Figuring out how many days a week you should train can be tricky, especially considering the amount of information out there. Which means you often find yourself asking questions like:
- Should I train 3, 4, 5 or 6 times a week?
- Do I need to be doing a beginner workout or an intermediate one?
- Does any of it even matter?
These are all fair questions, so let’s set about answering them.
Depending on your current amount of training experience you will need to adjust your workouts to match your ability to make progress. This is because your experience in the gym, your overall goal and knowledge of training will all play into your overall weekly frequency.
Train too much for your goal and your risk sliding backwards but train too little and you risk spinning your wheels. By figuring out your current lifting level you’ll be able to pick the correct workout schedule for your lifting level and your goals.
You do this by looking at 2 factors:
- Your current level of experience
- Your fitness goals
You can then use this information to not only figure out how often you should be training each week but also the most appropriate lifts for your training level and how quickly you should expect to see progress in the gym.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to tell if you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter and what this means for your weekly training schedule based on your goal.
How Much Experience Do You Have?
The amount of time you’ve been training consistently for is important as it typically determines the amount of progress you’ve made and your familiarity with the common gym exercises that make up your workout.
It’s also indicative of your ability to recover between workouts.
This is important because at different lifting stages you will need to train different amounts for the best results.
- Beginner:Beginner trainees typically do best with a basic workout regardless of their specific goals and tend to benefit from higher frequency full-body workouts with a focus on compound movements
- Intermediate:Intermediate trainees will benefit from a more advanced workout suited to their specific goals and typically do better with more weekly volume and a larger mix of exercises
- Advanced:Advanced trainees will need a periodised program that is tailored specifically to their goal to help them eke out the last bits of progress and then maintain their physique.
But how do you know your lifting level?
Simple, you need to consider how long you’ve been training for consistently whilst seeing progress over time.
- Consistent means doing 2 or more gym sessions every week, only missing workouts when ill, injured, busy or on holiday.
- Seeing progress means following the same plan this whole time, getting stronger over time and seeing results
If you’ve been doing this then you are considered a beginner for the first 6-12 months of training, as this gives you enough time to learn good technique and start seeing some results in the gym.
After this, you become an intermediate lifter which is characterised by a good level of strength and muscular development as well as being skilled with all common exercises i.e. bench press, shoulder press, deadlift, squat, chin-up, row, etc…
Beyond this, you are an advanced lifter if you’ve been doing all of this for 5+ years and are close to your genetic potential in terms of progress in the gym.
A lot of people like to think they’re advanced, not many people are.
What’s Your Goal?
In addition to your training experience, you’ll also need to consider your fitness goal when deciding how often to train.
- Fat Loss: When training in a calorie deficit your ability to recover between workouts is diminished which means you’ll generally want to reduce your workout frequency and volume to compensate.
- Muscle Growth: When training in a calorie surplus your ability to recover between workouts is elevated when compared to training for fat loss which means you can handle a higher overall training frequency and volume. You’ll also need to consider what works best for your body, some people thrive on 5 workouts a week, whereas others see fantastic progress on just 3.
What’s the Best Workout Frequency for You?
In this section, we’ll look at how training recommendations change based on your lifting level and your goal.
- Recommended Training: Beginners will benefit most from a repetitive, moderate frequency plan like a 3-day full body split that has them doing a small selection of exercises 2–3 times a week regardless of their goal
- Exercise Selection: Beginners will also benefit most from compound exercises that are easy to learn and progress with. This means things like the flat bench press, barbell back squat, barbell rows and bicep curls. It could also mean using machines to do exercises like lat pulldowns, seated cable rows, the leg press
- Progress: Beginners often benefit from ‘newbie gains’ which is the ability to build muscle and lose fat at the same time for a short period (3-6 months) as their body adapts to regular weight training. For this reason, true beginners will often see rapid progress for the first few months before things become slower and steadier
- Recommended Training: Intermediates will do best used a 3- or 4-day training split like the upper/lower or push, pull, legs split which allows greater training variety and adjustable weekly frequency to better suit their goals
- Exercise Selection: Intermediates will benefit from using more complex compound movements like deadlifts, front squats, chin/pull-ups, shoulder or push presses, dips and bench press variations including the incline bench press to help them progress
- Progress: Intermediates should still be building strength regularly, just not as easily as when they were a beginner. Instead, your progress is likely to come over the weeks and months instead of in every session
- Recommended Training: Advanced trainees will know what frequency and workouts suit them best and will likely be focused on seeking out the last bits of progression or bringing up lagging body parts
- Exercise Selection: As above, as an advanced trainee you will have a very clear idea of what does and doesn’t work for you and your body. You will continue using a mix of compound and isolation exercises
- Progress: Advanced trainees will also want to look at program periodisation to ensure they’re still making as much progress as possible. At this point you will be close to your genetic potential and your progress will become much slower and more incremental.
The more training experience you have the more often you will want to train. However, you also need to consider your ability to recover between workouts and how this may impact your goal.
- Beginner: At this level, you typically want to train 3 times a week regardless of your goal with a focus on compound exercises and recovery between workouts
- Intermediate: At this stage, you can begin to introduce isolation exercises and some of the more complex compound exercises. Typically, you will do better training 4 times a week when building muscle and 3 times a week when losing fat
- Advanced: When you get here you will have a deep, nuanced understanding of your body, what it can and what it responds to best
If you’re looking for a good rule of thumb or a takeaway point then it’s this; train a little less when trying to maintain muscle in a calorie deficit and a little more when trying to build muscle in a calorie surplus.