In this article we deal with the optimal training frequency. We answer the question of how often you should train per week so that your muscle hypertrophy (muscle building) comes close to your goals and you can soon strut with your crisp bikini body over the sandy beaches of the South Pacific or with your atypical dimensions bring every man’s outfitter to despair. Joking aside. What constitutes the ideal training frequency for muscle building training?
Even from the formulation of this fundamental question, the astute athlete with hidden analytical talent can recognize which type of athlete is in him. I probably don’t even have to explain that to you, but at least we can better understand our following categorization of the basic training frequencies based on the question.
- How often do I have to train per week?
- How often should you train per week?
- How often can I train per week?
Do you notice something? The inflected form of our verbs already reveals which motivational basis it could be in the individual case. Nobody forces you to exercise. As a healthy person you can and may train. You should appreciate that. Not a matter of course, is it?
But before we explain the differences between the individual training methods and address the questions of how often you should train per week, we will briefly describe the essential terms at this point that we use in many places. Just get used to the fact that you have to know a few fundamentals if you are to be successful at anything. If you are not ready, you are wrong with weight training. It’s all about ambition, discipline and progressive progress.
Muscle building training – Theoretical basics in rapid succession
Don’t worry. We will not go into the exact mechanisms and biochemical basics that a successful muscle building training requires. We have already done this in countless articles and our Hypertrophy Guide.
Anyone who does muscle building (fat burning as a training goal should be neglected at this point) has a primary goal: to build muscle volume or muscle mass on the entire body or focused on certain areas . We call this process muscle hypertrophy, which is triggered by straining the muscles beyond the usual level of performance. How effective the muscle hypertrophy turns out in individual cases depends not only on your genetics and your diet, but rather on how the three elementary training parameters (let’s just call them 3T) are designed:
- Training intensity (weights)
- Training volume (number of repetitions or exercise sets)
- Training frequency (repetition of the training units or how often you train a muscle group per week)
Do you know why pretty much every training system and every training method more or less always works somehow for beginners and advanced users? It’s pretty easy. It doesn’t depend on the color of the dumbbells, but – as so often – only what counts in the end is what is on the bottom line.
And in this case that is the load moved by your muscles during training . If it is significantly higher than the load that your muscles have to cope with in everyday life, it is forced to hypertrophy and has to work through targeted muscle building and other functional changes, including increased protein biosynthesis in the phases after Training to adapt to the new load.
The load that is moved per muscle group denotes nothing other than the following equation:
Last (muscle group) = Number of reps. x Number of exercise sets x Training weight per set
In other words, training intensity, training volume and training frequency (topic of this article) are inextricably linked and are the decisive factor for whether your muscle building training will lead to success or to depression.
This colleague takes the moving load pretty seriously. Can be done, does not have to be. (© Andriy Petrenko – Fotoliga.com)
How often should you train per week?
Unfortunately, this question cannot be answered with just a few sentences. Rather, it depends on the own training goal , which lays the essential foundation for the design of the weekly training and nutrition plan. If we now describe the three basic types of athletes in more detail, let’s call them the “must”, “should” and “may” types, then three categories of different training frequencies emerge.
- The “must type” only trains as much as he really has to in order not to lose the feeling that you are “trying” over and over again. In the end, the “must-have” shit himself, but neglects the training and ends up with the sundae in front of the TV and watches the next season of his favorite series. It’s a shame.
- The “should type” has recently been busy with training, has already ordered his first protein shake and prints out countless split training plans every day, always in the hope of “the.” to find one with whom he will be happy for a lifetime. As a rule, he is ready to train two or three training units per week. A really good start.
- The “may type” pays particular attention to rooms that correspond to the reference to protein shake bags “store cool and dry” when visiting their new apartment and see themselves as a semi-full professional. His Google search queries are mostly “How many protein shakes can I take a day”, “How quickly can I build muscles” or “How often can I train per week”. Most of all, he would like to do 7 or 8 workouts a week. A little over-motivated, but at least full of vigor.
Oh, one more thing. When we speak of training frequency , it is not about how many times a week you torture your body to the gym in order to train the “area” you want with the weights.
In terms of training frequency, we are talking about the frequency of a repetitive training session for an explicit muscle group (e.g. the abdominal muscles or the biceps).
Our colleagues from muskelaufbau.de also have a comparable classification of the training frequencies in their article about the ideal training frequency hit, but also described the effects of individual training progress . A really sensible approach if we consider that beginners and advanced users in particular can register significant differences in their training success, which are based on their personal training status.
While the beginners with a maximum of three, four or five months (regular) training experience still through pretty much every conceivable training system that our ” 3T” uses in almost any combination , have impressive successes in muscle building, it looks different with advanced athletes.
With more than 6 to 9 months of continuous training experience, you can slowly count yourself among the advanced athletes . This does not mean that as an advanced learner all the girls and boys will automatically watch you drooling, but only that from this point on – sorry for the choice of words – you have to work your ass off in order to be able to build on your successes from the beginnings .
As you progress, it becomes increasingly essential that you deal very carefully with the different training methods and the 3T if you still want to achieve success. The meanwhile strongly increased level of adaptability of your muscles requires new and unfamiliar stimuli and training methods so that your muscles get into a hypertrophic state again and your training stimuli do not stagnate. At some point your level of training has progressed so far that you have almost reached your natural (genetically determined) limit in muscle building and can only overcome this plateau phase with great difficulty. The following graphic illustrates this problem. Enough talked. Let’s get back to our initial question.
This pretty curve shows how the increase in strength (the adaptability level of the muscles) in the untrained training condition increases massively, while highly advanced athletes can only record marginal increases in strength. At this point, “professionals” often resort to anabolic steroids in order to overcome this so-called plateau phase. We don’t have to explain to you that you should stay away from steroids!
Exercise once a week – is that enough?
Was Rome built in a day? No. Unless you are blessed with divine genetics, have reached the absolute maximum adaption (assuming many years of hard training experience) or give synthetic tutoring, a single training session per week can hardly produce the results that you can achieve with comparable training methods a second or third training session. Why is that?
Even if you align your training intensity (weights) and training volume (repetitions and sets) to the absolute maximum of your performance limit, the hypertrophy and regeneration processes usually extend to a maximum of 48 to 72 hours after the training session. Ergo: You are giving away the entire training potential in the remaining 2-3 days of the week , in which your muscles are completely recovered and you could actually have been training again long ago. A one-time full-body workout per week is therefore only suitable for advanced athletes who only want to maintain their muscle mass and strength level.
Train 2-3 times a week – full body workout and split 2
Here the whole thing looks a little different. A training frequency in a range of 2-3 training units per week is generally optimal for beginners and advanced users.
On the one hand, due to their untrained training condition , beginners are at risk of overloading their muscles and joints through too intensive strength training, but on the other hand, the poor training progress of a beginner requires that the muscle building training is usually of much less intensity and effectiveness than is the case with advanced or professional athletes. Thus, the relative load during training is significantly lower.
That is among other things because the processes of energy supply (ATP resynthesis) and intramuscular coordination are not yet as efficient as they are in trained athletes. This means that exhaustion occurs much faster during training than in trained athletes. The training-induced increase in glycogen and creatine stores results in a significant increase in performance, but only becomes noticeable with increasing muscle mass, i.e. increasing training progress, and can be compensated for by taking longer breaks in sentences.
In practice, conventional 2-split training plans or 3-split training plans for advanced athletes have proven themselves, whereby full-body training that is completed on at least two, ideally four days a week, achieves outstanding results, especially for genetically favored athletes can. Full-body training on more than 3 days a week increases the risk of overtraining, which is triggered by very short recovery phases between training units (usually only 24 hours). To counteract this, the training volume for full-body training should be limited a bit.
Exercise more than 3 times a week
Such a high training frequency per muscle group can only be maintained by very advanced athletes who minimize their training volume while systematically maximizing the training intensity. Due to a very well developed muscle performance, far advanced or professionals can have a significantly higher training intensity and cope with the relatively high training volumes thanks to the much improved and optimized regenerative capacity of the body’s own ATP and creatine stores.
Professionals generally train with 2 or 3 split training plans that are carried out up to 3 times a week (2 split), i.e. stimulate each muscle group up to 3 times a week. The training unit is generally limited to 45 to 60 minutes , as it is not intended to cause absolute muscle failure. This means that the regeneration process for professionals is almost complete after around 24 hours, although around 48 hours are available for the complete regeneration of the muscle group.
Recap – How often do I have to train per week now?
In all honesty, exercise as often as you want if your health doesn’t suffer. If you can do 6, 7 or more intense training sessions per week and are still as far away from the signs of overtraining as North and South Korea are from opening their borders, then we take our hats off to you. Prepare yourself mentally for a career as a demigod and support those in strength training who cannot.
For everyone else, the following applies: adapt your training frequency to your individual
state of training. A single training session per week will hardly be enough to trigger noticeable progress in muscle building as a beginner or advanced athlete. Two to three training units per week for each muscle group , which are implemented with full-body training or proven split training methods, turn out to be optimal for most athletes. More than 3 training units should only be implemented if you are perfectly familiar with training and nutrition or if you have read our hypertrophy guide. With this knowledge, you are able to fully adapt the elementary training parameters to your personal needs and to combine them as you wish.