I get this a lot, and it’s one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions… In reality, it is entirely dependent on you, your current training age, volume needed and your ability to commit. You can have the greatest program in the world, but if it doesn’t suit YOU and your life, it’s not going to work. Also, you might think that more is better, but that may not always be the case.
Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of it. Consider the following 3 factors:
1) Training age
1) Training age
We’ve all heard of “newbie gainz”, right? You get amazing results as a beginner. You’re filling your t-shirts better, your jeans are tighter; life is good. Then some time goes by, and you’re finding it a little bit harder to put on that extra bit of muscle. Sound familiar? That’s because of diminishing returns; the more you train, the harder it is to progress.
To ensure progress overtime, your overall volume has to increase. So if you started out going to the gym 3 days a week and got great results, all of a sudden those gym sessions are going to take a lot longer than they used to. This is where increasing frequency comes in.
For example, if Steve needs 8 sets of Deadlifts per week to progress, instead of doing 1 session with 8 sets, he can split that volume over 2 sessions consisting of 4 sets each. This also gives Steve the chance to move a heavier weight for the second session, as he has had time to recover since the first day. However, James, who is more advanced than Steve, might need 12 sets of Deadlifts per week to progress. He can still do 2 sessions, for example the first one with 6 sets, and another with 6. But it’s a lot easier to add another session. If he now has 3 sessions instead of 2, he only has to do 4 sets per session.
The older your training age, the more volume you need. So you might need to up your number of days in the gym.
In an ideal world, more training days per week is usually better. Unfortunately we can’t all be full time professional athletes training 7 days a week. You need to decide what you can commit to, design up your plan to suit, and stick to it. No one wants to be that guy whose life revolves around the gym and he can’t hold a conversation about anything other than reps and sets!
6 sessions a week in the gym would be great, but you have to take into account the overall time commitment (travel time, showering, etc.). If this is too much for you, then adjust your program and training frequency to suit. Just make sure that the overall volume is the same, regardless of how many sessions you do.
For example, let’s consider plan A and plan B.
Plan A: Full-body, 3 times per week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
Plan B: Upper Lower, 3 times per week, repeated twice: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
Plan A is the minimum frequency for most people, and Plan B is probably the maximum. Once total volume is the same, fatigue and recovery should not be different. Plan B is simply Plan A but more spread out. Each session will be a bit easier because you only have to do half the work, but at the same time, it will require more time and effort from the extra sessions.
You might think that more sessions will equal more pain, and a harder recovery, but that is not the case. Once you adjust your overall volume with the extra day included, your recovery should not be affected. However, if you just throw in an extra day and don’t make volume adjustments to the rest of your program, you might run into problems.
A higher training frequency is to split and distribute volume, not to add even more volume. An example you could try for a full-body program is to split your last training session into an upper-lower. The volume stays the same, but now the end of the week is a bit easier because you have to do less work in each session.
Similar to commitment, preference must be taken into account if your program is to be successful. Within a certain range and as long as all the other variables are the same, how many days per week you train doesn’t matter too much for the majority of people in the grand scheme of things. Exercise selection, volume and movement/muscle group training frequency will have a much bigger impact on your progress.
If you don’t like going to the gym, it’s pointless to force yourself to go 5 or 6 times per week when you can achieve the same outcome by going 3 or 4 times.
Likewise, if you really enjoying going to the gym and working out, you don’t need to restrict yourself training 4 times per week because you think more will automatically make you overtrain. It won’t if you take the overall volume into account.
So to figure out how many days a week you need to go to the gym, answer these questions:
- What is my training age? Am I a beginner, intermediate or advanced?
- How much volume do I need to progress? (Check out our volume article here to answer this question)
- Can I handle that amount of volume in fewer sessions or do I need more sessions?
- Do I enjoy going to the gym more often? Or would I prefer to have more days where I’m free to make other plans?
The most common frequency we use at Team Jacked is 4 days per week. I add in an optional 5th day for the more advanced athletes, but this is usually a conditioning session which shouldn’t affect their overall training volume. I have found this to be the most beneficial for team members in terms of hitting that Goldilocks zone of volume and gym time commitment.
For beginners, 3 days per week is usually a great start and for more advanced that can be ramped up to 5 or 6 days per week.
The takeaway is this: view training frequency as a variable that can be changed according to your specific situation and don’t be stuck in a specific number because you are afraid it will either not be enough or that it will burn you out. It’s not that black and white. Remember that volume is by far the largest contributor to fatigue.
If you want all of this complicated program design taken care for you, jump on board Team Jacked and prepare to change how you train forever :) You can sign up here.