“How often should I train? “
“Is there an optimal times per week to train? “
“Will training more get me bigger, leaner, stronger or more toned? “
These are all common questions that I’ve been asked before.
I used to train each body part once per week, you know the drill, Monday international chest day, Tuesday back day etc…
But within a few months, my progress stalled, my ‘gainz’ went nowhere and I began looking for something better, something which would yield better results.
Whilst I’ve had success with clients training twice per week (4-5 stone weight loss), their nutrition was the biggest factor in their success.
As a general rule though; if you’re looking for any kind of results, training less than 3 days per week probably isn’t going to cut it, whether that’s looking for fat loss, strength gains or you’re looking to become leaner.
And they will be the topics covered in this article, how often should you train to:
- Getting stronger
- Losing Weight
- Toning Up
When training for fat loss:
Before I go in to what a fat burning workout should consist of, you need to make time for proper nutrition, if you don’t, it doesn’t really matter what workout you do, you need to make time for prioritising your nutrition.
Yes, this is a training article, but ensuring your diet is in working order first will make that sweet, sweet fat loss that much more straight forward for you. The easiest way to make sure you stick to your nutrition is counting your calories (ensuring you’re in a calorie deficit) using something such as my fitness pal, that and getting enough protein and veggies in and you’ll be good to go.
You can learn how to count calories extremely effectively in this article.
- Exercise Selection
To ensure you torch body fat and maintain/build muscle mass, a great port of call is to use full body workouts to achieve your goals that bit quicker. Focusing on large compound movements, such as squat, bench and deadlift, ensures that you’re using multiple muscle groups at once.
Simply put, the more muscle groups you use, the greater number of calories you burn during your workout, ramping up your metabolism.
This is especially important when it comes to fat loss, as the biggest factor in weight/fat loss is calories in vs calories out.
- Rep/Set Scheme
To further increase your calorie burn during your workouts, using higher repetition sets, (ranging between 8-15 reps), will ultimately turn you in to a fat burning machine.
Aiming for 3-4 sets per muscle group is a good way to ramp up the calorie burn further also.
Another great way to make fat loss that bit easier is to increase your activity outside of the gym, which leads me in to my next point of…
- To cardio or not to cardio
That is the question…
Often when people think fat loss, they assume cardio.
Cardio is a tool to be used when fat loss stalls and you need something to increase your calorie burn outside of the gym.
But, being more active in general is never a bad thing, especially when your aim is to lose unwanted body fat.
So, if you’re already slogging it lifting heavy ass weight 3-4 times per week, adding in high intensity interval training might make the ability to recover harder than it needs to be.
What I’d suggest instead is ramping up your outdoor walking.
Walking has the added benefit of being joint friendly and as most of us are human we’re mechanically efficient at it.
It’s also a perfect recipe for fat loss, as you can do a lot of it without feeling like crap for a day or two afterwards. A great aim is to hit 10,000 steps per day.
When training to get stronger:
- Main focus for strength
Getting stronger initially is fairly simple, you need to manipulate one of three things and you’ll get stronger.
The three things are:
- Volume (this is sets x reps)
- Intensity (also called load, this is weight on the bar/movement)
- Frequency (this is how many times you do a certain lift/movement)
Week to week, if you aim to increase either weight on the bar, repetitions on a movement or increase the amount of times you perform a certain movement you will get stronger. At least as a beginner you will anyway.
You don’t need to be testing your 1 repetition max week to week, if you can squat 60kg for 5 reps on week 1 and then by week 3 you can now do 70kg for 5 reps, you’ve gotten stronger.
So, no, you don’t need to test ‘where you are at’.
So a typical 3 week cycle could like so:
Monday – Squat 5×5 @ 60 kg
Wednesday – Squat 2×5 @50kg
Friday – Squat 1×5 @ 70kg
Monday – Squat 5×5 @ 65 kg
Wednesday – Squat 2×5 @ 55kg
Friday – Squat 1×5 @ 75 kg
Monday – Squat 5×5 @ 70 kg
Wednesday – Squat 2×5 @ 60 kg
Friday – Squat 1×5 @ 80 kg
- Exercise Selection
Focusing on big, compound movements should be of primary focus to be gaining strength, the fact that these movements are recruiting a lot of muscles at once ensures that not only are you going to get stronger, but you’ll also build a lot of solid muscle in the process.
Exercises such as squatting, deadlifting, benching, pull ups, tricep dips are all great exercises to focus on for maximal strength gains.
- Rep/Set Scheme
Strength training is taxing on the nervous system, unlike bodybuilding, which is more taxing on the musculoskeletal system.
This means that trying to do 7-8 exercises per muscle group is sure-fire way to stall progress or worse, get injured.
Aim for 2-4 exercises per muscle group, in the rep range of 3-8 repetitions.
Also, unlike bodybuilding, getting stronger requires that you increase the weight on the bar, this means that the intensity is a lot higher, therefore factoring in things like de-load weeks once a month is a brilliant way to keep making gainz, limit any over-use injuries and keep progressing at a rate of knots that will have your friends jealous in the months to come.
Training to tone up:
- The main focus for toning up
Similar to fat loss, performing repetitions somewhere in the region of 8-15 rep range is going to tone up your muscles. One of the biggest factors in getting more toned is volume, furthering from that, volume load is of even bigger importance.
As mentioned earlier, volume is sets x reps.
Volume load goes one step further though.
This is sets x reps x weight on the bar.
So let’s use the example from above, you might need your pocket calculator if your maths is anything like mine..
Let’s say you squat 60kg x 10 x 4 (weight x reps x sets) on week 1.
That equates to 2400kg of work done, (60 kg x 10 x 4= 2400kg)
By week 3 you’re squatting 70kg x 10 x 4 = 2800kg, that is now an increase of 400kg over your sets.
So an extra 400kg going through your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, calves etc.
By looking at volume load, training to tone up makes it a lot simpler when you know what you’re looking for.
You could easily just increase the weight week to week, or the number of sets, or the frequency that you train a certain muscle group, all these things add up to you getting more toned.
- Exercise Selection
To enhance muscle tone/definition, aiming to hit a mixture of big compound exercises and also isolation exercises to target specific muscles will ensure you not only get stronger, but also build solid muscle in target areas.
A common way to train for most beginners is focusing on body part split routines, whilst this approach can work initially, progress soon stalls.
By increasing the number of times your muscle is exposed to a certain stimulus, ie: squatting twice per week, will make sure that your muscles aren’t waiting a full week to recover from the previous session.
The biggest factor in reaching your goals:
It’s one single word.
If you’re not consistent in your workouts, whether you’re trying to get stronger, more toned, or lose fat, you’re leaving gainz/loses on the table.
Take home message:
- Fat Loss
- Get your nutrition on point via tracking your calories
- Select big compound exercises to increase muscle recruitment
- Stick to higher rep ranges, somewhere between 8-15 reps and 3-4 sets.
- Select your cardio based on how intense your current training is.
- Strength Training
- Increase weight on the bar, increase volume or increase frequency of the lift you’re performing.
- Select big compound movements like squat, bench and deadlift.
- Pick 2-4 exercises per muscle group.
- Strength is a skill, so increase your frequency of training a lift to get better at a certain lift.
- Toning up
- Keep repetitions in the region of 8 – 15.
- Aim to increase volume load progressively over the weeks/months of training.
- Train each muscle group between