Training frequency is an interesting topic today.
Everywhere you look, people have different recommendations for how often we should train to achieve the best results.
So, let’s look at what research has to say and what that means for us.
What Does Training Frequency Mean?
Training frequency refers to two things:
- How often we train a muscle group (e.g., the chest) or how frequently we do an exercise (e.g., the squat)
- How often we train each week, regardless of the activity
For the sake of practicality, we’ll go over the first meaning of training frequency today.
The Optimal Training Frequency For Muscle Growth
Back in the day, people subscribed to the bro split. With it, you dedicate each workout to one or two muscle groups (back day, chest day, etc.). These muscles then recover for a whole week before you train them again.
As time passed and our understanding of muscle growth improved, we came to understand why the bro split isn’t the optimal approach. For one, you have to train your muscles to exhaustion each time. Meaning, you’re likely to experience more soreness, and your performance gradually declines with each set inside the workout. Plus, given that muscle protein synthesis goes back to normal within 36 to 48 hours, your muscles get around three to four extra days of recovery (1).
So, experts now recommend training our muscles two times per week (2). In doing so, we can spread our training volume into two sessions instead of cramming all the work inside one workout. Doing so allows us to do more quality sets, avoid muscle exhaustion, keep soreness at bay, and ride the muscle protein synthesis wave twice per week.
For example, instead of doing 20 sets for your back in a single workout, you can split that volume into two sessions of ten sets. That way, you control muscle soreness, do all of your sets in a fresher state, and lift a bit more weight.
How Often Should We Train For Strength Gains?
Muscle size is one factor that influences strength capacity. More muscular athletes are generally stronger, which we see in a variety of disciplines: powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, boxing, and much more.
So, if you want to optimize your strength gains over the long run, you should emphasize hypertrophy training from time to time. But lifting weight is a skill that, like any other, benefits from frequent practice.
Aside from muscle size, our strength depends on factors like:
- Neuromuscular capacity
- Training experience
- Confidence in lifting heavy weights
Each of these benefits from experience, which we gain from doing specific exercises more frequently. According to research, a weekly frequency of two to four times per week seems optimal for strength gains (3). In other words, you should pick the movements you want to get better at and do each two to four times per week.
For example, if you want to improve your bench press, your training might look like this:
- Monday - 4 sets of 6 reps
- Wednesday - 5 sets of 4 reps
- Friday - 6 sets of 2 reps
You can also introduce variations of your main lift to keep your training fresh and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. For example:
- Monday - 4 sets of 6 reps (close-grip bench press)
- Wednesday - 5 sets of 4 reps (pause bench press)
- Friday - 6 sets of 2 reps (regular bench