Many people who start out training have no idea what to expect. Will results come quickly? Will the training program be fun? Will it hurt?
One of the biggest questions that new trainees always ask is “how many days should I train per week?”. This is not an easy question to answer, because it really does depend on many factors.
- What your goals are?
- What your current level of fitness is?
- How much time you have available to train?
- Your level of motivation
- How much sleep you are getting?
- What your diet is like
- Your testosterone/growth hormone levels
- What your training plan is going to consist of?
These are just some of the factors that can influence any answer to that particular question.
In this article we will look at all of these factors, and give you an idea of how many days you should be training for optimal muscle gains based on your circumstances.
What are your goals?
If you are training for gains in size then you should be aiming for hypertrophy training, if your goals are for gains in muscular strength then you should be following a strength based program.
If you are training for hypertrophy then you should look to perform around 4 sessions per week, but this can range between 3 sessions and 5 sessions depending on your level of fitness and your desire to change.
According to relentlessgains.com four sessions hits the sweet spot between adequate recovery and adequate intensity of training .
Strength training seems to benefit most from the less is more school of thought, with many experts recommending between 3 and 4 sessions per week.
But let’s look at this from another angle, your goal might be to build the body of a Greek God, but how realistic is this?
Are you prepared to change large parts of your lifestyle? Can you see yourself waking up at 5am to get in the gym 6 days per week? Or taking a gym bag to work every day so you can train immediately afterwards?
If this is the case then 5-6 days per week could be optimal, but if you just want to lose a bit of body fat, but still go for drinks with your mates on a Friday, then three times per week is optimal.
What is your current level of fitness?
If you have been training consistently for 3 years then you will be able to train a lot more regularly than someone who hasn’t exercised since High School.
This means that your optimal amount of sessions could be up to 6 per week, an Olympic athlete would be hitting that sort of number so it’s not impossible.
But most people are not fit enough to survive that. Their first week would be a world of pain!
People who are just starting out should attempt just 1-2 sessions per week for the first month (unless you’re young). This will allow for adequate recovery between sessions, and is therefore optimal.
After that first month you can increase it to 3 times per week. After 6 months or so you might consider increasing your session numbers further.
How much time do you have available to train?
It’s all good fun talking about hypothetical situations, how many sessions will give you the best gains, how good your fitness is etc … but in the real world we have to consider the practicality.
If you work over 50 hours per week, have a family, and an active social life, then it isn’t realistic to be training 5 times per week.
For this reason, 3 sessions will be the optimal number for a lot of people. It’s enough sessions so that you can train full-body and hit each muscle group 3 times, but it is realistic in its scope.
You could train on a Monday night after work, a Wednesday or Thursday, and then hit the gym on a Saturday morning. Leaving the rest of the weekend to your family and friends.
What is your level of motivation?
We have covered this earlier, but it’s an important topic. Too many new gym goers fall at the first hurdle by making the mistake of being too ambitious.
That sounds awful, as if being ambitious is a naive trait, it’s not but if you create a training program that contains 7 days of deadlifts, you will ultimately fail.
This will lead to a drop in motivation that many people never recover from.
Assess how likely it is for you to manage 1 session, 3 sessions, or 5 sessions per week, and pick that. If after a few weeks you feel you can do more than perfect.
How much sleep are you getting?
This might seem like an odd question, what has sleep got to do with training?
Well sleep is essential for proper recovery, adequate testosterone, and, managing fatigue.
If you aren’t getting much sleep (and can’t see this situation improving) then you will need to manage your training.
On the one hand, exercise has been known to improve sleep quality (as has fat loss). But on the other, if you aren’t recovering properly from exercise then you are going to get injured or run down.
What is your diet like?
As with sleep, your diet might not seem relevant to a conversation about how much you should train per week. But again, this is all about recovery.
If your diet is poor, and you aren’t getting enough protein then you won’t be able to smash out 5 sessions of heavy weights training.
Hit your calorie targets, hit your protein targets, and then you can train as often as you want. But ensure that you are consuming enough calories to do so.
What is your hormonal status?
The majority of men over 30 years old are suffering from lower than average testosterone levels.
This can lead to a lot of issues: reduced strength, increased body fat, reduced libido, etc … but the main issue is a lack of recovery from exercise.
If you are currently suffering from low T then the good news is that free weight exercise is a great way to fix this.
But, the bad news is that you will need to consider the lack of recovery when programming.
Start off with 3 sessions per week and lots of rest and protein. Then you can slowly increase this to 4 or 5 sessions.
What does your training program consist of?
Think about it, this is probably the biggest factor that should influence how often you train, and what is optimal.
If you walk into the gym and perform 10 minutes of wrist curls before walking on a treadmill and going home, then you can keep that up twice per day, 7 days per week! Of course you won’t get too far, but you could easily manage it.
If however your session involves supersetting deadlifts and Burpees (not recommended) before adding in 10 sets of front squats, 10 sets of bench press, and 2 hours of cardio, then you are going to need to reduce your training sessions per week drastically.
The higher the intensity of the exercise (deadlift one rep maxes etc) the less sessions you require per week.
For hypertrophy you could train a session more per week than strength, but as we’ve demonstrated – there are many factors that can influence this.