Article: Training Frequency: how often should we train to optimise muscle and strength gain?
Individuals who are trying to optimise their training in the gym need to consider several variables when determining the best workout plan for them. One of the most important variables to consider is training frequency. Put simply, training frequency refers to the number of training sessions you perform, typically over a weekly period. This variable needs to be carefully considered since the frequency you choose will determine the intensity and volume per session needed to optimise your progress.
Many people will be restricted in terms of their training frequency due to commitments outside of the gym, however for the purposes of this article we will examine what the optimal training frequency is according to the latest scientific evidence.
Low vs High Frequency Training
Although it may seem logical to assume that training more often will lead to more gains, the current scientific evidence doesn’t necessarily support this. Recent evidence indicates that when training volume (weekly sets per muscle group) is equated, there are no significant differences in muscle/strength gains between low and high training frequencies (Grgic et al., 2018; Schoenfeld et al., 2019). Therefore, training volume seems to be a much more significant driver of muscle/strength gains when compared to training frequency.
Why High Frequency Training May Still Be Superior
Although low and high frequency training are both equally effective when volume is equated, high frequency training may still be superior due to the potential for performing more weekly volume. When training once or twice per week, the amount of volume that can be performed is limited. However, training 3+ times per week allows for greater total volume to be performed without necessarily increasing the difficulty of individual workouts (Ralston et al., 2018).
For example, if you performed two high volume workouts per week comprising of 25 total sets per workout your total weekly volume would be 50 sets. However, if instead you performed three moderate volume workouts comprising of 20 total sets, your total volume would be greater (60 sets) despite the fact that the workouts themselves would be shorter and less taxing.
Splitting training volume across multiple workouts is key for optimising muscle growth since current evidence indicates that performing more than 8 sets per muscle group within a workout only leads to additional fatigue rather than contributing to more muscle growth (Ochi et al., 2018). Thus, fitting all of your weekly volume into one or two workouts will likely mean that a lot of the sets performed will simply be “junk volume”. Moreover, performing fewer sets per muscle group within a workout will ensure that the reps performed will be of a higher quality since you will be less fatigued, and this may lead to better results.
How often should you train?
- Training each muscle group twice per week split across at least three training sessions is likely to yield the best results
- If you can only train once or twice per week, try to avoid performing more than 8 sets per muscle group within your workouts
- If you train very frequently (5+ times per week), it may be advisable to perform moderate volumes during your workouts (15-20 total sets) to ensure you can recover effectively
Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B.J., Davies, T.B., Lazinica, B., Krieger, J.W. and Pedisic, Z., 2018. Effect of resistance training frequency on gains in muscular strength: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 48, pp.1207-1220.
Ochi, E., Maruo, M., Tsuchiya, Y., Ishii, N., Miura, K. and Sasaki, K., 2018. Higher training frequency is important for gaining muscular strength under volume-matched training. Frontiers in physiology, p.744.
Ralston, G.W., Kilgore, L., Wyatt, F.B., Buchan, D. and Baker, J.S., 2018. Weekly training frequency effects on strength gain: a meta-analysis. Sports medicine-open, 4, pp.1-24.
Schoenfeld, B.J., Grgic, J. and Krieger, J., 2019. How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. Journal of sports sciences, 37(11), pp.1286-1295.
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