Training frequency can be just as important as the workouts you do or the intensity at which you do them. When someone first gets into fitness its easy to think that more is better. This may be true in some instances. Yet, as you progress along your fitness journey working out more often can actually inhibit your gains.
As a person gets in better shape (especially if they were previously overweight) its easy to become obsessed with training. So much so that people think if they miss one workout or don’t get their 10k septs in then they are just gonna immediately put all that weight right back on.
We implore you to resist this urge towards neuroticism. If you want truly maximize your physique its important to dial in your training frequency so that you are in the goldilock zone. This will allow you to induce proper muscle damage and give you ample time to recover and reap the rewards of your hard work.
What is Training Frequency?
Training Frequency refers to the amount of training sessions you do during a particular window of time. This is different from training volume which refers to the amount of time or number of exercises (work) you devote to a particular day. It is also different from training intensity which is self explanatory but refers to your perceived exertion output during a work out (how hard you went).
The standard unit of time to evaluate your training frequency is the week. Seems obvious but worth mentioning. If you want to get really granular you can evaluate your training on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. But for 99.99% of people looking at it on a weekly basis should be sufficient.
We see “in-shape” and “healthy” people on all ends of the spectrum when it comes to frequency. Some people workout supper intensely 1-2 times per week and others prefer to get a sweat in 6-7 times per week. We think both strategies have pros and cons and it really boils down to what works for you. Also, you need to find a schedule that is conducive to your lifestyle. If you run a business and have a bunch of kids it may not be easy to get into the gym 6 days a week, as an example.
As a quick cavet, everything discussed below is only referring to natural lifters. People who are enhanced via anabolic steroids or TRT may be able to tolerate higher training frequencies. The same applies for high level athletes who may practice their sport nearly everyday.
What the Literature Says About Frequency
There are ton’s of different studies out there that report on how often we need to train to maintain lean muscle mass and prevent muscle atrophy. Generally, these studies have people workout on a regimented schedule and then stop working out entirely. And the literature actually supports the idea that one intense weight training session per week may be enough to maintain muscle mass and stave off a loss of strength.
Okay so you may only need one hard training session a week to maintain lean muscle mass but you like to workout and be active. What does literature say about people that train everyday? On average studies show that frequent hard training sessions will not only lead to reduced performance in that particular activity but will also impact other areas of your life. These other areas include but are not limited to your hormonal system and your immune system.
At a glance it appears as though it would be better to error on too infrequent training rather than error and overtrain yourself. While we may agree with this at a high level we think for optimum performance and happiness we need to strike a balance between not training enough and over training.
A quick note on studies. Studies (in western civilization) are touted as the end all be all. People often cite studies and will refuse to believe something (even if experienced directly) if it is not supported by some double blind placebo study. We think this fetishization of studies in the West is extremely harmful and actually goes against Science which at is core is a belief in the ignorance of experts (cc. Richard Feynman). Everyone can find a study to support their claim and its simply a matter of how you input your Google query. Nonetheless, we will reference some from time to time to help establish our points.
Training Splits to Consider
Bro splits are a staple of the fitness world and we’d be lying if we said we haven’t done them in the past. In fact, its how we (and most people start out) training. Bro splits, when done correctly can be great for muscle growth. They are helpful when you have lots of time to dedicate to training and really allow you to focus on certain body parts.
Example of common Bro Split:
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Back
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Shoulders
- Friday: Arms
- Saturday/Sunday: Off days
Since you are only hitting each muscle group once per week this training split allows you to really exhaust that muscle group. This allows you to dedicate a lot of volume and focus to really pump up the muscle. For example, you can do 5 chest exercises with a total of 20 sets because you will not be hitting chest again for a full 7 days.
Bro splits are useful if you want to maximize muscle hypertrophy. They also allow the muscle group to get a sufficient amount of rest so that you can hit them super hard the following week. We recommend everyone experiment with the bro split at least once in their training careers.
The push/pull/legs split is a classic split. Many people swear by it and for good reason, it works.
The push/pull/leg split can be modified in a few different ways. For example, you can use it if you only want to train 3 days per week. Just devote one day to each training split. You can also bump it up and do 2 push, 2 pull, and 2 leg sessions per week. Or you can modify it and do each modal once a week and devote a second session to whatever segment lags for you. Say you have skinny legs you can incorporate 2 leg sessions per week.
Example of Push/Pull/Legs
- Monday: Back/Biceps (Pull)
- Tuesday: Legs
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Chest/Shoulders (Push)
- Friday: Back/Biceps (Pull)
- Saturday/Sunday: Off
- Monday: Legs (pick up where you left off)
Upper/Lower splits are a great way to train multiple body parts multiple times per week. They allow you to alternate between major muscle groups and take some days off for recovery. Training body parts multiple times per week (twice) can lead to more optimal growth rather than just training the body part once per week.
Example of Upper/Lower:
- Monday: Upper (chest, back, and shoulders)
- Tuesday: Lower (quads, hamstrings and calfs)
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Upper
- Friday: Lower
- Saturday/Sunday: Off
This type of training is great and allows you to focus on one type of training for the entire session. This type of training comes naturally to many lifters and as a result many people find success with it.
What Works for Us Right Now?
Right now we are favoring training 4 days per week. We are currently favoring the upper and lower splits. For the upper split we like to focus one day primarily on back and chest and then focus on shoulders for the other day of the upper split as they tend to lag for us. For the lower split we like to focus on a strength day as well as an explosive day.
In the past, we have fallen victim to training nearly everyday. This is an easy trap to fall into and we are no exception. Dialing it back and incorporating more rest days has lead to increased overall health and has not lead to any muscle loss.
Importance of Rest Days
As any seasoned lifter will tell you rest days are equally as important to training days. Training days are when all of the muscle damage occurs. It is the rest days that actually allow for the muscle tissue to rebuild so that you become bigger and stronger overtime. Given this, rest days are extremely important to any successful training regimen.
DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. Anyone who has ever done an intense leg day and is sore for 3 days after knows exactly what we are talking about. Adequate rest is extremely important to reduce DOMS. Training again before you are fully recovered it will result in suboptimal performance. As such, your workouts won’t be as good as they could be and you will get less out of them.
Working out intensely day in and day out may sound good on paper but it can wreck havoc on your hormonal system. Our hormone system is the key to overall well being in the body. As such, when you squash your hormones due to overtraining you will feel suboptimal and often times downright awful.
Intense overtraining is associated with overall lower testosterone and estrogen levels. If these levels are suppressed you will realize it pretty quickly. The main symptoms are tiredness, mood swings, depression, low libido and decreased sexual performance.
Furthermore, chronic cardio (if you are a runner) or just like doing cardio can severely impact hormone function. Combine this with a calorie deficit and you are in for a rough time.
Given the impact training and overtraining can have on our hormone system is it pivotal that we try to reign it in and find the optimal mix between training and recovery.
Signs Your Frequency is Too High
As we know, training too often can lead to some serious side-effects as well as overall suboptimal performance. Here are some signs to keep an eye out for!
- Lack of Enthusiasm – If you usually love training and find yourself in a state where it is difficult to “get-up” for your workouts it could be a sign you are training too often.
- Suboptimal performance – You are used to hitting certain numbers in the gym. You know what you are capable of. If all of the sudden you are unable to sustain a certain level of performance and unable to meet benchmarks you may be training too much.
- Low libido/sex drive – If you stop waking up with morning wood or if you loose all interest in the opposite sex. You may be training too often. This is a big one if you tend to do lots of cardio and/or are dieting.
- Decreased Grip Strength – Grip strength is highly correlated with our nervous system. If your grip strength takes a notable downturn your nervous system may be over taxed. You could be training too often.
Training is extremely important for anyone that wants to live an optimal and healthy life. But like anything, training can be overdone. When we train too often it can lead to a number of side effects and will generally produce suboptimal results. As such, it is critically important to pick a training split and frequency that works with our schedule and over all goals. Make sure that you force yourself to take a few rest days each week. If your overall performance takes a dip take a few days off and recharge. As Stan Efferding says, “You can train hard, you can train long, but you can’t do both”. Find a balance that works for you and stick with it.
Thats it for now!