bout of weekly exercise, focus on weight lifting and resistance exercises. Why? It may be surprising, but lifting weights once per week offers a bevy of attractive benefits from both a physical and mental perspective. In fact, science shows lifting weights on a weekly basis can improve your strength, mood, and so much more.

Read on to learn about the secret effects of lifting weights just once per week, and for more, check out the 5 Major Secrets to Getting a Lean Body for Good.

1

You'll build strength.

woman-lifting-dumbbells-at-gym
Shutterstock

It may fly in the face of most fitness influencers' recommendations to "rise and grind" at the gym multiple days per week, but a study published in Sports Medicine states there is no significant difference in strength gains reaped between a once-per-week lifting regimen and a schedule that calls for multiple weekly sessions.

"The existing data does not provide a strong correlation between increased weekly training frequency and maximal strength gain in upper and lower body resistance exercises for a mixed population group," the study authors write.

Another research project published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society tracked a group of older adults as they engaged in resistance training once, twice, or three times per week over the course of 24 weeks. Shockingly, no fluctuations in muscle strength gains were noted between any of the three experimental conditions. In other words, participants who lifted weights three times per week enjoyed the same strength benefits as those who only did so once per week.

Related: Sign up for our newsletter for the latest health and fitness news.

2

You'll improve your heart health.

close up of doctor hands with heart
Shutterstock

Lifting weights is an integral aspect of maintaining a strong heart and healthy cardiovascular system. When we lift weights, our lean muscle mass expands and increases, which ultimately leads to expanded blood flow and less strain placed on the arteries.

Even better, you don't have to spend much time at all in the weight room to enjoy those cardiovascular advantages. Consider this study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: The study authors report that all it takes is less than 60 minutes spent lifting weights per week to drastically improve cardiovascular health.

"People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than 5 minutes could be effective," comments lead study author D.C. Lee, associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University. "Muscle is the power plant to burn calories. Building muscle helps move your joints and bones, but also there are metabolic benefits. I don't think this is well appreciated."

The project concludes that less than one hour of resistance exercise on a weekly basis may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by 40-70%. Moreover, the same routine is associated with a 32% drop in high cholesterol risk and a 29% lower chance of developing a variety of metabolic syndromes.

"Even one time or less than 1 hour of RE (resistance exercise), independent of AE (aerobic exercise), is associated with reduced risks of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and all-cause mortality," the study authors write.

3

You'll sleep better.

sleeping
Shutterstock

Have you been finding yourself up all night far too frequently lately? It's a common complaint right now, as insomnia rates have increased exponentially ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Luckily, a large study published in Preventive Medicine Reports encompassing over 23,000 people found that any amount of weight lifting or muscle-strengthening exercise is linked with better sleep quality. Participants reported fewer instances of "poor" or "very poor" sleep whenever they made time for some weightlifting that week.

A few important details to keep in mind about this research: The study authors were careful to account for additional lifestyle/demographic factors that may have influenced sleep patterns such as age, BMI, gender, smoking status, and any pre-existing medical conditions. The findings remained consistent. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, working out multiple times per week didn't result in greater sleep improvements. Lifting weights just once weekly was enough to enjoy largely the same sleep improvements.

Related: Avoid These Terrible Sleep Positions, Experts Say

4

You'll age gracefully.

older man working out gym weights
Shutterstock

Big muscles and six-pack abs are certainly a nice perk, but maintaining a consistent weight lifting schedule well into old age can also help you enjoy a greater quality of life for a longer period. Is there anything more important than that?

A group of Finnish researchers assigned a group of older adults to one of four experimental groups: Resistance exercise (RE) three times per week, RE twice weekly, RE once weekly, or a control group that was instructed not to lift weights at all. After a three-month "preparatory period," each study subject followed their assigned workout schedule for a full six months.

The project's findings, published in Frontiers in Psychology, strongly suggest that just one weightlifting session per week is enough to produce some serious physical health benefits. "We found that individuals who were close to having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, or high levels of inflammation improved the most after our 9-month training program," explains Dr. Simon Walker of the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä. "Training two or three times per week didn't provide greater benefit in these individuals."

Furthermore, Dr. Walker adds that one bout of resistance exercise weekly helped participants perform day-to-day tasks much more easily. "But for other measures that are important for older people, such as the ability to perform activities of daily living, once per week seemed sufficient. Muscle strength that is needed for carrying shopping bags, walking up and down the stairs, and sitting down on a toilet can be improved with strength training," he explains.

That's not all: Study participants across the board reported greater wellbeing in general while exercising consistently. Once again, it made no difference if the individual was lifting weights three times per week or just once. All exercise cohorts reported similar improvements in wellbeing.

Related: This Exercise Trick Will Erase The Effects of Sitting All Day

5

You'll fend off anxiety.

woman in sportswear choosing music for fitness on her smartphone while standing against treadmills at gym
Shutterstock

The benefits of exercise in general for mental health are well-established. We're all familiar with that euphoric feeling following an intense aerobic exercise session, but plenty of research reports that weightlifting can work wonders in the fight against anxiety as well.

One study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that resistance exercise is helpful in the clinical management of anxiety. Interestingly, study authors report that anxiety relief can be attained following a single weightlifting session. Additionally, they estimate that training at a low-to-moderate intensity with weights 70% lighter than one's maximum capacity for a single rep "produces the most reliable and robust decreases in anxiety." So, more isn't always better!

Another research project published in Sports Medicine analyzed over 900 participants and came to similar conclusions. Resistance exercise was found to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms, even among participants diagnosed with a mental health condition. Crucially, the relationship between weightlifting and reduced anxious feelings remained consistent regardless of workout duration, intensity, or frequency.

For more, check out the 3 Major Secrets to Living to 99, According to Betty White.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more