As an advanced lifter, you should practice each lift once a week. This comes from necessity though. Your strength grows and you fail to recover in time to exercise again. If you could repeat the stimulus more often instead because recovery grew in proportion to strength, then of course you would train more.
I recommend these possible frequencies: 3 times a week, 2 times a week, 3 times in 2 weeks, and once a week. Very advanced trainees may want to consider even longer than a week but much longer risks detraining. Beginners can sustain 3 times a week. Many will settle on 2 times a week as an intermediate. After this stage, choose yourself. Most trainees ignore 3 times in 2 weeks since it does not adhere to a calendar week yet many may find it an ideal frequency for strength training. You proceed toward less when you reach a plateau, despite everything in line such as diet, rest, etc.
Frequency does not set in stone, and you can modify it as needed. Make sure every session produces an increase, however small. If not, consider less. Under the following conditions, you should train more often.
- You rank as a beginner or intermediate.
The advanced train less often because strength does not improve at the same rate as recovery ability. A 200 pound bench press versus a 400 lb bench press requires a huge difference in recovery. You may feel deceived by this since soreness goes away as you get stronger. This may fool you into believing that you can adapt to higher workloads and thus can handle even more sessions per week than in the past.
Imagine watching two warriors starting their duel in the arena. One twirls his spear and shows other impressive flourishes. The other champion smiles, unsheathes his sword, and adopts his battle stance. Without knowing the martial arts, you assume the fancy one demonstrates superior skill. Within about two minutes, the spear got slashed in half and the sword ran clear through the poor showoff.
Soreness seemed important, perhaps you even dedicated entire workouts to the goal of getting sore, only to find it had no bearing on progress and that your results have been “dead” for years. The ability to recover does not improve along with strength and only improves somewhat. You also must always use increased weight as your only real test for progress.
Perhaps you remain close to that 200 lb. bench press instead. You may not have leaped past your first stepping stone. You will then progress faster training more frequently, having more opportunities for growth.
- You return after an extended layoff.
If you get sick or injured and take a break, you should return by training more frequently until you return to your past levels. Muscle memory allows us to rebuild muscle or reacquire skills faster to gain back what is rightfully ours. This lessens the blow of a setback.
- You need to perfect new exercises.
Higher frequencies speed up skill acquisition. When you first learned to ride a bike, muscular strength did not limit you, your skill did. You grow more coordinated, balanced, and confident with practice. Learning benefits from sheer frequency. After that, muscle growth takes over for improving strength and things get much tougher.
Changing your pull from a row to a pull-up or from a bodyweight routine to a gym-based routine represent some reasons to up the frequency. If you take my suggestion to focus entirely on the big three, you may want to perfect these movements before reducing the frequency if you never tried such a routine.
Keep in mind that neural gains have a limit. Some like to believe that you can build something from nothing and that with low rep, explosive training you can gain strength without putting on size. Those with very great strength were born with that potential. After an initial stage of learning, strength MUST come from more muscle.
If you focus on simple movements, which you should for safety and results, then the skill advantage gained by more frequent exercise grinds to a halt quickly.
2-3 Times a Week May Work, Especially for Beginners
As an athlete progresses with training the requirement for rest actually increases (and not decreases, as many people seem to think).
– Dorian Yates
Before training less often, make sure your stress levels, sleep, and diet are in order. Use progress as your best judge and not feelings like soreness, tightness, the burn, etc. Perhaps you would even do well to proceed to once a week earlier than this article may suggest. In the long-run, once a week probably works as the best frequency, forming a buffer against overtraining yet avoiding detraining. You may notice the length of your journey, ignore the short-run, and choose once a week from the start and thrive today and in the future. Nonetheless, consider 2-3 times a week.