It's very common for those just starting out with resistance training to be confused as to how frequent they should train. Should you train every day? Every other day? Is five times a week better than three? Ultimately, choosing a training frequency is mostly driven by what is most practical in terms of dispersing your training volume across a weekly time period while also fitting your personal schedule. Below, we will help you better understand why some frequencies may be chosen over others and whether or not there is a benefit to higher frequency training.
Most training frequencies produce similar results, but higher frequencies have practical advantages.
When comparing frequencies and controlling for volume and intensity, frequencies above once per week all seem to provide relatively the same amount of return. Performing 15 sets of chest spread across two workout days per week will provide the same progress as 15 sets of chest spread out across three days a week. The difference would be that twice a week would result in longer workouts as opposed to splitting up those sets across three times a week which would save you time per session but cost you an extra session.
This allows you great flexibility in how you plan to schedule your workouts. There's no need to obsess over an "optimal" frequency, because the most optimal frequency is the one that you enjoy and can stay consistent with. As long as you train with the proper volume and intensity, the exact frequency you train has little to no impact on the overall results.
However, just because all frequencies seem to produce similar results, this doesn't mean that higher frequencies do not have any benefits. Their biggest benefit is one of practicality. When trying to do really low frequencies, coupled with enough volume to progress optimally, you risk having exceedingly long workouts and risk performing low quality sets (see my article about Junk Volume) due to fatigue accumulation. Imagine that you want to perform 15 sets of bench press per week. Instead of training two or three times a week, you choose to only train once a week. This means that in one single session, you'll need to do 15 sets of bench press. Doesn't sound very practical does it? By the time you're done with your 4th or 5th set, fatigue is going to set in and the sets coming after will be of much lower quality. Had you split those 15 sets up between two or three sessions, you would be able to get in much higher quality sets.
The first and most important factor to consider when choosing a training frequency is your individual schedule or training desires. As mentioned above, there are benefits to training a muscle more than once a week, but not much more is gained by going beyond twice a week, so your goal should be to hit every muscle at least twice a week. This leaves us with a recommendation of training a bare minimum of twice a week.
You may be wondering, though, if your schedule allows you to train every single day, should you? The answer is that no, not necessarily. Depending on the type of training that is required for your individual goals and how often you want to hit the gym, anything from twice a week to 6-7 times a week is acceptable (even more for those training twice a day). Performing high volume but low frequency will result in fewer, but longer workouts, while high volumes and high frequency will result in more, but shorter workouts.
Another important consideration is the volume and intensity of your training. Volume refers to how much total work you do in a given time frame (commonly defined as how many total sets you do), while intensity can mean either a percentage of your one rep max or how close to failure you're training during your sets.
Depending on what your individual goals are, volume and intensity levels will change. Strength focused approaches will be higher in intensity and lower in volume, while muscle building goals will be higher in volume and lighter in intensity. Higher levels of volume will be easier to spread out over higher frequencies, otherwise your individual workouts would become exceedingly long in order to accumulate enough volume for the week. Higher intensity training may be better paired with lower frequencies, because you can take advantage of the additional rest days between workouts and you don't need as much total weekly volume.
It is typically recommended that for muscle growth to be optimized, you'll want to perform at minimum 10 sets per muscle group you want to grow. There are definitely advantages to going higher than this, but be careful not to push volume too high, because past a certain point you'll run into diminishing returns.
Research suggests that training frequencies above once a week all produce similar progress when total volume levels are controlled for. 20 sets split across two times a week will produce similar progress to 20 sets split across 4 times per week. Training once a week seems to produce suboptimal progress in general. Since training twice a week or more produces similar results, training frequency mostly comes down to preference and practicality.
- You enjoy going to the gym often.
- Your goal is muscle building and you need to train with a lot of volume.
- You prefer shorter, but more frequent training sessions.
- Your schedule limits how often you can get to the gym.
- Your goal is more strength focused and you train with only low to moderate volume.
- You prefer longer, but less frequent training sessions.