By Derek Beech
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Usually prefaced with something like “I cardio train three times a week” or “I play intense rugby (or some other sport) on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s” or “I’m just starting out in the gym” I really can’t count how many times I’ve been asked “How often should I weight train?”
Unlike spending time in the Bible everyday, in my opinion, the greatest single mistake that a bodybuilder or any other athlete can make is to accept that all to familiar flat, cookie cutter, no brained answer which I can hear ringing in my ears right at this very moment...”you should train three times per week.”
Now you can decide to be a follower and choose to ignore what I am about to tell you or you can pay close attention and instead become a leader within your local fitness community.
In reality, the frequency that you should train is variable and not fixed. When you lift weights as a means to develop more muscle mass the intensity of your workouts have to continuously progress upward. If one workout remains at the same intensity level as the previous then your body will have no reason to adapt and therefore no new muscle will grow. If you show me an individual who has been lifting weights the same way, three days a week for a year, I‘ll more than likely also see an individual who hasn’t been able to change their body’s muscle mass content in any way whatsoever for the last six to eight months (anabolic steroid users being an exception).
If you want to train efficiently and effectively you have to understand the correlation between the constantly increasing intensity of your workouts and the opposite, ever decreasing frequency of those workouts. As an example, when a person is just starting out, they could indeed train three times per week performing bench presses and leg presses of 150 pounds and 350 pounds. But really, they should only be lifting those weights during one workout. On their second workout he or she might be hoisting 165 and 375 pounds on those same two lifts. Then on their third workout they should increase again. Or, if they just can’t lift more weight, they should at least be increasing the number of repetitions performed. The simple fact of the matter is something must increase to promote new muscle growth.
Soon though, a Monday or Wednesday will arrive where this person just doesn’t feel like going to the gym (one sign of overtraining) or they will go to the gym and discover that they can’t even lift the level of weight lifted previously. They have gotten weaker!
Now What?
Well what happens to most bodybuilders is that they decide to ‘try harder next time’ or they decide to workout even more frequently, or to start spending their money on some new fancy supplement that promises them new muscle in a can. When in fact all they really need to do is adjust the frequency of their training and allow more time for a complete and full recovery.
For example the may adjust by training five times every two weeks instead of six. Then when the problem occurs again they can then train four times every two weeks or twice a week instead. Thus, again, allowing their body more time to recover so that they can experience some more muscle growth. Simply put…the more weight we lift the longer our body needs to fully recover.
Perhaps your proverbial Monday arrived some time ago and you haven’t been able to see any changes in your physique ever since. If so here’s my advice: Take two weeks off from all weight lifting. (No, you won’t shrivel up, no matter what kind of tricks your mind starts playing on you.) Then when you return to the gym make sure to increase the weight on every lift you perform at least five to ten percent and more than likely you will find this to be quite manageable given your extra recuperation time. Finally as you start to train again make sure to reduce your training frequency a little also.
You need to trust me on this…
As soon as you are able to increase your training intensity by not training as often, you will finally start to see more of the muscular gains you want.
Don’t just train hard, train smart.

Derek Beech holds an Associates Degree in Health & Nutrition and has authored a number of books related to this very same subject. Currently, he is working as a human resources manager and personal trainer in Campbell River, BC. Along with his wife he has competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions however, having placed first at the Northern Canadian Bodybuilding Championships earlier this year, he has now decided to take a couple of years off from the competitive scene in order to spend more time with his children, Chris (18) and Kaila (11). If you are interested in learning more about the books he has written or personal training, you may contact him at derekbeech@hotmail.com or www.derekbeech.info
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