November 24, 2014 Leave a comment
By Kyle Arsenault CSCS
For most of us, we are training to get stronger and add some muscle.
In doing so we will become more athletic, more resilient to injury and will be more confident with the way we look and feel.
So with this in mind a common question I am asked is how many times per week should we train in order to maximize strength gains and a leaner, more muscular physique?
And how long should training sessions be?
Should training take hours on end a couple times per week, or should we be training nearly every day utilizing shorter sessions?
As usual the answer is somewhere in the middle, and as always, it depends on the individual.
The Untrained Individual
This isn’t a knock on anyone who has been getting after training consistently, but you may not be as trained as you think.
Unless you have been training consistently for more than two years, you are an untrained individual. Again, this is not to say you are not a consistent trainee, but you still have not reached the status of a truly trained individual.
And if you are someone who has been “working out” off and on for more than two years, remember that the training must be consistent in order to be considered trained.
Untrained individuals will see dramatic improvements and progress with training when compared to trained individuals as they have a bigger window of adaptation.
Think of anytime you pick up a new skill or hobby (including training). You may not be the best at first, but you will make quick progress if you stick to it consistently. Then, after a while progress slows.
It has been shown that untrained individuals will experience sufficient strength and size gains with a more traditional, less frequent approach to training. This less frequent approach would be something like three full body sessions per week.
But, it has also been shown that these same individuals will make similar progress on a more frequent training split (4+ sessions per week).
Those of us who have been at the training game for more than 2 years (consistently) will likely experience greater progress with more frequent training when compared to three times or less per week.
And the great thing is that this is volume matched training. This means that you may not have to perform more overall volume (adding extra volume with another session in addition to your already existing three times per week), but instead you can redistribute your 3x/week training over 4+ times per week.
For example, let’s say you perform a total of 12 sets of squats per week.
To take advantage of more frequent training, you do not have to now perform more sets of squats per week (say 15-16 sets), but you can simply take your 12 sets and spread them out over more sessions during the week.
This may mean that instead of 4 sets of squats 3 days per week, you can now do 3 sets of squats 4 days per week.
And the same would go for any other exercise.
Hopefully that math is not too complicated!
The Added Benefits of More Frequent Training
When you only train 3x or less per week you will have to perform a high volume during those sessions to accrue a sufficient stimulus for the week.
If you train 4x or more per week you can perform less volume during those sessions as the total overall volume is now distributed over more sessions.
Not only will this decrease the amount of time each sessions takes, but in my personal experience as well as those of our athletes, it will decrease the demand on the body during each session.
I am not saying that the intensity won’t be high, actually quite the opposite. When you have less overall volume to perform in a given session, you can put more effort/intensity into each set.
Although you may try not to, if you know that you have a marathon of a session ahead, you are likely to sandbag and not push the initial sets of your session to your full capacity.
Knowing that you have less total sets to perform for a session will allow you to make the most out of every set.
Lastly, you will notice that at the end of the session you will not feel like you were just run over by a 18 wheeler! Instead, as long as you kept the intensity high, you will feel like you completed a quality session that will leave you ready to train again soon.
To Train or Not to Train…More Frequently
Taking the above info into consideration, it would seem that a greater training frequency is superior to less frequent training, especially when you are a trained individual.
Untrained individuals can achieve sufficient adaptations from a less frequent training regimen, but will still achieve the results with more frequent training.
Many of us can dedicate 45 minutes to an hour per day for training, but it is when we start talking about an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half that things start to get a bit crazy!
With higher frequency training, sessions are shorter, less damage to the body will occur and because of the more frequent stimulus on the body (central nervous system, musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, hormone regulation, etc.), you will experience greater strength and muscular gains.
And the best part is that this occurs without any extra volume. Merely spreading the same training program out in an efficient manner will provide the adaptations necessary for continued progress.
Try taking your existing program and spreading it out over 4+ days and let us know how you do.