It seems like a simple question. But if you ask what the best weekly training frequency is you’ll find yourself in the middle of a war of ideas. One camp swears by training no more than once a week, and the other by multiple times a day. The approaches are confusingly different.
So who’s right? How many times per week should we train for the fastest gains in muscle and strength?
Simpler, Stupider Times
It was easy when I first started training. There were no questions about the best weekly training frequency, you just worked the whole body once per week. Everyone knew that anything else would overtrain your muscles into a sad, melted pool at your feet, leaving you hospitalized with your dreams of superhero appearance and strength shattered.
Genuine overtraining is a lot harder to achieve than the laymen at my local gym suspected though, which means higher frequency training needn’t be feared from that perspective.
Low Frequency Training
Proponents of low training frequency generally advise covering all muscles only once per week, though some recommendations go even lower.
It normally involves very intense, maximal training, which often results in fatigue that takes days to recover from. That’s the reason behind the low frequency—break your body down, then let it heal up and get stronger in the following days.
High Frequency Training
Anything from training each muscle twice per week up to multiple times per day could fall under this category depending on who you ask.
For high frequency programs to work long term, maximal work has to be used more sparingly because there’s less recovery time between sessions. This becomes increasingly important the higher the frequency gets.
Current science indicates that protein synthesis (translation: muscle growth) in response to exercise is limited to days at most. The duration is less if you’re beyond the beginner stage.
Based on this, training a muscle once per week means a maximum of 48 hours muscle growth followed by days of wasted opportunities for further stimulation. Therefore a higher training frequency seems to make more sense: more training sessions mean more protein synthesis and more muscle size and strength.
And the Award for the Best Weekly Training Frequency Goes To…
It might seem obvious to say the best training frequency is high because the science points in that direction. But it’s possible you fall outside of the average outcome that the science reports.
Differences between how our bodies work mean that even if high frequency is best in general, some people respond better to the low frequency approach. Short of finding someone to conduct a study on you, we’re left with self-experimentation in the gym.
Each method has its advantages. The strength of low frequency is the recovery it allows, and high frequency can provide beneficial overreaching (overreaching is short term overtraining. It can result in greater adaptation if given enough recovery time afterwards).
The current scientific evidence isn’t overwhelming. Choosing one system over the other probably doesn’t result in game-changing differences long term. This means that the best weekly training frequency is really the one you enjoy the most.
Beyond that for those looking to get as close to optimal as possible, we can take advantage of the benefits of both protocols and do periods of each throughout the training year.
If you liked this, check out Squatting Every Day for more about training frequency (specifically training legs every single day with squats).
Please feel free to comment or get in touch, I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts and about your experiences. Just use the comment form below, or send me an email.
Thank you kindly for reading.