How often should you train?
Whew, that is a loaded question. So to start out with, I rarely deal in absolutes. Nothing is set in stone because we are all human and experience different things day to day.
“A man never crosses the same river twice.” Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher
Meaning that every time you come back to the same circumstance, say a workout you have done previously, you are a different person than the last time you did it. Additionally, the workout itself may be different.
How, you ask?
Maybe the music is different, the vibe is more or less energizing and in the case of our gym currently, a sled might not glide across humid turf the same way it did over that same turf dry.
So, now that we have gotten past our philosophy lesson for the day, let’s answer this as best we can!
Who are you: Novice, Intermediate or an Advanced lifter?
First off, you need to understand where you are at as a lifter.
If you are in the first 6 months of training or just getting back to training after a long layoff, you should act as a novice. Take it slow, allow for the body to recover and get yourself into the habit of training. That is goal #1 before moving towards an intermediate approach to training.
Second, there is nothing wrong with living in the intermediate world of training for a long time. The longer I train myself, the more I believe you can live here forever with plenty of novelty and progress.
And third, if you desire to move to an advanced level of training, you have to understand that you are taking on the risks associated with the larger rewards. So, if you are truly striving to become advanced in a strength sport, it needs to be your lifestyle. Not something that you take on as a hobby during the week and deem recovery to be happy hour on Friday night and cocktails on the boat all weekend long. The result of that will ABSOLUTELY be failure. (see I sometimes deal in absolutes!)
Beginner Training Frequency
As a beginner, you have multiple things to overcome. First off, you are likely learning a massive amount of new skills or, at best, re-acquiring them while likely overcoming some bad habits.
Additionally, your conditioning for strength activities is going to be LOW. I don’t care what you have done previously, you haven’t been training the way we train. And a new stimulus is going to knock you down. A day later, even two days later, it’s going to hurt.
But, it will get better. And the best cure for overcoming that body wide soreness is…moving again!
And finally, there’s your head. You know what you have done in the past. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It will weigh on you as you put 95 lbs on the bench knowing full well that 15 years ago, in high school, you did 225 for 5 reps EASY.
Remember, it’s the habit of training we are seeking at this level. How long it takes you to advance to an intermediate level lifter is largely determined by your consistency. And trying to lift what you did 15 years ago on day 1 is not a good way to build a routine of training.
“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Desmond Tutu
Intermediate Training Frequency
As I said above, I believe that an individual can spend years, potentially their entire life training as an intermediate lifter.
I don’t even think it excludes you from going and competing in strength sports. I think staying in the intermediate level allows for very hard periods of training AND periods of more backed off training while other parts of your life: work, family, social life, take priority.
The biggest thing I think most people need to understand about the intermediate level and staying here for a long time is simply this: advancing as an athlete or just hobbyist lifter does not require you to spend ever increasing amounts of time at the gym.
However, you will have to learn how to work harder if you want to continue to make progress.
And the second most important thing to understand: when you shoot to achieve a new goal, say body fat loss, other areas you may have previously focused on will be impacted performance-wise.
If you just hit a double bodyweight deadlift and then drop 10 lbs of body fat to look awesome for the summer, you can’t expect to also have made progress on your deadlift. Maintained maybe, but simultaneous progress in both, VERY UNLIKELY.
The bottom line about the intermediate level is: IT’S FUN!
You can focus on dabbling in many different skills to focus on overall goals of general strength, physique or overall conditioning for life.
And, if you choose, you can explore mastery in specific skills. Mastery of skills is much more about time spent with those skills than it is seeking a competitive environment to showcase them.
That, in my opinion, is an advanced level lifter.
Advanced Training Frequency
When an athlete makes a conscious decision to compete not just to have fun and maybe come out with a win, but actually seek something bigger: national level competitions, international competitions and actually attempting to win events like this, everything changes.
This now becomes a priority in life. Everything that the athlete is doing is with the intent of making training or the actual performance better. Sleep, nutrition, social activities probably have to change or at least stay as dedicated as they previously were to keep making progress.
Additionally, an advanced level lifter takes on the risk of injury; significant injury. Pushing the body to limits that others previously haven’t attained AND you haven’t yet attained means that injuries are likely. You have to have a skilled coach to know how to deal with them, work around them and keep you mentally sharp through the ups and downs.
“Pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice in your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue you will change.” – Kobe Bryant
Planning out your week of training
Alright, if you skipped right to this, I get it. But I suggest you go back and read the info before making your decision about the level of lifter you are.
2x/week of Strength Training
|Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Active Recovery||Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Have some fun!||Active Recovery|
|30-45 min||15-30 min||15-30 min||30-45 min||15-30 min||15-30 min|
3x/week of Strength Training
|Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Active Recovery|
|30-45 min||15-30 min||30-45 min||15-30 min||30-45 min||15-30 min|
The key here is consistent movement. Notice I recommend 6 days of movement. 2-3 days of strength training with 3 days of active recovery.
Active recovery can consistent of anything that falls outside of normal everyday activity:
- Casual biking
- Playing sports
- Chasing kids around a playground
- Basically anything that could cause you to get winded
The mistake many people make with this is that they assume that taking 10k steps in a day by parking further from the grocery store or whatever it might be, is enough.
The point of active recovery is consistent movement FIRST but a close SECOND is the fact that you dedicate time for yourself (15-30 minutes) to socialize during activity or just be with your own thoughts. This is a habit best built right away because when you miss out on a regular training day, you will have already carved out time on other days to be active. And switching your strength days and active recovery days around will be much easier to schedule.
Trust me, missed training days will happen, planning for unexpected events is called LIFE 🙂
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin
3x/week of Strength Training
|Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Full Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Full Body Strength Training||Have some fun!||Active Recovery|
|30-60 min||15-45 min||30-60 min||15-45 min||30-60 min||15-45 min|
4x/week of Strength Training
|Upper Body Strength Training||Lower Body Strength Training||Active Recovery||Upper Body Strength Training||Lower Body Strength Training||Have some fun!||Active Recovery|
|30-60 min||30-60 min||15-45 min||30-60 min||30-60 min||15-45 min|
Active recovery time here increases for both programs. This again allows for a training day to be missed and still be able to squeeze the training you are shooting in the 7 day week we all abide by.
However, the minimum window of time to train on all training days has remained the same. There are many ways to progress as an intermediate lifter. One way is to maintain the duration of training time and just train more frequently.
Additionally, the maximum amount of training time has gone up because it’s likely that as you progress in your training, more rest time will be needed to maintain the intensity you are now capable of producing.
And finally, there is a 4x/week strength training template. You can see that, at this point, we split the training into upper and lower body dedicated days. It will allow for more thorough recovery before going hard again 3 days later.
Now, here is the best part. The way you organize 3 or 4 days of training as an intermediate lifter can move in an almost unlimited direction based on your availability, your goals and whether you are chasing more specific lifting goals or more general training objectives.
For example, I love playing basketball, and am currently trying to work on my vertical jump to be able to dunk again. I was about 40 lbs lighter but only slightly leaner than I am currently last time I dunked. So my goal is to maintain my current weight within 10 lbs (so no lighter than 220) while getting back my hops and ultimately throw down.
So this is how two training weeks play out for me currently:
|Shooting Hoops||Lower Body Max Effort||Shooting Hoops||Upper Body Dynamic Effort||Strongfit Exploration||Have some fun!||Lower Body Dynamic Effort|
|15-30 min||45-60 min||15-30 min||45-60 min||30-60 min||45-60 min|
|Shooting Hoops||Lower Body Max Effort||Shooting Hoops||Lower Body Dynamic Effort||Strongfit Exploration||Have some fun!||Upper Body Dynamic Effort|
|15-30 min||45-60 min||15-30 min||45-60 min||30-60 min||45-60 min|
There are many reasons why my training days occur when they do, which I am happy to go through some other time.
The important things I want you to remember:
#1 – What I am doing to gain explosiveness might not work for you, then again it might!
#2 – Just because I am here currently does not mean that I will keep this split up until I can dunk. I may stall out and find the need to change. In which case, I will.
#3 – I have NO TIMELINE on being able to dunk. That is the goal. And, no doubt, I would be disappointed if I never get that ability back. But, being able to put my hand back up over the rim with minimal effort will improve my athleticism dramatically from what it currently is, and that will open up my confidence in many other areas.
And ultimately, that is what I want to be able to demonstrate now and for the rest of my life.
As I stated above, this is not only super specific to an athlete and what they want to do, but it is also a way of life. This IS your priority.
Thus the focus: basketball, hockey, powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman etc. will largely determine your training week. So to give a template to work off of here would be doing a disservice to elite athletes everywhere.
Additionally, I don’t often live in this world. I have trained elite level athletes here and there over the years. But I much prefer working with the intermediate level athlete because, more than anything, it’s sustainable for a lifetime. And I love training and coaching for the long term.
So, if you want to pursue an advanced level of training, I would love to chat. If I don’t feel I am capable of helping, I can certainly recommend some incredible coaches who are more than qualified to work with you!
To wrap this all up, let’s just quickly recap:
#1 – Be honest with yourself, if you are a beginner or just getting back into training, consistency is your key to success
#2 – Intermediate level training should remain fun. It can still be competitive if that is what you choose. But at the end of day, most training days should make you smile, not leave the rest of your day ruined
#3 – If you are truly seeking an advanced level of training, a qualified coach is a necessity. You cannot go it alone and expect the results you are seeking. So, do your due diligence and if you want my help, I am more than happy to offer it!
Get strong, stay strong and have fun doing it!