Training Volume & Frequency Revisited

By 27th September 2016Articles

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While training the other day I happened to meet a young bodybuilder who had achieved a very lean, muscular 200lb physique at around the height of 5 foot 10. He was around 20 years old. Surprised to see such an elite level of development I had to enquire, “Are you a natural bodybuilder or are you on steroids?” He seemed surprised that I would even think it, to which I replied, “Everyone in the gym thinks it.” To this he responded that he has never used steroids and his physique was the result of working out seven days per week for three years. To this I raised an eyebrow and complimented him on his level of development. Although most of us fall into the category of average genetics, a small percentage will have well below average genetics; the typical ‘hard gainer’. But likewise nature throws out some anomalies, as in this case a freak of nature, someone with superior genetics who can make such astounding progress. Or he was simply lying and using steroids after all. Its hard to tell, and its not really important. What is important is that it brings up the question of training volume…how much training do I need to do? And does training more equal more results? The answer for the majority is emphatically no.

Training Volume and Frequency Defined

So what do we mean by training volume? In a nutshell it is simply the amount of work that you do, the amount of sets you do, and the duration of your workouts. Training frequency is how often you train, which usually describes how many days a week you train, but also can describe how many times per day you train. Yes some people train more then once per day.

So this conversation I had brings up an important point. This young bodybuilder ascribed his level of development to working out seven days per week, in other words ‘more is better’. This is a fallacy, based on numerous scientific studies, but just from a logical point of view it makes not sense whatsoever. Using this logic that training seven days per week is better then training for six days, or training six days per week is better then five days, then doing more will always be better. Therefore it would be better to not only train for seven days per week, but to train double the amount of time. Lets say two hours instead of one hour. Or why not four hours instead of two hours. Do you see where this is going and the absurdity of the whole notion?

What this highlights is the fact that there is an optimal amount of volume and frequency for getting the most out of your workouts. Less than this or more than this will not produce. Less is not more, and more is not better….optimal is best!

Certainly those with above average genetics (a very small percentage of the population) will benefit from the ‘more is better approach’ but for the majority is will not serve them well. In fact the reason you find people struggling to achieve their goals is that they have adopted the more is better approach and have not made any progress despite their marathon workouts.

The fact of the matter is that any sensible routine that has stood the test of time, devised by any coach of any merit will never advise training seven days per week. The body grows muscle when we rest, the work in the gym only serves to stimulate growth. This is a point that many seem to struggle with. This brings me to the optimal amount of training. To a certain degree we are all different, so volume and frequency needs to be specific to a certain degree to the individual. But a sensible idea would be to limit training to three to five days per week. This will serve the majority of individuals well and is optimal. We all tend to have built in, deep routed beliefs and notions which are not particularly productive to our well being. This idea that ‘more is better’ is one of those things and is the reason so many young trainees hit a brick wall in their training. As I said before, less is not more, more is not better, optimal is best.