How Many Days A Week Should You Train? Part 1: Strength Training

How Many Days A Week Should You Train? Part 1: Strength Training

Is there a perfect training formula? The reality is a bit more complicated.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 15 Dec 2017

Training Beginner
10 Mins

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We all want the easy way out.

It’s human instinct.

5 minutes abs. 10 minute arms. 15 minute legs.

It all sounds exciting.

The problem?

It doesn’t work out in the real world.

Building muscle and transforming your body takes HARD work.

But no one wants to hear that.

Why?

Because shortcuts sell. The truth doesn’t.

If you want to know the truth behind how many times a week you should be weight training and doing cardio to take your physique to the next level, this two-part series is for you.

Weight Training – How Many Days A Week?

Most people either weight train too often, or too little. As always, the sweet spot is in the middle. So let’s start by covering how many days a week you should weight train.

3 Days A Week

If you want to make a real transformation to your body, you should be weight training 3 days a week at the absolute minimum.

Once or twice a week isn’t going to cut it.

For the average busy person with life stresses, this is a good place to start as it creates the perfect balance between stimulus and recovery.

There are a few ways to do this:

Option 1:

Monday – Full Body

Wednesday – Full Body

Friday – Full Body

You can either have two workouts that you alternate between, or have three different ones.

This is my favourite split to start beginners on.

It’s also one of my favourite ways to train women, as they respond well to high training frequencies – even when they become more advanced.

For the average person, you’d be surprised how long you can milk a full body 3 days a week training program for.

In fact, before Arnold came around with his split routines in the 60s and 70s, all the bodybuilding and strongman greats were using full body routines three days a week.

Option 2:

Next up is a favourite of mine for guys chasing muscle mass. It’s three days a week with a rotating upper / lower split. This was a favourite split of 6x Mr Olympia Dorian Yates in his earlier years.

If recovery is an issue for guys training on an upper / lower four days a week, this is the way to do it.

That extra bit of recovery works very well, and I’ve found reverting to this during busy & stressful periods allows your body to keep getting stronger.

If you don’t mind not having set days in the gym each week, using a one on / one off system works in a similar fashion.

Week 1:

Monday: Upper Body 1

Wednesday: Lower Body 1

Friday: Upper Body 2

Week 2:

Monday: Lower Body 2

Wednesday: Upper Body 2

Friday: Lower Body 1

Option 3:

Another favourite of mine for guys who do best off three days a week, but need more upper body focus is:

Monday: Upper Body Strength Focus

Wednesday: Lower Body

Friday: Upper Body Hypertrophy Focus

Because legs are only hit once a week, it’ll allow you keep some conditioning in during muscle-building phases without affecting recovery.

And if you’re in a deep fat loss phase, you can really blast it with HIIT without any negative impact.

4 Days a Week

I really like four days a week for the majority of people.

For the average person with normal genetics and recovery capabilities, I’ve found four weight training sessions to be optimal.

An upper lower split works great.

For women, either a well-managed full body approach, or even an upper/lower split can work.

When you’re setting up an upper / lower, try spread it through the week a little more so you get more ‘fresh’ days.

For example – upper / off / lower / off / upper / lower / off

When doing back-to-back workouts, I’d perhaps dial back the intensity a tad so recovery is kept in check.

A Note on Frequency of Body Parts

For best possible progress, you want to train body parts at least twice a week.

There seems to be a detraining effect when you leave a body part seven days to be trained again. 

Especially for beginners and intermediate trainees.

There are some cases once a week per body part may be useful, but for the majority, every 3-5 days works well.

For more on this topic, I’ve broken it all down here.

5 Days Week

While I prefer 4 days for the majority, there is a time and place for 5 days a week weight training splits.

These include:
  • The last 6-8 weeks of a dieting phase / pre contest
  • Advanced trainees
  • Low stress individuals
The benefits of adding more frequency when dieting comes down to a few reasons:
  • You can spread the volume out a little more during the week
  • It allows you to keep food higher as you’ll be more active
  • You can focus more in each session – it’s common for sessions to become a drag when calories get low, so this ensures each muscle receives adequate attention
  • You can trigger muscle protein synthesis more often, which is critical when dieting
For advanced trainees, the case for training 5 days a week is that it allows you to get the necessary volume in per body part to grow.

Because the weights are typically higher, workouts can become long and tough to fit everything in – so splitting your training over 5 days can help.

However, there are a few caveats you need to bear in mind before jumping into 5 days a week.
  • Monitor your volume. It can be easy to add a whole new training day in, without taking away from anything else.
  • Not all five days can be balls to the walls. Three, maybe four of them should be hard sessions, with one or two being ‘easier’.
  • Keep set execution ‘clean’ to ensure you’re not overly taxing your nervous system on a daily basis. By this I mean monitoring your level of psych, not rest-pausing every set, etc. Read more about this here.
My favourite ways to split 5 days a week training are as follows:

Option 1 – Male:

Monday: Lower

Tuesday: Upper

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Lower

Friday: Push

Saturday: Pull

Sunday: Off

Option 2 – Female:

Monday: Lower

Tuesday: Upper

Wednesday: Glutes

Thursday: Off

Friday: Back/Shoulders

Saturday: Lower

Sunday: Off

I discuss this split in more detail in our women’s physique and bikini series here and here (with a sample split of each in these articles).

6 Days Week

The only time I recommend training 6 days a week is for 4 to 6 weeks before a physique show or photo shoot.

When I compete I typically move to 6 days a week for the last 6 weeks for the same benefits as 5 days a week can offer.

What’s becomes even more important when moving to 6 days is monitoring your volume. If you’re someone with normal genetics, following Arnold’s 30-40 sets a workout, 6 days a week split will only lead to drops in strength, muscle mass and burn out.

For the average person, it’s better to opt for a lower volume approach of 6 to 15 sets per workout.

My preferred split here would be a simple rotation of push / pull / legs.

Individual Differences In Workout Frequency

The splits we’ve discussed so far ALL work.

Why?

Because the rate at which you recover is highly individual. It’s critical that you pay attention to your own training capacity.

What could be overtraining for one person, could be undertraining for another.

I’ve got clients who thrive off 3 days a week on a rotating upper / lower split, but others who are making the best progress of their lives training 5 days a week.

The number one marker to assess whether the training split you’re on is working is to pay attention to your performance.

If you’re not able to be progressive, chances are you’re not recovering between sessions. That’s why it’s so important to track your workouts with a log book in order to monitor your recovery.

The Stress Factor

It’s also worth noting your sleep quality, mood and training motivation to see how well a certain split is working with you.

Remember, your body doesn’t differentiate between different types of stress.

Whether it’s worrying about bills that need to be paid, relationship problems, or training hard, it’s all stress to the body.

All this good and bad stress goes into one cup, and if it overflows, your body shuts down.

Which is why for most people, the middle ground of 3 to 4 days of weight training is optimal.

It provides the right balance between training and recovery, while at the same time accounting for all the other life stresses being thrown at your body.

This is why when I speak to someone who’s been training 6 days a week and making no progress, the best advice I can give them is to drop to 3 or 4 days. It never fails to work.

The more we can optimise our lifestyle with a better diet, deeper sleep and reduced stress, the faster we can recover and improve our physiques.

The extremes work well for the outliers and select few. However, for the majority, who live busy and stressful lives, somewhere in the middle is best.

To read more about stress management, check this article here.

Stay tuned to part 2 where we’ll discuss frequencies of cardio training.

Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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