The frequency at which you should be choosing your training program depends on your goals, and training age.
Very roughly speaking for example:
Beginners – 2-3 days a week
Intermediate – 3-5 days a week
Advanced – 4-6 days a week
Adherence is Key
There are no hard set rules when it comes to a training program. Ultimately it comes down to your preference more than anything. So while I break down the reasons for different frequencies, I want you to first and foremost base your decision on what YOU can see yourself doing a year from now. Let’s say I told you the PERFECT program is 5 days a week. You follow it for 3 months. I check in with you a year later and you aren’t even following any program at that point because life got in the way and you just didn’t have the time to stick to 5 days so you figured it wasn’t worth it. Is that still the perfect program? Is it still worth pursuing? Not at all.
Start with the EASIEST choice you can possibly make. If that’s two days then great. That doesn’t mean you CAN’T go more often, but at least psychologically, it’ll be a win each week if you went at minimum two days a week. If I had a client shoot for a an easy goal of 2 days a week, and over the course of a month he did:
Week 1 – 4 times
Week 2 – 3 times
Week 3 – 2 times
Week 4 – 2 times
How would they feel with the above result? He/she absolutely destroyed their goals.That’s a win in their mind cause while they slowly tapered off (due to life presumably), they still hit the minimum. So they’re more likely to keep going. Now, take the same client except make the initial goal 4 times a week with the same above end result. How would they feel? Helpless. In their mind, they will have written themselves off as a failure for not having stuck with it for even one month yet nothing changed. Not only that, now they’re more likely to quit exercising because of this loss of motivation.
Takeaway: Start small! You can always add more, but it’ll set you back more mentally if you overshoot.
The Purpose of Frequency
The reason we even have frequency in the first place, is to place a stimulus on the muscle. When you are newer to lifting (1-3 years), you don’t need as much stimulus as an advanced lifter because it is such a new adaptation your body is going to be super sensitive to. That’s a GOOD thing! More gains with less time?!
A beginner doing full body, three times a week, will send a nice strong signal to all their muscles 3 times a week, keeping that signal elevated throughout the week. If a beginner on the other hand, did a body part split, and hit each muscle only once a week, then they’ve only stimulated that muscle once that week. This isn’t ideal. If muscle building is your goal, why separate your muscles into only one day, if you find yourself recovering within 2-3 days?
An advanced lifter on the other hand, has built up so much muscle, and gotten their body used to pushing it hard in the gym for so many years, that much like someone who drinks a lot of alcohol, their tolerance for more goes up compared to a novice. So they have to do more sets, more volume, and more days to lift just to get the same stimulus a novice would with less days.
Now, that doesn’t mean an advanced lifter does full body 6 days a week. Much like with any other sport, the more advanced you get, the more fine tuned the programming needs to cater to your goals. In this case, I would base adding days, and rearranging what body parts to hit based off of your individual recovery.
If you find your chest recovers in 2 days, then you can spread out your chest volume over 2-3 days. If you find your legs get so beat up that it takes 3-4 days to recover, then you might only hit them twice. As you start to track your workouts and recovery, you start to see a workout spread unfolding on its own of what muscles get hit which day, and how often. So based on recovery, and your progress, you might train your chest and arms on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, your legs on Tuesday and Thursday, and find yourself sprinkling back somewhere in there over 2-3 days because you found your progress worked best that way.
There is no one size fits all once you get more advanced.
While it is individual, I do want to give you guys at least some takeaway of how to get started.
Beginner (1-3 years) – Lift 2-3 times a week. This will most likely be a full body routine as that will provide more than enough stimulus to grow.
Intermediate (3-6 years) – Lift 3-5 times a week. You will find you need to start spreading out your volume to get enough weekly sets in. Usually this takes in the form of a Push/Pull or Upper/Lower split to sufficiently hit each muscle frequently without overlapping.
Advanced (7+ years serious lifting) – Lift 4-6 times a week. This is where it gets individual. You might do Push/Pull, Upper/Lower, Body Part Split, Two a days, etc. It just depends on your recovery for each muscle and what frequency looks like for each to get the best results.