Determination of Resistance Training Frequency

by NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition
Kinetic Select May 2017


Factors such as the types of exercises used, the number of muscle groups trained per session, the structure of the program, and the client’s training status and overall fitness level dictate training frequency.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Training frequency refers to the number of workouts a client will undertake during one week. Many factors contribute to the determination of the optimal frequency for an individual client. Factors such as the types of exercises used, the number of muscle groups trained per session, the structure of the program (volume and intensity), and the client’s training status and overall fitness level dictate the training frequency (4). The client’s work schedule, social schedule, and family obligations will also strongly influence how frequently the client can train.

Influential Factors

The primary factor that the personal trainer should consider when determining training frequency is the client’s training status and overall level of fitness. Lesser-trained clients usually require more rest between workouts, which lowers the frequency, and highly trained clients will be able to tolerate more frequency.

However, the personal trainer may need to reduce the frequency of resistance training if the client’s overall amount of physical (24) or psychological stress (106) is high as a consequence of other demands (e.g., work, social, or academic schedule; other forms of exercise; or some combination of all demands).

Tweet this quote

For example, if the client is a construction worker who performs repetitive lifting tasks in his or her job, he or she may not want or be able to tolerate more than two or three days per week of resistance training.

An influential factor that many personal trainers overlook is how the different components of the training program interact (58,59,90). Many personal trainers plan resistance, endurance, agility, and plyometric training without considering how each factor affects the overall workload. It is essential to examine how the various training activities interact and to take the client’s overall workload into account. For example, if the client is running 30 minutes a day, five days per week, he or she may be able to tolerate only two days per week of resistance training.

Guidelines for Determining Training Frequency

When determining the training frequency it is important to plan sufficient recovery into the program. A general rule that many personal trainers follow is to allow at least one day (but no more than three) between workouts that stress the same muscle group or groups (5,14,54,85). More specific guidelines depend on a client’s overall resistance training status (Table 15.2). Most novice or beginner clients can experience the benefits of resistance training with as few as two or three days per week (4,19,51,86,95). However, individuals who are already accustomed to resistance training can only maintain their strength gains and cannot increase strength levels with one or two days per week (4,35). In general, the more frequent the sessions, the greater the strength gains (4,34).

Novice or Beginner Resistance Training Status

The recommendation for the novice or the beginner to resistance training is to use frequencies of two or three days per week when training the entire body (4,19,22,25,51,95). With this frequency, resistance training days should be nonconsecutive (i.e., Monday and Thursday; Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) to allow for appropriate recovery between sessions. As a general rule novice clients should have 1 to 3 days between resistance training sessions, but never more than 3, in order to facilitate recovery.

If, for example, the client were to train on Monday and Wednesday, the amount of time between the Wednesday and the next Monday training session would be greater than three days and result in a less effective training program (35,54). As the client progresses from the novice to the intermediate level, a change in frequency is not always necessary (4). However, increasing the frequency to three or four days per week allows for greater program flexibility.

Intermediate Resistance Training Status

A general recommendation for the client who has achieved an intermediate training status is to increase the training frequency to three or four days per week (4). However, this increase will mean that the client trains two or more days in a row. A common strategy is to use a split routine, which spreads four or more workouts evenly across the week. With this structure, the client can train only one part of the body (i.e., upper back or lower body) (70), certain muscle areas (e.g., chest, back, or legs) (70), or certain movement patterns (i.e., “push” or “pull”) (117) during a session. This structure allows for an increase in frequency while still allowing sufficient time for recovery between sessions (85,95).

A common example of a four time per week split routine for the intermediate client includes upper body exercises on Monday and Thursday and lower body exercises on Tuesday and Friday (70). Even though the client is training two days in row, changing the targeted muscle groups ensures adequate recovery. Additionally, there are two days of rest between sessions that target the same muscle groups, which allows for greater recovery between similar sessions (95). With this type of frequency split, the nonresistance training or rest days are consistently Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. More importantly, when training specific muscle groups or body parts, this split allows for maximization of results because the client can use higher volumes (95).

Advanced Resistance Training Status

Depending on their goals, intermediate clients may need to increase their training frequency as they become more experienced and are reclassified as advanced in status. The general recommendation is for advanced individuals to resistance train four to six days per week to allow for an increase in training stimulus (4). It is common for these clients to use double split routines (44), performing two sessions on the same day, which increases the number of training sessions from 8 to 12 per week (4,110). Strong evidence in the scientific literature supports the concept of performing multiple short training sessions in one day (4,44,110).

Another method for increasing the frequency from five to six days is to use a “three days on, one day off” split routine. With this structure, three distinct workouts target specific muscle groups, and the client completes one workout on three consecutive days and rests on the fourth day. A common strategy is to divide the program into upper body “push” exercises (i.e., chest, shoulders, triceps), lower body exercises, and upper body “pull” exercises (i.e., upper back, trapezius, and biceps). In this type of structure the workouts are on unspecified days; that is, the rest day is not the same each week.

NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition, is the authoritative text for personal trainers, health and fitness instructors, and other fitness professionals, as well as the primary preparation source for those taking the NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer® (NSCA-CPT®) exam. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

#NSCAStrong #NSCAStrong

has been added to your shopping cart!

Continue Shopping Checkout Now