Frequency is one of the three variables (frequency, volume, intensity) that form a foundation of all training programs. It’s about organizing your training during a week. What is an ideal way to do that? How often should you exercise for best results?
Before we can answer these questions, let’s look a little bit on the theory about exercise frequency. In the first part of the post, I will try to clarify the definition of frequency and in the second part, address the importance of exercise frequency. And in the next post, we will look into implementations of various muscle group training frequencies, their pros/cons and I will try to give some recommendations for who and what goal they might be most suited to.
How To Define Frequency
Exercise frequency can have various definitions but for our purposes, these are three most important frequencies:
- global training frequency
- weight training frequency
- muscle group training frequency
Global Training Frequency
Global training frequency is easy, it means how many times per week you are training. This includes weight training, cardio and any sport you are doing regularly.
This one is very important for selecting correct activity multiplier when you are setting up your caloric intake and is also important when you are programming your weight training. You have to consider every exercise you are doing because you need to recover from all activities to be able to perform your best.
Weight Training Frequency
Weight training frequency simply means how many times per week you are weight training. It is influenced by many factors such as your training experience, your schedule outside of the gym, your energy intake and your preference.
The most recommended weight training frequency for a general population is between 2 to 4 days per week. More avid or competitive lifters train 4 to 6 days a week and they have phases when they train two times a day.
Muscle Group Training Frequency
This is also known as body part exercise frequency. It means how often and how many times you are training specific muscle groups (shoulders, biceps, triceps etc.). It’s probably the most discussed and argued about of the three.
We can distinguish three most common muscle group exercise frequencies:
- training all muscle groups once a week
- training all muscle groups twice a week
- training all muscle groups three times a week
Of course, you can train all muscle groups more often, even every day, but these workout frequencies are less common and are easier to screw up. I would love to try really high-frequency training but for now, I don’t have the time. However, if I manage to do it, I will definitely write about the experience:)
Now let’s look at the reasons why it’s important to look into training frequency.
Why Is Frequency Important?
As mentioned above, the frequency is about how you spread your workouts throughout the week. This is important from three viewpoints or factors:
Strength Is A Skill
If you want to be good at something you need to practice, right? It is the same with strength. Your nervous system has to learn how to fire the muscles in the most effective way to handle the load – this is called neuromuscular adaptation. The more you practice your squat, deadlift etc., the better you will be at it. Then you can use more weight or do more repetitions which will cause more muscle and strength gains. This means that purely from a “strength is a skill” standpoint – the more frequent training, the better.
Muscle Growth Stimulus
According to the latest findings, muscle growth in beginners lasts up to 72 hours after a training session. This growth window shortens the more experienced (accustomed to training) you are, up to only 16 hours post training.
Also, there is a threshold of how much training you can do in the single session that will give you results. For example, doing 3 sets for muscle X (eg. biceps) will give you amazing results. So doing 6 sets should give you even better results, right? Not necessarily. If the stimulus from the 3 sets is enough to reach your anabolic limit of this muscle, the additional 3 sets would be “wasted”. So it seems that it’s better to spread your training into more session – the more frequent training, the better holds true also from the muscle building perspective.
It’s important to remember that muscles don’t grow when you are training, they grow after the training when you’re resting. You need to make sure that your body has enough time to recover before you go to another training session otherwise you can overtrain and won’t make any progress or might even regress. So from a recovery viewpoint, the more frequent training isn’t always better.
To Wrap It Up
This was the first post about exercise frequency and we’ve covered the definition of frequency and it’s importance for our training plan. In the future post, we will look into the implementation of various muscle group training frequencies. I will write about pros and cons of each as well as give some recommendations.
Thank you for reading:) I hope you’ve found this post helpful and if you have any questions or suggestions you are more than welcome to leave a comment.