3 Reasons to Train More Often
Strength training is a foundational component to maintain and improve your health. It can also help give you a good physique and increase your performance in everyday activities. But how often should you train? How do you determine that? We’re gonna answer that question for you!
Before getting into what is “optimal” or maximal, you first need to ask yourself how much time you can realistically dedicate to training. There is no point in making the perfect plan if you never do it. It’s important to keep in mind that training is an investment for which time is what you deposit. So be generous in setting time aside, but be realistic. Without further ado, let’s get into 3 reasons to train more often!
The first thing that will determine your training frequency is your level of response. Let’s say that you start strength training twice a week and you make consistent strength gains for the next several weeks. For all intents and purposes, you probably don’t need to change anything. Think “ if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. This is where establishing some clear goals for yourself is so important! You need some way to measure whether what you’re doing is helping you. If your goal is to get stronger on the barbell movements and you consistently increase your weights, then the training is doing what it’s supposed to do. However, if after a few weeks you find that your strength levels begin to stagnate, adding an extra day might help you.
This is because one of the contributing factors to strength and muscle gains is total repetitions, or volume. So if you hit an accumulated 30 reps on the barbell squat at a moderate to high intensity, then adding another day might get you to a 45 rep weekly average. This can make all the difference if you need this dosage to progress. This can be a very helpful mindset to adopt when it comes to your training. Think about your caloric intake. If you know that it takes you 2000 calories a day to lose weight, and you regularly eat 2500 calories, then you will not lose weight. You need to hit that baseline before you start to see changes. In the same way, training should not be a random process, but rather a progression of workload that changes as needed to make progress.
Another reason to increase your training frequency is fatigue management. In the world of training, there is a balancing act between training stimulus and fatigue cost. Ideally, we would select exercises, rep ranges, and intensities that get us the maximum stimulus with as little fatigue as possible. But sometimes, you’re gonna feel tired after a training session (go figure)! It’s not that feeling fatigue from training is bad, but it can become an issue if it limits your ability to recover for your next session.
Adding an extra training day can help minimize fatigue from session to session. Let's say you are training twice a week, but you feel super beat up or sore after your first day going into the next one. With an extra day, you can spread out your exercises to where you’re doing slightly less per day, but cumulatively more throughout the week.
Your approach to training also has an effect on how you manage fatigue. For example, if you deadlift twice a week, then adding an extra day will allow you to give your deadlift a rest before training it again. On the flip side, if you split up your training into body parts, then you can train a combination of muscle groups so that you stagger out the work in a similar way. This wouldn’t be possible if you restricted your training frequency to only once or twice weekly.
On top of spreading out workload, you can also stagger your more fatiguing exercises every other day. Now you have time to recover before doing those exercises again. This goes back to the stimulus to fatigue ratio. Certain movements may require a higher fatigue cost like heavy deadlifts, but it can be worth it if you give yourself enough time to recover before deadlifting again. This may be harder to do if you’re only training twice a week.
You can think of this stimulus/fatigue management like getting a big project done. You have an ultimate goal of completion, but you need to break up the work into manageable chunks. There is a good amount you can accomplish in one day, but it is possible to overextend yourself and get burnt out. Training functions in a very similar way, where you manage your workload to minimize fatigue but you still get it done. Imagine if you tried to complete a massive project at work in one day. That would be a disaster! You would get to the point where your efforts are no longer productive as your cognitive resources are spent. If you’ve ever procrastinated anything, you know this feeling!
Another thing that increased frequency can manage is time. Let’s face it, not everyone has the time to spend hours in the gym. But, as we talked about before, you need to maintain a certain workload to continue progressing. Training 3-4 days a week instead of 2 days a week can trim your session time down because you can redistribute the work over more days. Shorter sessions can also be beneficial from a mental preparedness perspective. It can be tough to stay focused for a 2 hour session, but 45 minutes could be the sweet spot.
In addition, simply from a process perspective, thinking about training stress over the course of a week can show you exactly how much you need to do. As a result, you may realize that your program has some unnecessary fluff. This is known as “junk volume”. Junk volume is the total repetitions you complete that don’t help you progress. For example, let’s say it takes you a total of 8 sets of bench press work to progress, but you’re doing 12 sets. Those extra 4 sets are wasted time that you could spend elsewhere, and they add unnecessary fatigue that can actually decrease your performance and slow your progress!
If you find that your progress has slowed, fatigue between workouts is high, or your sessions are too long, then training more often might be a great option for you! Think about what your goals are and how you are doing now in moving towards them. While there are lots of things that you can do to increase the efficacy of your training, frequency can address many things at once. Try adding an extra day and spreading out the workload. See what that does for you!