How Often Should You Train?
Spoiler alert: About three to four times per week but can see results in as little as two.
Okay, now to be more in depth. This is among the most common questions we receive from new members, especially those surprised to hear that we usually don’t recommend an unlimited membership off the bat, and that for most people we typically suggest four days per week. As your adaptation to training increases, it can handle more rigors (but doesn’t necessarily benefit from it), yet very few people will proportionally benefit from a frequency that’s more than four training days. For most, four is enough stimulation to create positive stress, and enough recovery in between to allow gainful adaptation to take place.
Ultimately, intensity decides frequency. The harder you go, the less you should train and vice versa.
Remember from Micro vs. Macro Balance:
Training is a stressor. Whether or not we turn training into a eustress (positive stress) that creates favorable adaptation or a distress (negative stress) that creates destruction depends entirely on frequency and intensity dosing. It’s why you can’t flatten yourself everyday and expect to keep moving forward. Programs that yield strength and performance improvements are a function of progressive overload stress doses matched with recovery.
Without recovery and a return to homeostasis, we don’t keep progressing. Whether or not you make progress versus just working hard all boils down to fatigue management: Central and Peripheral.
Associated with fatigue in the Musculoskeletal System (muscles) and is most closely associated to Local Muscle Endurance. This fatigue is more acute, and occurs from decreased blood flow to working muscles. At higher reps of muscle contraction, blood flow becomes restricted due to compression of blood cells by contracting muscles, and oxygen to the working muscles becomes cut off. The working muscles quite literally choke off their own airway. This is the kind of fatigue that you feel in a tough workout, and may show up 48-72 hours later in the form of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
Associated with fatigue in the Central Nervous System (CNS). This is fatigue from too much intensity at too high of a frequency without recovery. Our body goes into a weakened, tired state. Symptoms include decreased motivation and impaired transmission between brain and muscle. This fatigue is more chronic and harder to unwind. View fatigue as existing on a continuum with the acute peripheral fatigue existing on one end and the chronic central fatigue existing on the opposite end. Too much training in a state of peripheral fatigue can lead to overreaching, when too much intensity occurs without appropriate de-loading. Think of this like accidentally leaving your car in third gear and pushing the accelerator to 70 miles per hour. You’re forcing something to produce high output in a manner it wasn’t designed to do. When athletes continue to train in a state of overreaching, they may eventually develop overtraining syndrome, where too much training without recovery can create disturbances in our nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. (There is such a thing as functional overreaching which occurs with deliberate overload of intensity and then a long break to allow supercompensation to take place). Once your body goes into central fatigue, it’s in a state of distress and performance tends to either stagnate or go backwards. Overtraining syndrome is rare and unlikely, but even just being on the spectrum where that lies will regress your gains.
Each unique human body handles stress stimulus differently. Some athletes can handle an increased work load, but for those who train beyond four days per week there is usually, or should be, an intensity trade off. For most, four training sessions of varying intensities will manage all aspects of needed stress and recovery that are required to yield progress.
Find your sweet spot.
Kreher, Jeffrey B., and Jennifer B. Schwartz. “Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide.”Sports Health, SAGE Publications, 1 Mar. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435910/.