Strength Training Frequency: What You Need to Know
By Coach Hunter Bennett
You can look at strength training frequency in three ways.
- The number of sessions performed per week.
- The number of times you train a muscle group per week.
- The number of times you perform a specific movement per week.
For example, if you perform three strength training sessions that look like this:
– Bench Press
– Bench Press
– Bench Press
- Your absolute strength training frequency is three sessions per week
- Lower body strength training frequency is three times per week
- Upper body training frequency is three times per week
- Squat training frequency is twice per week
- Deadlift training frequency is once per week
- Bench press training frequency is three times per week
Pretty simple really.
But how does training frequency change depending on your goals?
Strength training frequency for health
If you are looking at strength training frequency for health, there is evidence showing that ~2 sessions per week will have a myriad of benefits.
In this setting, the specific exercises you perform are not all that important. If you are training most of the muscle groups in your body, and working at a relatively high intensity, you will see your health improve.
Strength training frequency for muscle growth
If you are looking to optimise muscle growth, training frequency deserves a little more attention.
When it comes to muscle growth, you need to perform enough volume for each muscle group to stimulate adaption. However, you want to do this without negatively impacting training quality within a training session.
This is important, because performing between 15 and 20 sets per muscle group appears to maximize growth. But performing more than 10 sets per muscle group per session will increase fatigue and impact session quality.
For example, if you did 20 sets of legs in a single session, by set 7 or 8 you will have accumulated some serious fatigue. As a result, every set performed after this will be of a much lower quality.
This means less load, less reps, and less effective training.
But if you performed these 20 sets over two sessions (i.e., 10 sets per session), then every single set would be performed to a much higher standard – contributing to greater growth over the long-term.
Moreover, it is well established that muscle tissue takes around 48-72 hours to recover after a heavy session. This means that you should be safe to train a muscle group 2-3 times per week without risk of overtraining.
Additionally, we can also conclude that training a muscle group once per week is probably sub-optimal for growth.
So, if you’re training for muscle size, your best bet with respect to training frequency is to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week, hitting 7-10 sets per session.
The training split used doesn’t matter if you are hitting these benchmarks.
Training frequency for strength
Last but not least, we can look at manipulating training frequency for strength, which requires even more nuance.
You can think of strength as having three distinct components.
- A muscular component: your muscles need to be able to produce force
- A neural component: your nervous system needs to recruit muscles to produce force
- A skill component: you need to be able to perform a movement efficiently to maximise strength output
To increas strength you therefore need to train a movement often enough to increase muscle size, stimulate neural adaptations, and optimise skill.
From a skill perspective, performing a movement more often is likely your best bet. However, performing a movement too often can impair the recovery of your muscular and nervous systems, blunting progress.
Which is why training frequency for strength tends to differ between the specific movements trained.
In short, those exercises that use the most amount of load and place a significant amount of shear stress on the spine, are also those that have the slowest recovery times (because they beat you up) – which means you can train them the least often.
Conversely, those that use the lowest loads and place the least amount of stress on the spine can be performed the most often.
If we look at the big three, the deadlift has the highest recovery cost, the bench press has the lowest, and the squat sits somewhere in between.
As a result, I tend to recommend most people:
- Deadlift 1-2 times per week
- Squat ~2 times per week
- Bench press 2-3 times per week
I should also note that this doesn’t mean performing the same movement every single session. In fact, it often means performing a more traditional variation on the “main day” and a load restricted variation on the “secondary day.”
Building upon the example used above, we could have:
|– Back Squat 3 x 3
– Paused Bench 3 x 5
|– Deadlift 3 x 3
– Close Grip Bench 3 x 8
|– Paused Squat 3 x 5
– Bench 3 x 3
This would allow you to maximise training frequency, while strategically implementing different variations to ensure you don’t induce too much fatigue.
Training frequency and strength levels
Lastly, I wanted to touch on how strength training frequency may change with strength levels.
The recommendations above will work for most people, most of the time. But there does seem to be an innate relationship between the absolute load on the bar and amount of fatigue accrued.
Simply put, a 200kg squat seems to carry more fatigue than a 100kg squat.
Taking this into consideration, lighter lifters using lower loads may be able to train at higher frequencies than those suggested above. Similarly, bigger lifters who lift a lot of weight may have to use lower frequencies to ensure recovery.
This is something that may not affect too many of you reading this but should still be considered.
Strength Training Frequency: Final Thoughts
Training frequency is a training variable that changes depending on whether you are seeking improvements in health, muscle size, or strength.
However, using the tips in this article you can adjust your training frequency as needed to maximise the results of your training.