Is strength training 6 days a week too much?
January 3rd 2019
I am sitting close to my home gym and thought about this, is strength training 6 days a week too much?
It really depends on so many different factors, like training goals, age, lifestyle, work stress life stress, family stress, genetics, and so many other things. For some people, training six days a week may be great if you are a student, with no family, bills or work stress to deal with. For others, training six days a week, with a family, 2 kids, a mortgage, bills and a business to run, will not be a wise decision. So, it really depends on your situation and what you want in terms of strength training.
How often should you strength train?
The typical strength training program starts off training 3-4 times a week, with moderate intensity and moderate volume. Over time, to get stronger, the program will gradually increase intensity, in weight, while keeping the frequency and volume constant. This is one reason why as a period of time, a deload is needed because your body cannot maintain the same level of progression forever. So, it needs a period of rest before it is ready for more stimulus.
It will boil down to two things:
- What you want from strength training?
- Your current lifestyle
For example, if you are 55 years old working at an engineering firm, with a mortgage to pay, 3 kids and 1 grandkid, would I recommend that you train 6 days a week? Probably not but it depends on your goals.
On the flip side, if you are 20 years old at your local university, no kids, no bills to pay, would I recommend that you train 6 days a week? Depends on what you want to do with strength training. If it interests you, I would say go for it.
So, if you are training for a competition, a local meet, powerlifting, or strongman, would it make sense to strength train 6 days a week? Again, it depends. It depends on your lifestyle.
Many strength programs usually train between 3-4 times a week. Why? Because when you strength train, you are always manipulating three parameters: intensity, volume, and frequency.
- Intensity - Either by using the RPE scale or measuring against your 1 rep max
- Volume - Your total workload per training session. It is the number of exercises, sets, reps, and weight you do in a workout
- Frequency - How often you go to the gym
Usually, to maintain a balance, you will want to only pick two of the three criteria to increase, while regulating the third criteria. For example, if you want to train with high intensity and high volume, you will lower your frequency, meaning you will not go to the gym that often. Why do we do this? Because if you are training at high intensity, volume, and frequency, your body is not equipped to recover from that stimulus for a very long time. Eventually, your body will break down and you will suffer an injury, which is what we try to avoid.
To answer the question of how often should you strength train, let's take the example of training six days a week and you want to compete in a powerlifting competition. So, your frequency is high. Good, that is no problem. Now, you can only choose to manipulate one other criteria, intensity or volume. Since we are strength training, we will need to lift moderately heavy, and gradually increase the intensity. As a result, we will be doing a low amount of volume each workout day since we are holding the high frequency constant.
If you have no idea how often you want to strength train and want a general recommendation, I would recommend Starting Strength. If you are interested in my in-depth review of the program, you can find that here. It is a 3 times a week full body strength training program, which starts off at a moderate intensity and moderate volume. It keeps volume and frequency constant while you gradually increase intensity.
Frequency vs training volume
According to a research article from International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, scientists concluded that training four times a week yielded the same muscular improvements in elite bodybuilders as training six times a week when holding training volume equal.
In other words, lets say you squat four times a week, 225 lbs for 3 sets of 6 reps each day. So, for that week, you squatted 16,200 lbs. The research implies that if you want to yield similar results as the 4 days a week frequency, you will squat 6 times a week, 225 lbs for 3 sets of 4 reps. This will sum up to the same training volume, 16,200lbs.
So, research confirms that if you vary the frequency and keep training volume constant, you will have an inverse relationship with intensity. Notice how the more you go to the gym, the less intense your working sets are. Whereas the less you go to the gym, the more you need to do.
How often do you train to do bodybuilding?
The goals of bodybuilding are a little different from strength training. The goals are all over the place in terms of strength goals but there is a common goal, to gain more muscle.
I find that there are bodybuilders that do to the gym as often as twice a day. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are bodybuilders who only go to the gym two to three times a week. So, which is right?
As we analyzed before, both are correct! And to make sure you have longevity during training, you need to make sure your regulate volume, intensity, and frequency.
If you are training for bodybuilding and go to the gym twice a day, seven days a week, your frequency is really high and would need to accommodate for that in your intensity or volume. Typically, many bodybuilding workouts involve getting a pump. So, your volume will probably be moderate. So, you will be lifting with very low intensity, as a result. And the way you progress is that you will either slowly increase weight, intensity or both.
If you are bodybuilding and go to the gym two to three times a week, this is a moderate amount of frequency. You want your volume to be moderate or even high. As a result, your intensity will be either low or moderate, depending on how high your volume is.
6 day gym workout schedule?
If you want to do the gym 6 days a week, here is what you should figure out:
- Main exercises you should do
- Accessories if you want to do any
- Volume vs Intensity relationship
Since you will be going to the gym 6 days a week, your frequency is high. As a result, if you want to lift heavy, you will not be doing a lot of volume. Conversely, if you want to do a lot of sets and reps, you will not be lifting heavy.
If I were to design a 6-day gym workout schedule that focuses on getting my squat, bench and deadlift max higher for a competition, here is what I would do:
- Monday: Squats, bench, deadlift
- Tuesday: Squats, bench, deadlift
- Wednesday: Squats, bench, deadlift
- Thursday: Accessories
- Friday: Squats, bench, deadlift
- Saturday: Squats, bench, deadlift
- Sunday: Rest
Why does this work?
If I was forced to train six days a week, this is the ideal program I would do. If I want to improve with my squat, bench and deadlift, I will need to continue practicing that movement. Given how often I will squat, bench and deadlift, I will be doing very, very low volume. Probably only one working set initially.
Weight training frequency for fat loss
If you are trying to lose weight, one common approach to this is that people often try to go to the gym as often as they can. This is done for a number of reasons:
- Less idle time, less time to succumb to bad habits
- More time burning calories
- Change of lifestyle, from sedentary to active
So, for people looking to lose weight, it is often recommended to go to do some form of exercise as often as they can. So, for example, if someone is looking to lose weight and is available to go to the gym six times a week, with no other goals but to lose weight, here is a sample program I would make for someone:
- Monday: Weight training
- Tuesday: Weight training
- Wednesday: Weight training
- Thursday: Weight training
- Friday: Weight training
- Saturday: Weight training
- Sunday: Rest // Cardio
Since the frequency is high, they can balance their program by having a low intensity or low volume.
But let this not deter you. Your age, recovery, lifting experience, life schedule and a whole bunch of other factors will determine your training frequency.
Once you figure out your schedule and have the patience and dedication to execute, progress will come. Fat loss is not immediate. It will take hard work and time. And even in bodybuilding and strength training, we all follow the same training principles. We just have different goals we want to achieve, so the training parameters, intensity, volume, and frequency, change accordingly.
Training six days a week is an optimal strategy for some. For others, they will not last a week with that sort of training style. So, it is best to be honest with yourself and evaluate your goals.
There is no perfect training frequency. There is only a good training frequency based on the individual running the program. It needs to meet your needs and not the other way around.
Sure, there are some recommendations from the internet and from trainers and coaches, but those are general recommendations. For an average individual. In the end, these recommendations mean nothing if you cannot fit it into your schedule.
So, once you figure out what you want, we can begin the process of analyzing what program best suits you.