The Easiest Way to Maintain Your Muscle & Strength

The Easiest Way to Maintain Your Muscle & Strength


What if I told you that you could maintain and even gain muscle and strength in as little as 45 to 60 minutes per week?

Well, give me ten minutes and I’ll give you the “secret,” right here in this article.

(Alright, it’s less of a secret and more a couple of simple, science-based strategies, but it’s helpful nonetheless.)

And even if you’re not looking for a “lazy” way to stay ripped, this information can benefit you, too.

Because while you might be going great guns right now…

  • Those early morning workouts 3 to 5 times per week, every week.
  • Those sacrifices you’re making to stick to your meal plans.
  • Those bruising late-night cardio sessions.

Let’s not forget that life has a way of throwing us curve balls.

You know…that new job might mean no more bright-and-early workouts. That family obligation might impose and replace the time you’d normally spend meal prepping.

Travel happens. Holidays happen. And sometimes we just lose motivation and skid for no good reason (oh, to be human).

Well, that’s why you need to read this article.

It’s going to give you a simple plan to maintain those pretty biceps and razor-sharp abs even when your routine goes to hell.

The Easiest Way to Maintain Muscle and Strength

Here’s one of the great things about being in great shape:

It’s much easier to stay fit than it is to get there in the first place.

While training 3 to 6 times per week is best for making gains, you don’t have to work nearly as hard to protect your gains.

Once you’ve “paid your dues,” you can maintain your muscle and strength in as little as 45 to 60 minutes of exercise per week.

Yes, you read that right.

And if you know what you’re doing with your diet, you can stay lean and mean as well.

Case in point:

In a study conducted by scientists at the University of Alberta, 18 competitive female rowers went from 10 weeks of training 3 times per week to training once or twice per week for 6 weeks.

The result?

They gained strength in two exercises and maintained strength in the remaining ones.

A study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is also worth reviewing.

It had seventy untrained adults start with 4 months of weightlifting 3 times per week, and then the subjects were divided into three groups for an additional 8 months:

  • Group 1: No exercise.
  • Group 2: One workout per week – 3 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Group 3: One workout per week – 1 set, 8-12 reps

The no-exercise group lost all gains, of course, but both groups doing one session per week were able to maintain or increase their numbers.

That is, they cut their total weekly workout time down by two-thirds but saw no reductions in performance in the gym.

And get this:

While the younger subjects (20 to 35 years old) gained more strength and size than the older folk (60 to 70 years old) during the initial four-month phase, the oldies maintained their gains equally well after reducing workout frequency.

You really can stay fit at any age!

Now, if you’re like me and have spent at least 4 to 6 hours in the gym every week for many years, you’re not going to maintain your size and strength on one set per week.

We’re going to have to do a bit more, which is why the workouts I prescribe in this article are short…but not that short.

Before we get to that, though, I want to talk about one other important aspect to consider when talking muscle maintenance: volume.

Volume is simply the number of sets that you perform in a given period (workout, week, whatever).

Many people think training frequency is the key to muscle gain–that training a muscle group more frequently is always better–but research shows otherwise.

Specifically, studies show that when training volume is matched, frequency doesn’t influence results nearly as much as some “gurus” would have you believe.

That is, the total amount of work you make your muscles do every week (total reps) is more important than how frequently you work them.

For example, a study conducted by researchers from Laurentian University separated twenty-nine untrained people into two groups:

  • Group 1: 9 exercises, 10 reps, 3 sets, 2 times per week.
  • Group 2: 9 exercises, 10 reps, 2 sets, 3 times per week.

And by the end of the study, both groups increased muscle mass and strength with no significant differences.

Now, when you do the math, you’ll notice that while group 1 did one fewer workout each week than group 2, they both did the same amount of sets (54).

That’s why both groups got the same results from their workout programs.

And that’s why the workouts I’m going to prescribe below use compound exercises to train a lot of muscle groups (and call for heavy loads) and call for a moderate number of sets and reps.

We don’t need to go as far as 54 sets per week (because of our exercise choices and heavier loads), but we want to make sure we make our muscles do enough work to have to grow bigger and stronger.

Now, how might those “muscle maintenance” workouts look? How can you get the most out of those 1 to 2 hours per week?

Let’s find out.

The Best Workouts for Maintaining Muscle & Strength

When you can only train once or twice per week, you can’t afford to waste time or energy.

That means that ghosting through a few machine circuits to get a pump just won’t cut it.

Instead, I’m going to have you focus on exercises that recruit the maximum amount of muscle, including the deadlift, squat, bench press, and military press.

I’m also going to have you move some heavy weights–much heavier than you’re probably used to.

So you’ve been warned: these workouts are going to be hard. But they’re also going to be effective.

Here they are.

If You Can Train Two Times Per Week…

My favorite setup for two training sessions per week is an “upper/lower” split, which is exactly what it sounds like:

You focus on your upper body in one workout and your lower body in the other.

Here are the workouts:

Upper Body

Incline Barbell Bench Press

Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Barbell Row

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Lower Body

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps


Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Leg Press

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Lying Hamstring Curl

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

A few points to keep in mind while you’re doing these workouts…

If you’re short on time, you can drop the last exercises.

These workouts should take you about an hour but if that’s too long, leave out the one-arm dumbbell row and lying hamstring curl.

Rest 3 minutes in between your 4-to-6-rep sets and 2 minutes in between your 8-to-10-rep sets.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

You don’t have to push to absolute muscle failure every set, but you need to come close.

The subject of whether to train to failure or not is a contentious one.

Experts disagree, each with legit-sounding scientific arguments, and people report success with many different approaches.

Well, I break it all down in this article, but here’s the long story short:

We should be training to failure, but not so much that we risk injury or overtrain.

Exactly how much that amounts to will vary from person to person.

Personally, I never train to failure for more than 2 to 3 sets per workout, and never on the squat, deadlift, bench press, or military press as this can be dangerous.

Furthermore, I don’t recommend you train to failure when you’re using very heavy loads (1 to 4 rep range).

Instead, the majority of your sets should be taken to the rep preceding failure (the last rep you can perform without assistance).

If you’re new to weightlifting, finding this point will be tricky, but as you get used to your body and your lifts, you’ll get a feel for it.

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you get on the incline bench and push out 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set and work with that weight until you can press it for 6 reps, and so forth.

If You Can Train Once Per Week…

If you can only get to the barbell once per week, you have two workouts to choose from:

1-Hour Full Body Workout

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 2 sets of 4 to 6 reps


Warm up and 2 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Incline Barbell Bench Press

Warm up and 2 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Barbell Row

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Close-Grip Bench Press

2 sets of 8 to 10 reps

40-Minute Full Body Workout

Barbell Back Squat

Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps


Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Incline Barbell Bench Press

Warm up and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

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