Frequency of Training: Is There a Best Way?

The following article on frequency of training is a series of excerpts Nick Mitchell contributed to a Men’s Health article (July 2011) on the best exercise protocols for differing frequencies of training.

Frequency of Training: One workout a week
I took a different tack from what MH originally wanted for a one session a week frequency of training, and looked at a very basic full body weights routine.  This is assuming muscle building, rather than fitness or fat loss is the main goal.  I have genuinely seen people improve, albeit untrained individuals, on a once a week weight training programme executed correctly and with sufficient effort.  It is easier to make progress in strength gains training this way than it is to improve “fitness” for example, where overall volume and frequency plays an even more crucial role.

Keeping it very simple:
A1: Squats – 5 x 10
Rest 90 secs
A2: Pull Ups – 5 x 8
Rest 90 secs
A3: Deadlifts – 5 x 12
Rest 90 secs
A4: Dips – 5 x 10
Rest 90 secs

This limited frequency of training won’t turn you into a beast, but it will maintain a good degree of strength and a certain amount of muscle mass in the well trained individual, as well as providing just about enough stimulation to help the beginner progress.  But realistically volume and application of stimulus needs to be at least 3 times a week to make noticeable ongoing progress.

Frequency of Training: Two workouts a week
I respectfully disagreed with the idea of splitting the body into two, leading to just training each bodypart once a week.  Frequency of training load is hugely important, so 2 full body workouts would see great potential progress for a relative beginner if structured correctly.  The emphasis needs to be on basic compound movements each and every time.

Workout 1:
A1: Squats – 4 x 15
90secs rest
A2: Incline Bench Press – 4 x 7
90secs rest
B1: Bent Over Rows – 4 x 7
90 secs rest
B2: Standing Overhead Barbell Press – 4 x 8
90secs rest
C1: Hanging Leg Raises – 3 x 15
No rest
C2: Cable Crunches – 3 x 15
60 secs rest

Workout 2
A1: Deadlifts – 4 x 10
90 secs
A2: Leg Curl – 4 x 6
90 secs
B1: Dips – 4 x 12
75 secs
B2: Pull Ups – 4 x 10
75 secs
C1: Incline Dumbell Curls – 3 x 12
60 secs
C2: Laying Tricep Extensions 3 x 12
60secs

Each workout hits slightly different muscle fibres, and motor unit recruitment patterns but will tax and challenge the entire body every time ensuring the best bang for your buck possible.  Whilst a twice a week training frequency won’t make you an Olympic level athlete, or superhumanly muscular, it will have a visibly positive impact upon both your physique and strength levels if you follow the above plan.  There is even wiggle room for some “mirror muscle” work at the end of each session!

Frequency of Training: Three workouts a week
In my opinion this should be the minimum frequency of training one does when seeking tangible, and relatively rapid, results.  If I was an absolute beginner I would do a full body style routine, although I would use slightly different movements every other session.  For someone with 6months plus of training experience one of the most effective 3 times a week routines is to alternate upper and lower body, whilst alternating the main exercise of the lower body day between squats and deadlifts.  We really want to be able to do both of these movements regularly, but they are too demanding, especially on the often vulnerable lower back, to train at the same workout.

The following programme should be done – lower body workout 1 / upper body / low workout 2 / upper – and then back to lower workout 1.
Leg Workout 1:
Squat – Pyramid up in weight and down in reps – 5 sets of 15 / 12 / 9 / 6 / 3
Rest 3 minutes between sets
Lying Leg Curl – 5 x 5
Rest 2 minutes between sets
Leg Press – 1 set of 50 reps!
Standing Calf Raise – 3 x 25
90 secs rest between sets

Leg Workout 2:
A1: Deadlift – pyramid up in weight and down in reps – 5 sets of 15 / 12 / 9 / 6 / 3
Rest 3 minutes between sets
B1: Drop Lunge – 3 x 15
60 secs rest
B2: Lying Leg Curl – 3 x 9
60 secs rest
C1: Seated Calf Raises – 4 x 12
75 secs rest between sets

Upper Body Workout:
A1: Chin Ups – 4 x 8
90 secs rest
A2: Incline Dumbell Press – 4 x 10
90 secs rest
B1: Single Arm Dumbell Row – 4 x 9
90 secs rest
B2: Seated Dumbell Press – 4 x 8
90secs rest
C1: Dips – 3 x 12
60 secs rest
C2: Preacher Curls – 3 x 12
60 secs rest

Frequency of Training:  Four workouts a week
In full agreement with MH’s notes, but I like to see a greater training frequency than one workout per bodypart per week.  I feel that there is a bit of a detraining effect and that each bodypart should be trained every 3-6 days.  Exactly how often depends upon workload, goal, training phase, and recovery abilities.

Nick Mitchell typically trains 4-5 times a week

One preferred bodypart split in the case of 4 times a week training frequency would be:

1)    Chest & Back
2)    Legs
3)    Deltoids & Arms

Frequency of Training: Five workouts a week
I think that with a 5 workouts a week training frequency you can either follow the split outlined in the 4 times a week frequency, or split this way:
1)    Chest & Triceps
2)    Legs
3)    Back
4)    Delts & Biceps

Frequency of Training: Six workouts a week
The secret to managing 6 days a week training frequency is to learn to listen to your body.  Don’t believe these low volume gurus who tell you that anything over 1 set per week is overtraining, this is BS.  You can build your work capacity so that you can tolerate more volume than you ever believed possible.  How else do you think Olympic strength athletes get so damn strong.  The crucial thing to successfully training so often is to realize that everytime you overload the stress you must then back off to allow supercompensation (in this case getting bigger and stronger!) to occur.  A great rule of thumb here is 1-2 weeks of 6 days a week training, followed by a week at 3 times a week with a much reduced volume of sets per workout.

Frequency of Training: Seven workouts a week
A very useful training modality.  If you want to become smaller, weaker, and generally just a bit flaccid looking.