When it comes to making progress while you’re training, how often you should train is a big question. Unfortunately, a definitive number for everyone in every situation does not exist.
What you must do is consider the intensity of training, the overall volume, the time allotted and psychological commitment. Although there’s no one right answer, there is one approach that will work for most people: higher-frequency training. Let’s take a look at why:
The intensity of a training session correlates with the resistance used as well as the perceived exertion from the session. The higher the overall intensity, the greater the demand on the body and, subsequently, the greater the adaptations and results.
If you only train one to two times per week, those sessions must be at a very high intensity in order to achieve the necessary stimulus. But if you train more frequently, such as three to five times per week, the sessions can be slightly less intense because you’re going to achieve a higher overall intensity throughout the week.
Volume is determined by the amount of repetitions you complete in a session, day or week. For example, you may complete two days of training with eight exercises in each session. Each exercise has three sets and, for the sake of ease, let’s say 10 reps. This creates a total volume of 480 repetitions throughout the week. (This is a completely arbitrary number, by the way.)
Instead of completing those 480 repetitions over the course of two sessions, which could take one to two hours, we can divide them between three and five shorter sessions. Now, rather than completing 240 reps per session, you would complete 96 to 160 reps per session. This allows you to spend less time per session while still achieving the same overall volume.
Also, it has been shown that these lower-volume sessions spread throughout the week result in the same strength and hypertrophy as the higher-volume routines twice per week when overall volume is kept consistent. To make it even better, with more sessions it will be easier to achieve a higher overall volume throughout the week (just by adding a few more sets per session), likely resulting in greater gains.
How well you recover from one training session to the next will affect the intensity of the subsequent session and therefore the long-term results. When you must complete a high volume during one to two sessions per week, it’s difficult to recover adequately.
By keeping the volume lower per session, it will likely allow you to recover more efficiently even though you’ll be training more frequently.
When you know you only have one or two opportunities a week to get in some exercise, you may feel like you have to work to an extremely high intensity (for the most part this is true). But this isn’t easy, and you may find it hard to be mentally up for it.
When you have three to five chances per week, you can approach a session with a little less urgency, making the sessions more enjoyable. The best program is one that allows for consistency — and the mental factor is a large component.
Train More to Gain More
When it comes down to it, a lower training frequency can bring about results. But if you’re in it for the long run, a higher training frequency allows you to achieve the same or higher overall intensity and volume, greater recovery and a better psychological state. All of these factors together will invariably bring about greater results.