There has been a lot of confusion on how often you should train or how often you should train a certain group of muscles. The confusion is in part because people are reading the routines of people on the internet who have different goals than them or are professionals.
The key points to think about are…
- What are your goals?
- How heavy do you train?
- How much volume do you perform per body part?
- What kind of shape are you in/ what is your training age?
If you are an “average Joe or Jane” who just wants to be in shape for health purposes, don’t overthink training. Too many people get confused by all of the information on the internet and they give up. Just do something. Something is better than nothing but make it routine. For weight training I usually tell people like this to shoot for two sessions a week. This seems to be realistic even for those with busy lifestyles. For those who are more serious and actually want to accomplish certain physique goals 3-4 times a week is needed to make progress. For professionals there are no real days off as even if you aren’t training a certain day you should be spending time on restoration methods.
These recommendations are very general. It depends on many factors. I can tell you from a lot of experience that would good program design and decent nutrition you can build a very good physique training 3x per week. This means that those three days are going to be pretty tough and you have to have enough time to recover between workouts. Muscle growth and fat loss is one thing. Performance is different. Most powerlifters trying to improve their bench, squat and deadlift for competition will train 3-5 days per week and train very heavy. Many Olympic weightlifters will train multiple times a day. Sometimes training more than 12 sessions per week. This confuses people but there are simple ways to think about it.
(I use the term “body part” but this is mostly just a concern of bodybuilders)
- Olympic Weightlifting = moderate-high load/low-moderate volume per body part.
- Powerlifting = High load/moderate to high volume per body part.
- Bodybuilding = Moderate Load/high volume per body part.
Olympic lifting is a complex skill. Much more so than squatting or bench pressing. The movements themselves take a lot of practice. You must practice the lifts many times to become proficient. Furthermore because of the nature of the lifts, they don’t stress the body the way deadlifts or low bar squats do. The Olympic lifts and most accessories exercises are mostly concentric movement. Meaning you don’t lower the weight. You only lift it up then drop it. Eccentric motions, when the muscle lengthens or you lower the weight tends to cause more muscle damage and soreness. It isn’t bodybuilding where they are trying to exhaust a certain muscle. They are practicing a skill. The more they can practice fresh, the better lifters they can be. Just like if you are learning to play the piano you want to repeat the skill as often as possible. People make a big deal about how often Olympic lifters train the squat. This exercise does of both and eccentric and concentric component but remember they aren’t “doing legs” they are just squatting. Because of the lack of volume they can repeat this motion more often without detrimental effects. Finally, the reps Olympic lifters use are very low. Often 5 and less. Volume is more detrimental than intensity (load). I bet if you squat 6 sets of 2 reps at 80% you will feel much better than squatting 3 sets of 12 as hard as you can. Thus you can train this exercise more frequently. As you can see it is a balance of volume and load.
Finally you have to ask yourself “What kind of shape am I in?”
Imagine a bucket of water. The water is your work capacity. An inexperienced person has a small bucket. They also have little control of it so when they train it is like trying to pour out a certain amount of water but too much comes out. As you get in better shape your bucket gets bigger along with the amount of water and you have better control of how much you pour out. So the better shape you are in, the more often you can train as you have a higher work capacity. However, the catch 22 with this is that when you are in better shape you often are stronger which stresses the body more. So even though your bucket is bigger, you still have to be aware of how long it takes to refill. This is the art of finding what is right for you. This is the most important. Don’t worry about what others do or how they got to where they are. Everyone is different. Do what works for you both for your body and your lifestyle.