How often should you go to the gym for the fastest results?
Want to know how often you should go to the gym to lose fat and build muscle as quickly as you want? Use the New Body Plan expert guide to training frequency to discover all you need to know to build the bigger, leaner and stronger physique you want, says New Body Plan creator and former Men’s Fitness editor Jon Lipsey
How often you train, otherwise known as training frequency, is one of the key exercise variables that will have a significant impact on your results. Selecting the right volume of workouts per week depends on a few factors, such as your exercise experience, your fitness goals and your schedule.
To help you choose the ideal number for you and your goals we’ve answered some key questions and identified everything you need to know about different training frequencies.
What’s the fewest number of times per week I should go to the gym?
There are two ways of looking at this. The optimistic one is to say that anything is better than nothing. Doing one session a week will be better for your health than not doing anything. And that one session could be a stepping stone towards two or three sessions a week.
But, being realistic, you’re going to need to train more frequently than that if you’re serious about wanting to build a leaner, fitter and healthier body.
Is it better to go to the gym as often as I can?
Not necessarily. The rule of thumb is that you can do as many sessions as you can recover from. Why? Because it is during the post-session recovery process that your body repairs, re-grows and adapts to become bigger, leaner and stronger.
If you don’t let that process take its course you may not realise the full benefits of the sessions you’ve done. The big signs that you’re under-recovering and training too often are constant fatigue and a drop in performance.
What factors impact how often I can go to the gym?
What’s good in theory and what’s good in real life aren’t always the same thing. If you have a demanding and stressful job, a busy family life and a full social life, you may struggle to do five or six sessions a week.
So think about what you can sustain over time. You’ll probably never feel like you have lots of spare time to train, so you will have to go out of your way to make the sessions happen. But first be realistic about what your lifestyle will allow.
Training frequency: how often should you go to the gym
Here’s what you need to know about different weekly training frequencies
One gym session a week
How much can you do with one session a week? Not a lot, basically. Yes it is better than sitting on the sofa watching TV and not doing anything but that’s about the only thing a solo session has going for it.
Two gym sessions a week
This is probably the absolute minimum that you could do and still make a difference to your health and fitness. If you’re only doing two sessions a week you’d want them to be substantial (at least 40 minutes) and it would make sense for them to be full-body weight-lifting workouts, and to include some high-intensity cardio, such as the New Body Plan Fat-Loss Finishers, at the end of both sessions.
If you eat well – such as following our 90% Nutrition approach to eat for fat loss – and did two high quality sessions a week, you could lose body fat but you’d be unlikely to add muscle and you’d only make modest strength gains.
Three gym sessions a week
Now we’re getting interesting. Three sessions a week is the minimum number that doesn’t come with a ‘but…’ attached to it. It’s not necessarily ideal or optimal but there’s no doubt that you can do a lot in three workouts a week. It’s maybe best for periods where maintenance is your goal.
You could also use it for particularly busy periods of your life. If you usually do four sessions a week. Dropping down to three is infinitely more preferable than dropping out altogether.
A sensible workout selection would either be three full-body workouts for fat loss. Or maybe one full-body, one upper-body and one lower-body session. Or one full body, one push session – like this chest and triceps gym workout – and one pull session – like this back and biceps weights workout.
And make sure that the bulk of your exercises are compound (multi-joint) moves – such as the squat, deadlift, and close-grip barbell bench press – rather than isolation (single-joint) ones – such as the dumbbell biceps curl or dumbbell lat raise.
Why? Because they compound lifts work more muscle groups in the same time, so provide more bang for your training buck.
Four gym sessions a week
For a lot of people, this is the ideal number. There’s a good reason that the vast majority of New Body Plan fat-loss training plans are four days a week programmes. It’s the perfect balance between giving you enough volume to achieve any training aim while being a manageable number of sessions to accommodate within your schedule.
Four sessions a week is also a versatile number from a training split point of view. You could alternate between upper-body and lower-body sessions, or between push and pull workouts. You can also pair muscle groups, such as doing chest and back sessions or a dedicated biceps and triceps arms session.
If gaining serious muscle strength is your goal, you could structure each session around the ‘big four’ moves of the squat, deadlift, bench press and shoulder press. This is the basis for our Club New Body Plan Warrior Strength training plan.
Five gym sessions a week
Adding a fifth session will allow you to move your training into bodybuilding split territory, by basing each session around one major muscle group. You could do dedicated chest, back, legs, shoulders and arms days, for example.
Another good way of adding a fifth session, if fat loss is your goal, is to do the workouts from a four-day-a-week plan, then add in a high-intensity interval training session.
There’s HIIT sessions burn lots of calories in a short space of time and are one of the best ways to burn body fat fast. You just need to make sure that adding the extra workout doesn’t put extra stress on you from a time demand point of view and undermine your flow. After all, missed sessions can be demoralising and can crush your momentum.
Six gym sessions a week
This is really only for people who are experienced and absolutely committed to training. There’s no need for the average guy to train six times a week. And, in fact, it could even be counter-productive if you’re struggling to recover. It’s likely that you’ll start your sessions feeling tired. If that’s the case, you’re better off doing four excellent sessions than five or six average ones.
Seven gym sessions a week
This means no rest days, and that’s probably a bad thing. If you don’t give your body enough time to recover you won’t be able to train hard. And you’re also more likely to get injured. That could mean your seven sessions a week could turn into no sessions a week. And that’s not going to do much for your progress. Unless you’re an elite athlete whose entire life is devoted to training and recovery, this isn’t the smart option.
Two gym sessions a day
This one is slightly different, in that it involves doing more than one workout on the same day, but not necessarily every day. So, for example you could train five or six days a week and do double sessions (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) on two or three of those days.
This is a training tactic favoured by bodybuilders who can “get away” with such high training volume because a) they are very experienced, and/or b) are using banned performance-enhancing substances. Again, if you’re an average guy looking to get back into shape, this isn’t the option for you.
The only exceptions might be where you’re struggling for time to train and you only have 30 minutes in the morning. In that case, you could do a chest and back or a legs and shoulders session in the morning, then do a short session in the afternoon of some ams or abs exercises, or some cardio work, such as a stationery bike sprint.
Select the right training frequency for you
The simple way of doing this is to match your goals with the effects described above. If you’re happy where you are and you just want to tick over without too much of a time demand, do three sessions a week.
If you’re a busy guy who wants to make a big difference in as short a time as possible, go for four days a week. The latter option would be our default starting point and you can either dial things up or down from there, depending on how you get on!
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