How often should you go to the gym? A basic question, misunderstood most of the time. Most people assume “more is better” and put much pressure onto themselves, trying to hit the gym as often as possible, only to get frustrated by the high time consumption of doing so. So let’s take a look at the most important factors that influence training frequency, so you can make an educated decision for yourself.
There are two types of frequencies that often get mixed up:
- Workout frequency is the number how often you go to the gym to train each week.
- Training frequency is the number of times each muscle group gets trained per week.
For example a traditional “bro-split” let you train each body part one time per week but you have to go to the gym five times to work through your whole body: Workout frequency = 5, training frequency = 1.
On the other hand you could do a full-body workout two times a week: Workout frequency = 2, training frequency = 2.
As you can imagine, workout frequency and training frequency are closely tied to each other, two variables you can adjust and play around with according to your needs and preferences.
Most people get the best results with a training frequency of 2-3. Hitting a muscle only one time per week or even fewer is too few, leaving too much time between training sessions doing “nothing”. Four or more times a week is too hard to recover from for most people, leading to declining performance and increasing risk of injury.
The longer you have been into the “iron game”, the harder it is to progress and the more volume (usually) has to be done to signal the body to grow. As you push your volume up, at some point you usually have to increase training frequency to split up the accumulating volume.
One key number is the maximum number of sets per body part per training session, which is around 10-12 sets. After hitting this amount, you are better off splitting the volume up to two training sessions.
For example Joe is a beginner and makes great progress with 6 sets per week. He has the choice to split those 6 sets over two or three training sessions. If he manages to go to the gym only once a week, he might even be able to work through his entire volume in just one, big training session. Be aware that doing less than 2-3 set per training session seems to be suboptimal for hypertrophy.
Tim is an advanced lifter and needs 15 sets per week to make at least some amount of progress. He has the choice to split those 15 sets up to anything between 2-6 training sessions, depending on his preferences. Doing his 15 sets per body part in just one training sessions is not advisable due to the maximum number of sets per body part. This is an over-simplification, but it’s just to showcase the point that over time, you need more volume, thus more sessions are beneficial.
Generally speaking a high number of training days (=high workout frequency) leads to better results than a lower frequency. Whenever a clients asks for maximum results, I would put him on the highest workout frequency that he can manage to sustain. Splitting training volume over more days makes workouts shorter and less fatigueing, leading to better performance and therefore better gains over time.
That said, a high workout frequency means a lot of time commitment. Total workout time stays the same, but additions gym trips, bag preparation, taking showers and chatting with your gym buddy takes a lot of time, increasing with every workout day. Take a look at the following example:
Plan A: Full-body three times a week; 3 training days.
Plan B: Upper-lower split repeated three times; 6 training days.
Both training plans have the same training frequency as they hit each muscle three times a week, but plan B has twice the workout frequency! None of those plans is strictly better than the other, but simply fit different kinds of persons. While I would argue that plan B will lead to better long term results, the potential benefits of a high workout frequency are lost if adherence is suffering due to time constraints. Remember, consistency is still the most important thing!
And as much as we all want to be big and strong, doing “whatever it takes”, most of us (gladly) have a life outside the gym. Social contact is an important factor of mental health, so make sure you leave enough time to spend with your loved ones.
Lastly preference comes into play. You have to enjoy what you are doing! Who cares if more workouts per week would be “ideal”? If you hate going often to the gym, just get it done in fewer sessions. If you love going to the gym, split your volume up as much as you like. Just make sure you find a way to get in your volume in a way that is feasable for you and that you enjoy.
Long term adherence is probably the most important factor of any training program, so don’t make the mistake to ignore it. Everybody can force himself to do something he doesn’t enjoy, but adherence will suffer promptly, leaving poor results behind. Just take a look at all those new-year-resolutioners! Always remember: changing your body is a slow long process, so make sure it is as enjoyable as possible.
Overall, training and workout frequency are not the most important factors of a training plan, they are tools you can use to match your lifestyle with the volume you need to do. Exercise selection and volume are probably of much more importance for maximum results than frequency.
Make sure to take your time to answer the following questions before choosing a training split or training program:
- How much volume do you need to progress?
- How much time do you really want to commit?
- How often do you like to train?
Most of my clients go to the gym 2-3 times per week and get great results with this. This means full-body workouts with quite some volume to do, but most people like the flexibility and free time it gives them, so I suggest you trying something similar. It turns out most people like spending time with their loved ones more than going to the gym. Shocking, isn’t it ;-)?
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to post them down in the comments, I will answer them promptly, promised. I hope you liked this blog post; if you did, leave me a like, share it with your gym buddy and join the beary email list below for more free content!