I had a revelation the other day.
I was sitting on my couch, curled up in a blanket and sipping cocoa while I stroked my cat, when something pretty important occurred to me. Want to know what it was?
Many of you probably fall into two groups:
- Adult lifters who are training on your own
- Coaches who work with adult lifters
In both of these cases, you’re in a position where you’re in charge of designing your own training programs.
You search the internet for training programs like a bunch of scavengers looking for canned food after a zombie apocalypse. You find programs and you give them a try. In many cases, you end up beat to hell and overtrained after a few weeks because the program you were using was too much work. When this happens, you start looking for ways to re-tool the program so you can use it without feeling like you got shoved through a corn thresher.
If you’re the coach, it’s probably the same situation I just described… but you’re designing training programs for your athletes and then monitoring how their bodies respond to it. Is it too much work, or not enough?
So this is the thought that hit me while I was petting my kitty; most of you don’t know how many days per week you should be training.
This is often the biggest dilemma I see people struggling with because it determines everything. Training frequency will lead to progress and success if you do it right… injury and failure if you do it wrong.
If you were a young professional lifter in the Chinese or Russian system, you wouldn’t have to worry about any of this. Your entire training life would be controlled by coaches. You wouldn’t have to make any decisions about how many times you train every week, because it would be dictated to you. You would just follow orders like a robot, which is a great situation to be in as an athlete.
Some of you are in that situation because you have a good coach who’s guiding you. That’s awesome.
But several of you are grown adults who are doing this sport in addition to your careers, family life, etc. There aren’t a lot of effective training programs on the internet that are designed specifically for you, so you’re kinda swinging in the dark when it comes to making up your own routines. For you coaches, it’s a very similar situation but it’s a little more stressful because you’re responsible for other people.
So here are some guidelines that might make this predicament a little easier:
Like it or not, your training frequency will be largely determined by your life demands. If your job only allows you the opportunity to train three times a week, then it’s actually a little easier to design a program because you know you’ve got a predetermined limit on your frequency. Maintaining a marriage and raising children correctly are slightly important too, so you’ll have to incorporate all of this into your planning.
You can only use as much frequency as your body will handle. There’s a really easy way to figure out if you’re training too much…look at how you feel. Weightlifting is a hard sport and you’re going to feel sore, tired, and beat up a lot. There’s no way around this, and you should expect it. But if it gets bad enough that you can barely function anymore and it doesn’t go away after some sustained effort, you’re probably overtraining. You’re using a workload that your body just won’t acclimate to, so changes are needed. Likewise, if you’re making progress and your body feels sore-and-beat-up-but-nothing-you-can-t-handle, then you’ve probably got a good routine established.
There are two methods you can use:
- Pack a lot of work into 2-3 workouts.
- Spread out a lot of work over 4-5 workouts.
So we’re talking about the difference between A) two workouts per week where you do 5-6 exercises (2-3 hours) or B) five workouts per week where you do 2-3 exercises (45 mins-1 ½ hours). Again, this might be closely connected to how much time you have in your life. Don’t be afraid to experiment with both of these and see which one works best for you.
When determining your optimal training frequency, you can use a couple of different approaches:
- Start with a high frequency and then reduce it when your body tells you that you need to back off: This would be a situation where you start out with a 5-6 day per week routine, and then gradually whittle it down to 2-3 days IF and WHEN you need to.
- Start with a low frequency and then add extra days if it feels like you can handle more work: This would be a situation where you start out with a 2-3 day per week routine, and then gradually increase it to 4-5 days IF and WHEN you have the time and physical capability.
When I was in my teens and early 20s, I was training 5 days per week and the usual session looked like this (this is an actual workout from my old 1993 training journal, all in kg):
- Snatch - 50 2x3, 60x3, 70x3, 80x3, 90x3, 100x3, 105x2, 110x1, 115x1, 120x1, 125x1, 105x2, 110x1, 115(miss), 115x1
- Clean Pulls - 120x3, 150x3, 190 4x4
- Back Squat - 150x3, 187.5x5, 197.5x3, 207.5x2, 190x5
- Seated Good Mornings - 140 2x8
This was a brutal routine and I could just barely handle it, but it worked and it made me a successful lifter. When I approached my mid-late 20s, I had to reduce to 4 days per week because I just couldn’t handle 5 anymore. When I got into my 30s, 3 days a week was all I could handle without getting hurt all the time. Now I’m in my 40s with a very busy schedule. I train twice a week and feel great.
Here are a few additional rules that are pretty much universal:
- Lighter lifters can handle more volume than heavier lifters, most of the time.
- I’m talking about LIFTING-ONLY training programs. If you’re adding CrossFit stuff or any other kind of extra work, it changes everything.
- If you take drugs, you’ll be able to handle more work than a clean lifter.
Some of you probably know that I’ve got a new book coming out soon. It’s called Olympic Weightlifting for Masters: Training at 30, 40, 50 and Beyond
. I cover this topic in much greater detail in the book, and it also includes training interviews with ten of the best masters weightlifters in the United States (and the world, in a few cases). We’ve got information from both men and women, ranging in ages from 30s all the way up to mid-60s. Every one of these champions talks in detail about training frequency.
Obviously I’m plugging my book here, but I’m not doing it out of simple whoreishness. I’m mentioning it to let you know that there’s a hell of a resource available to you, if you’re looking for guidance and input from experts. The book is available from Catalyst Athletics
(print & E-book) and Amazon.com
(print & Kindle). I feel very confident in saying that it’ll help your career in a big way.
Hell, I’ve been a competitive weightlifter for 26 years and even I learned from the damn thing.