Everyone wants the answer to the age old question: How often should I train to get results?
The honest answer (as with most things) is: it depends.
The key to the question is better answered from the standpoint of how well you can recover. There's a lot of talk about over training (exceeding the physical demands that your body can sustain), but the truth is, for most people, overtraining won't be an issue. The answer lies more in the rate at which you can recover, and this will depend on a multitude of factors and will indeed be individual.
Here are some factors that will influence how often you should train
As you can see from the list it depends on quite a few things, all of which will vary from person to person.
Over time your body will build up to a better work capacity. Elite athletes for example, aren't just suddenly able to train twice per day, six times a week. They've taken years of training, building intensity up and getting to a level where their bodies can sustain a fair amount of volume and an ability to recover well from their sessions.
As a rule of thumb, the longer you’ve been training, the more capacity you have for greater workloads. If you're new to training, then recovery might take a little longer and this is why we do a full evaluation with everyone who starts on our 30 day trial – because we need to understand where you’re currently at before we can help you achieve your goals.
Monitoring how you're feeling and recovering after each session is important. Perhaps if you've trained a few days in a row and are feeling really fatigued then take a rest day.
Volume means total number of reps and sets for each body part. The more sets you perform for a particular body part, the more time you might need to recover. Generally if you're not performing as many sets, your body will be able to recover more quickly. This is also linked to your training age as with more years training under your belt, you're going to be able to recover more quickly so will be able to cope with more volume.
What type of training you're doing
Exercise that is higher in intensity will place the body under greater amounts of stress and so it might take your body longer to recover. If you go to classes that are HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) based, or include lots of plyometric (jumping) work then it's going to be more taxing on your central nervous system, joints, tendons and ligaments. Just be mindful of this way of training and see it as a supplementary training method as opposed to the main bulk of your training, especially if you want to train for long term health and minimise risk of injury.
If you’re a beginner without much training background, doing this type of training where you have fairly complex moves performed under fatigue, form is likely to breakdown and that will impact on recovery in the long term.
Generally you'll be able to recover more quickly from lower intensity training styles
Have a think about the types of training you're doing over the course of the week and try to organise your training accordingly. For example, if you are doing three strength sessions in a week, try and spread these out so that you have a rest day in between and fill the rest days either with some cardio or a circuit style class or some mobility work.
Your lifestyle: home life, work, nutrition and sleep
This is probably one of the most important factors, yet one that most people tend to overlook when considering their training and results. Many assume that it's only what you're doing inside the gym that counts, but really your training is only one part of the bigger picture and it's important to look at other factors here too as it'll have a big impact on how often you should train and might vary even week to week for the same person.
Sleep - the time in which all your hard work in training actually pays off. It's when your body rebuilds damaged muscle tissues, grows stronger and metabolises fat. If you're not getting enough quality pillow time you're not going to be able to recover well enough from your sessions, making your body feel fatigued and less able to hit the next training session with the same intensity.
Nutrition - if you think of your body as a car, it needs the right amount and right kind of fuel in order to keep it running efficiently. The lower quality fuel you put into your body the less you'll be able to perform well. Making sure the majority of foods you eat are whole and unprocessed will mean that your body will take on more nutrients and be less likely to suffer from things like inflammation and fatigue - things which are going to hinder your performance. Eating enough protein will ensure that your muscles can grow and repair, making you stronger and leaner.
Getting a balance of good quality carbohydrates and fats will ensure that you provide your body with the energy it needs to train. The balance of carbs and fats is up to you - they are both fuel sources and some people run better off one vs the other.
Lifestyle - taking a broader look at other stresses in your life such as home life and your job will be important too. Particularly as these things may change week to week, or month to month so could be an indicator as to why you're not recovering. Your job may be more physically demanding (I.e. A construction worker vs. working in an office) so recovery might take longer here. You may have had a stressful week at work with lots of late nights and high pressure deadlines. You may have recently had a new baby in the family and have gone from getting an unbroken eight hours sleep to a broken five. These factors will hugely effect your energy levels and ability to recover.
Perhaps if work has been abnormally stressful or for other reasons you haven't been getting much sleep, resting might be more beneficial than getting in an extra hour at the gym.
What works for you and is realistic
Prescribing the same amount of exercise to everyone isn't useful, partly as not everyone will require the same amount of exercise but also because what works for one person but not be achievable for another. We could say that training 5 times a week is optimal but that might not be manageable with the lifestyle you have.
It's all about being as savvy as you can with the time that you have. To be more time efficient and to get more bang for your buck, full body compound sessions are great as they allow you to hit multiple muscles at the same time and give you a greater metabolic (energy burn) effect. Equally if you only have a short amount of time to train (say 20 mins), it might be better to do a higher rep based circuit in order to create as much moving time as possible. Ultimately it’s about getting as many good quality sessions in as you can – turning up isn’t enough, you need to put the work in to make every session that you can fit into your schedule count.
Different people will just be able to tolerate different levels of stress (we want enough stress to stimulate a response but not too much). Only train to the extent to which you can recover – listen to your body and monitor how you are feeling.
Are you still progressing at the gym and feeling energised?
Chances are you have nailed training volume and frequency.
Feeling like you’ve hit a plateau and always tired?
Then it might be worth looking at your schedule and de-loading what you’re doing at the gym for a week, get more rest and you’ll probably return feeling stronger.
Just to clarify here that we are referring to training rather than simply staying active. Low intensity activities such as brisk walking, leisurely swims and mobility work can be performed as often as you like. In fact, we’d encourage you to move as much as you can every day!
Be in an environment where you have experts on hand to guide through the best way to train for you. At W10 we have a mix of strength sessions and cardio based classes as well as recovery mobility sessions to ensure the body gets the right amount of stress and overload to make performance and aesthetic changes, without ruining you!
We monitor how our members are feeling each session and tailor the workout based on this.