Actually the real FAQ is “Marianne, how often do you train?”, but I am assuming people only ask this in order to gauge their own training frequency.
What’s funny, is that just this week I have accidentally ended up learning more about this very topic! Maybe I was subconsciously drawing this subject to me since it was in my mind to write this post.
Anyway, on with answering the question.
The truth is, it seems to depend on a whole host of other things… and most of it is down to the individual, so I can’t give you 1 answer. However, help you tune into things a little more by highlighting some common factors that come into play.
In order to keep this simple, I am going to keep this advice relating to how often to do my home workouts, because there are sooo many factors to consider that it’s impossible to cover them all. This way, it stays relevant for most of my readers 🙂
Here’s a video i did to help you with questions like these:
- Time available – Obvious one. Not only will this dictate the frequency of your workouts, but it should help you plan on the intensity, volume and duration too. Can you spare 30 mins 5 days per week, or 1 hour twice per week?
- Stress – On one hand people will find exercise helps manage stress, were as there will also be folk who find stress hinders their training progress, and then there’s the issue that over-training only increases this stress – so it’s important to tune into your body, maybe keep a training journal to help monitor this.
- Sleep quality – Same as stress!
- How well you actually recover from training – there are people who feel they have not trained properly unless they are sore the next day. SOME muscle soreness is a normal part of new training; be it new exercises, new tempo, new exercise order, heavier weights, adding drop-sets, pyometrics etc, but the body should be allowed to adapt so the soreness stops happening. This is when you will usually make the most progress, depending on the other factors above. If you are always getting sore, you may not be training frequently enough to allow your body to get used to it, OR you are training too intensely for your current level.
- Diet – If you eat to support your goals, then you will do just that; deviate from the clean eating and generally training suffers …. especially where alcohol is involved, BELIEVE ME! Some people might train only to support their calorie consumption and maintain their current body composition.
- Other activity – if you have an active job (say you are a trainer and you take 3 spin classes per week), you might want to consider reducing the frequency of your other training as it may eventually burn you out. However, if you sit at a desk 40 hours per week and the farthest you walk is to the coffee machine, then you might want to consider higher frequency workouts, but frequency is not the only variable to play with!
- Age MAY also be a factor??
- Medical problems or injuries.
- Your goals – if your goal is to gain a lot of muscle mass, then my home workouts should be kept to a minimum and you focus on hypertrophy training instead. Maybe 1 short, intense HIIT workout per week, but longer workouts will just burn too many calories that should be used for muscle mass instead. If your goal is to support fat loss, then these workouts (a balance between strength and conditioning) is ideal! People like me, who are simply wanting to maintain their conditioning, could do 2 per week, but again, this also will depend on other activities and calorie consumption, so build an awareness of how YOUR body adapts to certain types of training.
- Your experience – A Beginner can typically train more often than someone more advanced, provided they don’t suffer from a lot of muscle soreness (this does also depend on your goals and other factors, so this is a very general rule). What you will find is when a beginner trains, their body laps it up and they will see results very quickly (strength and muscle gains happen quicker than an advanced lifter). Their nervous system isn’t put under as much stress and this allows for faster recovery (provided someone is not training excessively or changing their routine too often). As you get more advanced in your training methods, often this involves more neurally taxing exercises that put more stress on your body – therefore, more recovery will help you achieve your goals. Beginners are learning movements, but advanced trainees are looking for more strength, more speed, more fat loss etc. Training more often does NOT always achieve these things …. smarter training does!
- The amount of time you spend training – if you train for 15 – 20 minutes doing my High Intensity Interval Workouts, then you can generally get away with training more frequently. However, if you love to spend 1 hour + doing your training, then I would recommend considering doing less frequent workouts. What I tend to do is mix and match 2 longer, high volume (more sets) training days in the gym (these, to me are low intensity), with 1 or 2 High Intensity, but shorter duration conditioning workouts. Could you imagine doing HIIT for an hour?? Hmm, nope, didn’t think so. A common error is that people couple LONG WORKOUTS (higher volume) with HIGH FREQUENCY and then add some HIIT training in there too. Very few people can get away with this sort of stress, so tune in to the quality of your recovery.
- How you feel – This is probably one of the most important factors and I will explain this in more detail now…
There are going to be different takes on these points, but it really does boil down to you as an individual: Your genetics, your preferences, your goals, your commitment, motivation, recovery and satisfaction. No one size fits all, so I want to conclude this article with a list of signs that your training frequency, volume, intensity are not working for you and what to do about it:
- You are always sore the days following the training
- You are getting injured frequently
- You feel mentally drained/cloudy
- You feel weaker doing every day tasks
- Your numbers are down (reps, weight etc) more than 2 weeks in a row
- During your workout, you feel you’ve been hit by a bus (a sign that the intensity and/or volume is too much, and/or you aren’t getting enough recovery)
- Your head feels fuzzy and you feel physically sick (too intense?)
- Your body composition is getting worse, despite training more?? Hmm, over-training and maybe over eating?
This list could go on, but I am sure you get the picture —> you must be aware of your body and how you cope with the type of training you are doing.
If you are finding that your training is suffering, then don’t panic!! Don’t go and change everything at once, because then you will never know what it was. Change one thing for a few weeks and see if it helps.
- Start eating better and stay hydrated
- Reduce the frequency for a while
- Reduce the intensity or volume
- Get more sleep
My guess is, that 9 times out of 10, the culprit will be: INADEQUATE RECOVERY!
The final piece of advice to consider is that what works for you now, may not be the same next year, or 5 years down the line. When you feel you have found a method that works for you, retain some awareness of your progress. If decline happens, change something! People can all too easily get stuck in a generic “train 3 times per week because that’s what somebody said to you once” and that’s the way you’ve always done it. Things change; YOU change – so adapt your training around your life.
Basically, you can’t separate your life-life from your training life and you will always have factors that impact on your ability to train as often as you once did, or what you’d like.
For me, this was the most helpful thing to realise. I would have felt guilty for days if I missed a training session, but now, I think: “Meh, more rest? It might even help”. So don’t get too attached to training frequency, because it rarely stays consistent. What we are better doing instead is learning to get the most from our training by evaluating our results or performance every 6-8 weeks. If a certain frequency isn’t working, don’t assume upping it is the only key; look at the intensity, the volume, program design and recovery. Be more aware of your training and don’t be afraid to change things.
Hope this post is somewhat useful to you and it helps at least outline just how many factors come into working this out for yourselves. Training frequency is just one piece of the jigsaw.
If you are finding it difficult to adapt and arrange your training regime, then let me use this opportunity for a shameless plug for my Online Training Services. Sometimes having an expert eye look over what you are currently doing and personalizing a program for you can make the world of difference. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about my Online Programs.
I also encourage you to leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, because I feel there is a lot more to learn, even for me. Every day I learn something new and my thinking on things often changes the more knowledge I gain. However, each time I am asked this question I think about how difficult it is to give an accurate answer for everyone – so I hope this helps 🙂