Training frequency is arguably the most important component of a training program. Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if one is going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by one’s recovery ability, is often a forgotten, and more often inappropriately applied part of most training protocols.
You can never train too hard, but you can train too much. Training “too much” can actually be described in two ways. The first and probably the most common way, is training too often. The average person, who is training with 100% intensity, will not be able to train a body part any more frequently than once every six to eight days. Many advanced lifters may need upwards of nine or ten days in between training sessions for the same body part.
In order for a training program to be productive it must stimulate an appropriate adaptive response. A productive training program must also allow an adaptive response to occur. Notice the distinction between stimulating the adaptation and allowing it to occur. The most common error in training prescription is not allowing the adaptive response to occur, i.e., over-training.
Let it be understood that if you are still sore from a previous workout then you are not recovered. Moreover, if you are feeling fatigued, or not feeling energetic about your scheduled workout, you are not recovered. In either case, the best thing you can do is take another day off. Training stimulates your muscles to grow, but they don’t grow during training. Proper nutrition and enough rest between sessions is what facilitates recovery and allows the muscles to adapt to the training stimulus. Training before the muscle is fully recovered can not only slow or even put a halt to your progress, but can increase your risk of injury.
Don’t be so concerned with how many training sessions you can handle per week. Be more concerned about the optimal amount. More is not always better. Consequently, when somebody comes to me for advice because they’ve stopped making progress, I usually reduce the workout volume, add days off or both. Why go to the gym if you’re not going to make progress? Every workout should be productive, if you have fully recovered, and you come ready to work.
I hear it all; “How can anyone get stronger every workout?”, “One can only bench press so much.”, “Eventually, you have to hit a plateau, right?” If the proper changes aren’t made at the right time, eventually the body adapts to the stimulus, strength gains diminish, and progress stalls. This is where the “art” of being a coach comes to play, by creating an individualized training prescription designed around a person’s needs.
As it’s been said since the 18th century, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Any dipshit who’s read magazines, talked to the local meat head, or read a book can write a workout. The real challenge, however, is assuring recovery from workout to workout, week to week, month to month, so that progress continues over a long period of time.
Keep in mind, as stated earlier, training frequency is dependent on how one recovers from workout to workout. Depending on genetics and experience one will need six to ten days between training the same body part to fully recover. Adjust your training frequency by how you’re progressing. And remember, many will have to allow for environmental stress, e.g., job, finances, relationships. The daily bump and grind can zap the body of its recovery ability and take a negative toll on one’s workouts.
Once you’ve found a workout schedule you like, stick with it for three to six weeks. It takes at least 3 weeks to see if a particular workout is efficacious or not. However, even the best workouts will start to lose their effectiveness right around four to six weeks, especially if you’re an advanced lifter, so changes are a necessity.
For most of you reading this article who haven’t made your desired gains in weeks, months, or even years, start paying attention to training frequency, and be ready to reach new levels of strength and muscular development