In most cases 3 or 4 days a week is more or less optimal.
There you go. There’s the answer. You can stop reading now. Good day sir!
A straight-forward answer?! What is this tomfoolery?!!?
Just for the hell of it, let’s go into a little more depth on this topic.
It’s not uncommon for a potential client to come into a consultation saying they want to work with me 7 days a week. That amount of ambition is certainly commendable. However, this amount of gym time is as gratuitous as bacon in a chocolate bar (yeah, it's a thing. It's OK. Not great. Not bad. OK)
“Hold the phone! You ain’t gotta work out that much!”
Tremendous sigh of relief
Recovery time is mega important. Any protocol that doesn’t allow enough time for the body to rebuild itself is destined to be subpar at best, deleterious at worst.
This is why 3 full body lifting sessions a week is solid.
Here we have at least one day of recovery in between sessions. Each session will include the 5 fundamental movements. These are Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Carry. An example of a session with this structure could look like this:
Push-Pushup or Single Arm Bench Press
Pull-Dumbbell Row or Chin-up
Squat-Goblet squat or Dumbbell Lunge
Hinge-Glute bridge or Deadlift
Carry-Farmer walk or Farmer Walk
If we train 4 days a week, the sessions will typically be split into “Upper body” and “Lower body” days. And while this protocol has back to back training sessions, we aren’t emphasizing the same muscle groups two days in row. This allows for adequate recovery. A training week could look like this:
Monday(Upper), Tuesday(Lower), Wednesday(rest), Thursday(Upper) Friday(Rest) Saturday(Lower)
This is just one example. We still do our 5 fundamental movements throughout our training week. We just don’t do them all on the same day. We do Pushes and Pulls on Upper Body days. We do Squats and Hinges on the Lower Body Days.
As for which protocol is better, I honestly can’t say. Both have their advantages. I’ve had success with both. It really just depends on your schedule.
Now, there is also the option of 5 lifting days a week.
There is only one 5 day lifting protocol I’m aware of that I’d ever recommend. Granted it’s probably the best strength program I’ve ever done. You can read about that here in Even Easier Strength.
But what about cardio?
What about cardio, indeed.
It’s not necessary for fat loss. If you like doing cardio, by all means, have at it. But don’t worry about it if you would rather watch Twilight on repeat
Use those treadmill hours to build healthy nutrition habits.
So 3 or 4 days a week is optimal for most. But let’s not let perfect be the enemy of pretty good. 2 days a week is awesome too. My online coaching groups are centered around sustainable fat loss, so we encourage whatever exercise protocol seems realistic.
Whatever frequency allows you to train consistently over the long term is the optimal amount. Consistency always trumps intensity.
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