is the Owner of The Warrior Path, MAP Fitness, and is Head of Strength & Conditioning at MAS Thaiboxing. Chad has devoted years to the study of maximizing performance and health for the purpose of making sure our nations military and emergency service personnel are as safe as possible executing their sworn duties.
One of the most common questions I get from people is "how often should I train?", the truth is like most things its complicated. When it comes to determining how often someone should train we need to look at a litany of different factors before we even begin testing for what they will require. These factors can include training age, goals, lifestyle, age, how often they want to train, and type of exercise they will perform. Once each of these are properly accounted for we can begin to understand where to begin in trying to determine their needed training frequency.
Training age is a general classification of how developed you are in an exercise setting. In the most basic sense there are 3 main classifications; Early, Intermediate, and Advanced. Each of these require different frequency of stimulus to elicit a dose response. With early requiring less frequent and less intense exercise and advanced requiring more with higher intensity, and more variance in movements. Determining your training age is very important when determining how often you will need to train to maintain or improve your physical capabilities and health.
This is not just important for improvement but can also stop it from regressing or being hindered over the long term. When training age is not taken into account properly it can cause extreme maladaptation, possibly resulting in loss in productivity, lack of development, degrading health, excessive soreness, poor sleep, low energy, decreased endocrine system and injury. The most common example I see of this is people in an early training age doing too much too frequently. This is a pretty common occurrence in general training populations because they want to see results fast and with a big fad in modern training being High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). While this can result in significant glycolytic, CNS, and stress activation which results in a large metabolic response (burning a lot of calories), if they are not trained sufficiently before to produce the necessary power to effectively elicit this response not only will their movements be less efficient but it can cause excess stress response and overload their system. This will result in maladaptation we discussed earlier.
Everyone has different goals, as such similar to their training age their training needs to fit their specific requirements and capabilities. Someone who wants to lose 5 lbs will not have to do the same type or intensity of training as someone wanting to pass a special forces selection. Ill go over some extremely generalized recommendations for some common goals that I see from my clients and friends. *All of these recommendations are assuming a client with appropriate lifestyle and an appropriate training age to effectively complete this frequency of training*
General Health & Wellness
For most people seeking general health and wellness I recommend at minimum one to three days per week in a gym setting focusing on resistance training and aerobic development. This helps increase quality of life over a spectrum of factors such as decreased amount of muscle loss, stronger bones and tendons, healthy heart development, and increased insulin sensitivity. On top of that having some form of near daily low intensity training such as a walk, jog, or yoga for 20-90 minutes.
People seeking sport performance will need to highly assess their training age to determine training frequency as that is a larger determining factor than their goals. This can cause some major variances in training frequency ranging from 5 times per week all the way to 5-6 days per week with 1-2 sessions per day devoted to resistance training and energy system development, with intermittent low intensity mobility work and sport specific skill development.
Career Tactical Athlete
A majority of my clients are seeking training for the purpose of either securing a career in the military or emergency services or ensuring their safety once they are hired on. As such these clients are frequently recommended 3-6 days per week of mixed aerobic and resistance training. This ensures both the physical strength to do their jobs effectively and the maximal aerobic base to ensure they wont tire out before completing their duty.
People seeking to operate withing or who are currently operating within a specialized unit such as SWAT, Special Forces, or Search and Rescue Technician must treat themselves similarly to professional athletes. Their lives and careers frequently depend on the quality of their performance. As such they need to have similar training frequency to that of a sport performance athlete but with more function specific fitness development.
Lifestyle is one that most people overlook when it comes to baseline training requirements. But lifestyle can cause massive shifts in ability to recover, ability to develop, and ability to sustain. One of the most obvious examples of this is a person who sleep 3 hours per night, smokes 3 cartons of cigarettes per day, and only eats fast food will have a vastly different ability in training than someone sleeping 8-9 hours per night, eats a healthy ratio of vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats compared to their activity levels, and drinks plenty of water. Its very difficult to give recommendations without full assessment over a long period of time in this area because of all the potential factors which can influence dose response. But with people who have very poor lifestyle health choices I tend to recommend 1-3 days per week until they can dial in their nutrition, sleep, and sun exposure at the very minimum.
How Often Do You Want To Train?
This one is really simple, if you only want to train 3 days per week well there you go, you have your answer. Some people just don't enjoy the gym or physical development, this isn't necessarily a bad thing its just a factor of life we need to take into account. Now if I have a client who is sitting in the overweight to obese body fat range I will likely suggest and try to push them for more frequent training to get their health in order. But if you are already in fairly good health and you are just looking to maintain or slightly improve well then 1-3 days per week is more than sufficient so long as your nutrition and lifestyle is dialed in accordingly.
Age is something we cant do much about but still have to take into account. Someone who is above even 30 will experience a different dose response then someone who is 25, generally their recovery from the activity will need to be longer. Individuals who are healthy between the ages 13-29 will not have any significant age related impairments for training, if you go 30-39 you may experience some issues related to age in a gym setting, and finally +40 will likely experience issues related to higher intensity training and will likely require additional recovery time, and a higher focus on resistance dose responses may be necessary.
Type of Training
Different training styles elicit different amounts of stress response, these stress responses require different amounts of time for recovery. Generally speaking more the more anaerobic an activity the longer the relative rest that will be required while conversely more aerobic work requires less relative rest. When anaerobic training is done too frequently we can see some rapidly onset disruptions in things like appetite, sleep quality, and general daily energy levels. This becomes more true when we do extended anaerobic work such as anaerobic latic endurance (1-3 minutes of unsustainable work).
So What Now?
Well if you are still unsure how often you need to train, just start slow. Its better to get some activity rather than none. Almost all people can have up to 5 days per week of mildly stressful activity such as slow contraction resistance training, aerobic energy system training and low impact work such as walking without hurting their overall health. If you need any additional help be sure to join our Free Facebook Group and ask any questions that you have or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org