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The Optimal training Frequency

It is common bro wisdom that training each muscle group once or twice per week is best for hypertrophy. A body part split program is designed and all weekly sets for each muscle group are crammed into one single workout, sometimes two, and then each muscle group is given a good three days at least to recover, before its next training session.

In an attempt to provide a clear signal for muscle growth it is thought one must completely annihilate one given muscle group using as many different rep ranges, angles and variety of exercises as possible, leaving no muscle fiber behind, and no reserves. You know that when you finish a workout like this you feel pleasantly sore and exhausted. And you’d think to yourself that surely your muscles will get the point - they will have to grow now! Right?

The rationale behind this kind of training is to ensure each muscle group receives a good, very loud and clear signal for muscle growth, and enough recovery time is then allowed for the muscles to fully repair and remodel, stronger and bigger than before. This may be the case for complete beginners as recovery time from any resistance training session is still up to 72 hours in untrained, sedentary individuals.

As one progresses to the intermediate level lifter however, recovery gets faster, down to 33-22 hours. Once you are at the advanced level it is faster still. This is because Strength trained muscles have a greater regenerative capacity. Partly because of the increase in satellite cells and myogenic activity that comes with bigger muscles and partly because of increased muscle-vascularity that occurs alongside muscle development via angiogenesis (more blood vessels develop for faster delivery of nutrients and removal of waste products).

Because the optimal training volume increases as one advances in muscle development, training with a higher frequency is a convenient way to achieve the required higher total training volume that confers a number of other benefits, as well, namely:

1) Improving the overall quality of training because more sets are done in a less fatigued state (how does your last set compare to your first set when you are still fresh?)

2) Better sleep quality. Strength training significantly improves quality of sleep. The more frequently you strength train the better your quality of sleep over time.

3) An improvement in a number of other factors conducive to muscle growth:

These findings indicate that at the intermediate level you would benefit to train each muscle group at least every second day, and possibly every day, depending on your genetics, lifestyle factors and how far along the spectrum of muscle development you are within the category of an intermediate. At the advanced level you will likely benefit from training each muscle group every day.

This doesn’t mean you train each muscle group with the same set-volume in each workout as you would when training each muscle group only once or twice a week. Rather you spread your total optimal training weekly volume over more days, meaning you have fewer sets for each body part per workout, and more workouts per week totaling the same optimal training volume.

Some practical guidelines:

  • Beginner level strength trainees should train each muscle group 1-2 times a week

  • Novice level strength trainees should train each muscle group 2-3 times a week

  • Intermediate level strength trainees should train each muscle group 4-6 times a week

  • Advanced level strength trainees should train each muscle group 5-7 times a week

  • Elite level strength trainees should train each muscle group 7-14 times a week

For an understanding of the different levels of categorisation of strength trainees refer to this chart

Bear in mind that the above are to be seen as guidelines. In practice an individual’s genetics, gender and lifestyle factors also come into play when determining their optimal training frequency. Close attention to progress in each exercise on the training program is needed, and recovery conditions need to be taken into account.

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