Now that we have covered compound movements and repetition ranges, next on our list when it comes to training involves Training Frequency.
Training Frequency can be defined as the amount of times per week one trains but more importantly, it can be defined as the amount of times one trains a particular muscle group per week. That will be covered in a little while. Another key term to know is Training Splits. Training Splits refers to the way in which we divide up our weekly training. The reason why Training Splits is being brought up is because as you’ll see, frequency and splits are intertwined and play off of each other.
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Most of the general population’s familiarity with training frequency/splits revolves around the “Bro-Split” or a training frequency of once per week. (I told you frequency and splits would be intertwined). What exactly does this mean? This for the most part means Monday is Chest and Triceps, Tuesday is Back and Biceps, Wednesday is Legs, Thursday is Shoulders, and Friday is Arms and Abs (in no particular order).
We’ve all seen these training splits. For most of us, it was the first thing we ever tried out when beginning our lifting careers. Now, is the “Bro-Split” the most optimal way to train? The answer is actually yes and no. Here’s why…
Studies have shown that a higher frequency (given that training VOLUME is equated) can stimulate more muscle growth. Some of these can be found in the link below along with other great research and data for any fellow research junkies out there.
For example, this would mean that on that “Chest and Triceps” day mentioned earlier, let’s say you did a total of 12 sets for chest in that day. These studies are showing that if you were to take the same total volume (12 sets) and divide it in half, doing 6 sets of chest on Monday and 6 sets of chest on Thursday, more muscle growth could be accomplished. Why is that? Here are a few reasons…
- You are signaling for growth more frequently throughout the week.
- Realistically, how productive are sets 9-12 at the end of a chest day compared to a less fatigued and more fresh 4-6? If you don’t know the answer, give it a try and see the difference for yourself.
So is this the be all end all when it comes to training? Can you just go and hit chest 3, 4, or 5 times per week and expect amazing magical results? Not necessarily. The same way that certain exercises lend themselves to certain repetition ranges as mentioned in the last blog post, certain muscle groups lend themselves to certain training frequencies.
Let’s take the quads for example. The quads are a large muscle group that can probably only handle two HARD training sessions per week. Any more, and accumulated fatigue will rise exponentially. Not to also mention the risk of injury. Any less, and the question becomes: Is sacrificing X amount of intensity (weight on the bar), just to be able to train your quads 5x per week really that beneficial? The answer is usually no.
On the flip side, some smaller muscle groups like the biceps, calves, and rear delts can tolerate a frequency of upwards of 5-times per week. Again, this is VOLUME equated. This doesn’t mean go out and do 10 sets of biceps on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. This means that if you’re doing 9 sets of biceps per week, splitting them up into doing 3 sets 3x a week has been proven to be more beneficial.
One of the best resources out there when it comes to training frequencies for muscle groups is the Hypertrophy Training Volume Landmarks. This is a MUST READ for all lifters but again, I’d read a few more posts and educate yourself on VOLUME before completely jumping into all of this. (More TSL blogs on Volume and Recovery coming soon!)
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
Ultimately, different people respond best to different training frequencies. Some people may get the best growth from training their chest twice per week. Some may be able to get better results from three times per week. Experimenting with different frequencies is highly advised but these “experiments” must be run for MONTHS at a time. You can’t just train your legs twice a week for three weeks and say to yourself “yup, this is for sure working.”
This brings me back to the Bro-Split topic. Although new research is showing that higher frequencies can stimulate more muscle growth overall, why are many bodybuilders training with a Bro-Split? We all see the fitness influencers and IFBB pros on Instagram posting their “BOULDER SHOULDERS ROUTINE”. The reason why bodybuilders can benefit from the Bro-Split is because for the amount of VOLUME that they are doing per session, THEY PROBABLY NEED 6 DAYS TO RECOVER! Let me say that again to reemphasize: FOR THE AMOUNT OF VOLUME THEY ARE DOING PER SESSION, THEY PROBABLY NEED 6 DAYS TO RECOVER!
If you are a beginner, or intermediate, or even somewhat advanced, there is a VERY slim chance that you are doing so much volume in one session that you need a full week to recover. Most of the time, if you train your back on Monday, your back will be more than recovered to train again by Thursday. Sometimes even Wednesday. Again, determining your optimal training frequency will take some experimenting but once you find that sweet spot, you’ll be set.
SO HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO TRAIN PER WEEK?
The amount of training you do per week all comes down to your lifestyle. If you can only get to the gym twice per week, then so be it. But your routine will have to reflect it and of course you’ll be missing out on potential gains. So of course there is a trade-off.
How many days you can dedicate to training will ultimately dictate your training split. For example, if you can only train twice per week, you’re probably better off with a full body routine where you train a little bit of every body part all in one session. If you can train three times per week, you can probably still get away with three full-body routines but some may opt for a frequency-friendly version of a Push-Pull-Legs routine.
Once you hit the 4-day per week mark, you start getting into more optimal ranges of training where an Upper/Lower routine can be extremely beneficial, considering you’re hitting everything twice per week with probably decent enough volume for growth. Again, this all comes down to your lifestyle along with some trial and error of seeing which frequencies and splits work best for you.
As you can see, the majority of evidence based research on training is VERY SUBJECTIVE. Many times, the answer is not a clear yes or no but more of a “well it depends on this… but it could work for that… but if you take this into account…” If you haven’t been able to tell so far, everyone’s physiology is different and everybody benefits from different styles of training frequencies/splits. The only way to really know which works best for you is to do some experimenting. With this in mind, the next time you read something online that states that “This is THE best way to train”, you’ll know better.
- Training frequency is the amount of times per week one trains / the amount of times we train a particular muscle group per week.
- Higher frequency training CAN lead to more muscle growth.
- Certain muscle groups can be trained at higher frequencies than others.
- Your time in the gym will ultimately reflect your lifestyle and schedule.
- Your training split will ultimately reflect your time in the gym
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