Shortcuts sell. Which is why products that claim you can get washboard abs training twice a week for 10 minutes are so commercially successful.
Too often we read articles discussing how little you can get away with to get into shape. What we want to do in this two-part series is tell you the real truth: transforming your body is hard work.
As much as we’d love to tell you that the results we get come from simply going through the motions a couple times a week, it just doesn’t work that way.
This article will discuss the different training frequencies, and when it may or may not be suitable for use…
3 Days a Week
This is the absolute minimum frequency of strength training one should do when seeking maximum results in a quick time frame.
For our clientele who lead busy, highly-stressed lives, this level of frequency is perfect as it creates the right balance between stimulus and recovery.
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For beginners or anyone with less than 6-12 months of training experience, a ‘full body’ style routine would be the best option.
For anyone with more training experience, you can start splitting your body up. Here are our favourite ways:
One of the most effective three-times-a-week routines is to alternate between upper and lower body – especially if you’re male and chasing muscle mass. In fact, this was a favourite split for six-time Mr Olympia, Dorian Yates, in his early years whilst building his physique.
Monday: Upper Body 1
Wednesday: Lower Body 1
Friday: Upper Body 2
Monday: Lower Body 2
Wednesday: Upper Body 2
Friday: Lower Body 1
If you prefer to have set days, you could opt for the following:
Monday: Lower Body
Wednesday: Upper Body
Friday: Full Body
Another option for having set days, and for those who want to focus more on their upper body is to introduce some undulation within the week to hit a variety of rep ranges across the different days.
Monday: Upper Body Strength Focus
Wednesday: Lower Body
Friday: Upper Body Hypertrophy Focus
For many of our fat loss clients who progress through the first phase of full body training three times a week, a popular progression is to use a ‘cross body’ split.
Workout A would consist of upper body pushing (chest, shoulders, triceps) and lower body pulling (glutes, hamstrings).
An example workout would be:
A1: Deadlift 4 x 6-8
A2: Incline Bench Press 4 x 6-8
B1: Lying Leg Curls 4×8-10
B2: Seated Shoulder Press 4×8-10
C1: Incline Hyperextensions 3×10-12
C2: Dips 3×10-12
Workout B would consist of upper body pulling (back, biceps) and lower body pushing (quads).
An example workout would be:
A1: Split Squat 4 x 8
A2: Chin-Up 4 x 6-8
B1: Machine Squat 4×8-10
B2: Prone Dumbbell Rows 4×8-10
C1: Leg Press 12-15
C2: Incline Dumbbell Curls 3×10-12
If training three days a week, we encourage women to stick to full body workouts.
They can recover much quicker, so should take advantage of this by keeping their training frequency high.
The way they should progress from the initial phase of training would be to manipulate the density of workouts, exercise difficulty, and of course sets and reps.
4 Days a Week
There’s a reason both of Nick Mitchell’s books were based on training four days a week.
For the average person with normal genetics and recovery capabilities, four hard weight training sessions seem to be optimal.
An upper-lower split works really well here.
For women, either a well-managed full-body approach or even an upper/lower split can work.
A Note on Frequency of Body Parts
When designing the optimal training programme, how often you train a specific body part should be at the forefront.
Generally speaking, a training frequency of more than one workout per week is needed for best possible progress.
There seems to be a detraining effect when you leave a body part 7 days to be trained again.
Instead, training a body part every 3-6 days (can be every other day for beginners) seems to work best when fat loss, hypertrophy and fitness is your goal.
This brings us to the next topic of discussion…
Once/Twice a Week
If you’re looking to radically transform your body with one or two workouts a week, it’s just not going to happen.
There are only two circumstances it may have some validity:
- Maintaining a level of strength and muscle mass in a well-trained individual. Remember, it takes a lot less to maintain than it does to build.
- A complete beginner will get some stimulation on a once a week approach and may make good progress on twice a week for a period.
The emphasis with these training frequencies needs to be on using only basic compounds lifts that provide the most bang for your buck.
If training twice a week for a period, stick with full body workouts to maintain the frequency of training load.
What About The Other End Of The Spectrum?
A note on recovery:
The rate at which one recovers is very individual. It’s therefore important you pay attention to your own capacity.
The number one marker to assess is whether you are making performance improvements. If you’re not progressively overloading your muscles in some form, you’ll struggle to make any progress. So when manipulating training frequencies, keeping a log book is essential for tracking your recovery.
Other variables like your sleep quality, mood and training motivation can all be used to monitor recovery.
What’s important to consider is that our body doesn’t recognise different types of stress.
Whether it’s worrying about bills that need to be paid, arguments with your significant other, or training hard, it’s all stress to the body.
This is where the stress cup is useful to bear in mind, as shown below:
Whilst we all aim to strive for the cup on the right, the reality tends to be somewhere in the middle. Stress and lack of sleep severely hinder your recovery capacity, explaining why a moderate training frequency always tends to work best for the average person.
The more we can optimise our lifestyle, i.e. better diet, deeper sleep and reduced stress, the quicker we’ll recover, and the faster we can improve our physiques.
5 or 6 Days a Week
The key when training at these frequencies is to
- Assess your own recovery capacity
- Be strategic with it
This is especially applicable when you train 6 days a week. To make it effective, you have to follow a period of training 6 days a week with a properly constructed unloading period where you’re only training 3-4 days a week.
This de-load period will allow your body to ‘super compensate’ and come back stronger.
How long you push for 6 days will depend on your goal, and how you respond to it, but for the average person, somewhere around the 4-6-week mark is best.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re only used to training 3 days a week, you have to gradually build your work capacity up to train 5 or 6 days a week. Make small steps to reap the dividends of higher frequencies of training.
7 Days a Week
Never a good idea!
As annoying as the answer ‘it depends’ is, it’s the only one you can really give when it comes to something as individual as training frequency.
The extremes work well for the outliers and select few. However, for the majority, who live busy and stressful lives, somewhere in the middle is best.
Stay tuned to Part 2 where we’ll discuss frequencies of cardio training.