Determining Lifting Frequency

The frequency, or the number of workouts you have each week, changes based on your experience. As you grow more fit, you need fewer sessions. Many take the opposite path, with a lack of patience encouraging too much exercise.

Some experts always recommend training each muscle group every 3-4 days. This totally ignores the total amount of exercise you use and other recovery factors as well.

For the best results, you should train as often as possible. As you advance though, you will need less exercise because intensity must increase. We take longer to recover as we get stronger.

Recovery

Recovery involves multiple systems with different timelines. You cannot view it as only the muscles having to recover. You have to balance the systematic effect with the local effect on the muscles.

Nervous system and hormonal fatigue come from causes such as too much exercise and a lack of sleep. They tend to build up slowly but will halt progress in all exercises when it reaches some point. It manifests through the signs of overtraining.

Local muscle fatigue is easier to identify, with soreness and a sense of weakness in the muscles you train as clear signs you need more rest.

The right frequency must allow both of these systems to recover.

Detraining does not occur at some predetermined rate. Some coaches and scientists state that within 48-96 hours, usually around 72 hours, you should work the same muscles or exercises again. This poor rule of thumb is arbitrary and ignores the status of the trainee along with the intensity and amount of work used. Recovery does depend on time though, and workarounds such as eating a lot cannot speed the process.

Most would agree that for the same muscle groups, less than 24 hours does not allow enough rest. Lifting heavy recruits the fast-twitch fibers that evolved for rare use. They do not repair at the rates expected from other less demanding forms of exercise.

Some athletes may ignore this guideline though to achieve skill-based goals or purposely overtrain and supercompensate through periodization. A higher frequency beyond your capabilities may allow for faster progress at first but will slow as the systems fatigue. Athletes on such systems end up just training less intensely on most days.

Some experts suggest training often for more hormonal spikes. Insulin can promote glucose transport into the cells and protein synthesis. The spike in insulin along with the other changes in testosterone and growth hormone may allow faster progress. This looks promising, but fails to take into account other changes, both hormonal and otherwise, that take place to counteract this effect due to too much exercise.

System

On a much reduced training program, my progress was far faster than it had ever been previously – and I very quickly reached new levels in both muscular size and strength, levels which I had previously considered impossible for me as an individual.

 – Arthur Jones

You can choose either a full-body or split routine, although a full-body may manage both general and local forms of fatigue better. Both systems, as I suggest, apply training on non-consecutive days.

The following frequency progression will work well for a full-body routine or as the frequency per exercise if using the split routine:

  • 1st:  3 times / week
  • 2nd:  2 times / week
  • 3rd:  3 times / 2 weeks
  • 4th:  Once per week
  • 5th:  Once every 8-14 days

Nearly all trainees should settle in the range between the 2nd and 4th progressions. You can tolerate the 1st stage as a beginner but not for long. Many trainees can also consider settling on the 4th progression for a lifetime since it probably works best in the long run.

Only very strong trainees need to consider the last option.

When torn between more or less sessions, choose less.

Workout Frequency Changes

Train as often as possible, but reduce the number of sessions as you grow more fit. Monitor your progress. Be honest with the results of your frequency, and you will find a deep analysis of recovery unnecessary.

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