We all want to go to the gym for one reason. To become better versions of ourselves. But you can’t just go whenever you please. You need to workout a specific number of day in order to actually make progress. But how many days per week do you need to workout to get stronger?
The answer all depends on your goals. If you just want to maintain your current level of fitness, then you can get by with working out only two days per week. But if you want to make progress, then you should go 3-4 days per week. This will stimulate the body to adapt much more than 2 days. On the other hand, if you want to become as fit and athletic as humanly possible, then you should go 5-7 days per week.
So as you can see the answer is not as obvious as most people say. I have personally seen all kinds of people make progress working out on all kinds of different days per week.
But according to the scientific research, you should train at least for 3-4 days per week.
Let’s explore why this is the case.
Workout Frequency — What It Is & Why It Matters
The amount of days you train per week is referred to as your workout frequency. Your workout frequency also encompasses the amount of time you train in a single workout as well.
In 1956, a Austrian scientist named Hans Selye wrote a landmark book called The Stress Of Life. In this book he laid out his theory of General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). GAS starts with an alarm stage, an adaptation stage and then finally an exhaustion stage.
According to Hans, stress is a necessary and vital part of the human condition. Stress was actually taken out of context in his book. When Hans talks about stress, he talks about a stimulus.
In regards to the GAS theory, we want enough stress (stimulus) to generate an adaptation, but not too much. Otherwise we will wind up in the exhaustion phase, which is too much stress and could potentially kill you.
Therefore, the trick is to find just the right amount of days to workout to stimulate an adaptation and not exhaustion. This is where frequency comes in.
How Many Days You Should Train Per Week
Unfortunately, GAS only covers the general working of stress applied to the masses of society. But it doesn’t apply so well to the individual.
Because everybody is different on the psychological level. What is stressful for you might not be stressful at all to me and vice versa.
Therefore to truly get the most out of GAS you need to experiment a little bit with trail and error to find your sweet spot.
So don’t think of the following frequency explanations below as “set in stone” fitness commandments. Think of them instead as a guide to follow to give you a hint in the right direction.
2 Days Per Week — The Bare Minimum
Can you make progress and get stronger lifting weights only 2 days per week? Yes you absolutely can. Will most of you make progress lifting only 2 days per week? Probably not.
Again take everything into perspective. Which group of individuals will get the most kind of stimulation from training only 2 days per week? Beginners and novices.
A beginner who has never lifted a weight before will make very quick progress from weight training compared to an experienced lifter. Why?
Because it is a new stimulus for them. Working out only 2 days per week is a large enough stimulus to make great gains.
But for the rest of you who already have serious training experience, it will not nearly be enough to make much progress.
Training 2 days per week is best for maintenance work. It will help preserve your current level of fitness but won’t necessarily let you gain much more.
So who would benefit the most from this training frequency?
Busy individuals and in season athletes.
When the other areas of your life become too stressful you need to turn the stress down in the gym. Otherwise you will spill over into exhaustion.
So rather than burn yourself out, you can just maintain what you have and continue next week when the stress of life and work get turned down.
3-4 Days Per Week — The Optimal Range
According to the literature, 3-4 days per week is the “optimal” training frequency. This means that you will make the most progress with least amount of risking exhaustion.
For most of you, this will be the case. 3-4 days is seen in most training programs that are commercially marketed.
Most of these routines are usually split routines (i.e. Chest/Triceps, Back/Biceps, etc.). Or they could be movement based (Day 1 Squats, Day 2 Bench Press, Day 3 Deadlifts).
Just about anybody can benefit from a 3-4 day workout frequency. This is best suited for most of your average gym goers and high school and college athletes.
But there is one group who will not benefit from this frequency, advanced athletes and fitness junkies.
5-7 Days Per Week — The Best Of The Best
This is where the top 5% of all lifters and gym goers reside, in the 5-7 day workout frequency. For this caliber of person, more stimulation is needed to make progress and get stronger.
3-4 days per week will not due anymore. You will need more workouts and more training volume to keep making progress that used to come so easily to you.
Depending on what type of lifter, or athlete you are, you could spend a whole training routine just going over one muscle group, or even one exercise, in some cases.
Other Frequency Hacks
Now you have a general guide stone for scheduling your workouts. But let’s dig a little deeper and strengthen your fitness GPS a little more.
Training Multiple Times Per Day
Eventually you will get to a point where training 5-7 days per week is just not giving you the results you want. So you will need to step it up a notch.
How do you do this? Training multiple times per day.
Adding a 20-30 minute light weight training session focusing on weaker muscle groups will dramatically improve your strength potential and also speed up your recovery.
On the other hand, if you add an extra session of conditioning work, such as sled work, sandbag carries, stair master, etc., it can dramatically increase fat loss and improve muscle tone.
Go easy at first and then gradually increase the intensity. This is not for the faint of heart so only try this when you reach a high level of fitness.
Grease The Groove
Another technique called grease the groove is a great way to improve your technique on any muscle groups. I have already written a full article on Grease The Groove, so I will not go into too much detail here.
Grease the groove can be done all day to improve the technique on any exercise you are struggling with. I personally find it works best with bodyweight exercises, but you can use it with weights as well.
All you have to do is pick a single exercise, like pull ups and perform around 40-60% of your max reps every hour on the hour. This gives your nervous system a continuous stimulus for improvement without the excessive fatigue from a workout.
You can do this for 8-12 hours per day and get incredible results. Your quality of movement will explode.
Give it a try.
With de-loading, you can maintain your normal workout frequency, but just reduce the intensity of your exercises so you will not stress yourself out too much.
If you want to learn more about de-loading and how to do it properly, then be sure to check out my De-loading article form more detail.
So there you have it! You now know exactly how many days you should workout per week to get stronger.
Now the rest is up to you. Remember that stress is not absolute, it is relative. Therefore, stress affects each individual differently. You will only know how it affects you by constant experimentation.
The metrics and models I gave you above are like a compass, they will only tell you the direction to go in but they will not tell you exactly what to do. You need to find that out for yourself.
So get out there and start making things happen!
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