Move those mus­cles — but how of­ten?

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - JILL BARKER

When it comes to ex­er­cise fre­quency, the rule of thumb is to per­form some form of aer­o­bic ex­er­cise most, if not all, days of the week. While there’s plenty of de­bate about how long each bout of ex­er­cise should be, 10 to 30 min­utes of sus­tained phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity (de­pend­ing on in­ten­sity) is usu­ally con­sid­ered suf­fi­cient.

Ask the same ques­tion about weight train­ing, and the an­swer isn’t as sim­ple. The Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine sug­gests a min­i­mum of two strength work­outs a week, with the ac­knowl­edg­ment that more are likely needed if the goal is to im­prove mus­cle size and strength. The rec­om­men­da­tion leaves plenty of room to ex­per­i­ment with train­ing fre­quency, but in­di­vid­u­als are fur­ther ad­vised to al­low mus­cles

48 hours to re­cover be­fore head­ing back to the weight room. Too fast a re­turn jeop­ar­dizes re­sults, say the ex­perts.

But like any ex­er­cise-re­lated rec­om­men­da­tion, there’s sci­ence and then there’s prac­tice, with plenty of gym rats and per­sonal train­ers rec­om­mend­ing hit­ting the weight room most, if not all, days of the week.

Keep in mind that in car­dio­vas­cu­lar con­di­tion­ing, the pri­mary mus­cle be­ing trained is the heart. In the weight room, how­ever, dis­cus­sions about fre­quency re­volve around how many times a week a given mus­cle or set of mus­cles should be trained. There are plenty of body­builders who hit the gym daily, but will tell you that they train most mus­cles a max­i­mum of once a week, fo­cus­ing on a high num­ber of rep­e­ti­tions per ses­sion. Then there are those who rec­om­mend do­ing fewer rep­e­ti­tions more of­ten, with six-day-a-week cy­cles not un­com­mon.

If you re­view some of the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture con­cern­ing ex­er­cise fre­quency for op­ti­mal gains in mus­cle size, you’ll get a whole host of re­sults — but un­less other vari­ables (like the amount of weight lifted and the num­ber of rep­e­ti­tions) are stan­dard­ized, it’s hard to com­pare one set of re­sults to the next.

In an at­tempt to add clar­ity, a team of Amer­i­can and Aus­tralian re­searchers re­viewed the re­sults of sev­eral stud­ies not only by the num­ber of times an in­di­vid­ual hit the weight room per week, but also by the num­ber of rep­e­ti­tions per­formed per mus­cle group per week.

What they found is that when it comes to im­prov­ing mus­cle size, fre­quency wasn’t an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of suc­cess. High- and low-fre­quency train­ing sched­ules re­sulted in sim­i­lar in­creases in mus­cle size, pro­vided the to­tal num­ber of reps per­formed over the course of the week was sim­i­lar.

The stud­ies in­cluded trained and un­trained men and women and com­pared a va­ri­ety of work­out fre­quen­cies rang­ing from once to six times a week. Most of the data was based on two to three sets of eight to 12 reps per mus­cle group, which is con­sid­ered a stan­dard weight train­ing pro­to­col.

The con­clu­sion that to­tal vol­ume is a more im­por­tant mea­sure of mus­cle gains than fre­quency held true whether train­ing the smaller mus­cles of the up­per body or the larger mus­cles of the lower body. It also held true whether the in­di­vid­u­als were ex­er­cise novices or veter­ans.

The re­searchers com­piled all the study sub­jects and re­sults into a sin­gle bank of data, gath­ered from 800 in­di­vid­u­als.

What’s also in­ter­est­ing about this study is that it sug­gests 48 hours be­tween work­outs may not be nec­es­sary for mus­cle growth, at least among weight room veter­ans.

That said, the re­searchers also pointed out that there’s a wide va­ri­ety of in­di­vid­u­al­ized re­sponses to train­ing fre­quency and vol­ume, so you shouldn’t be sur­prised if your re­sults don’t match those re­ported in the stud­ies.

But that’s not the most im­por­tant take-home mes­sage — once again, sci­ence has proven that there’s a fair amount of wig­gle room in tra­di­tional ex­er­cise pre­scrip­tions, be it car­dio or weight train­ing.

It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that vari­ables such as vol­ume, fre­quency and in­ten­sity need to be looked at as a whole, not a se­ries of parts — ad­just­ments to one can fre­quently be off­set by ad­just­ments to an­other. More vol­ume and less fre­quency will likely of­fer sim­i­lar re­sults to less vol­ume and more fre­quency.

So if you can only make it to the gym once or twice a week, you should con­sider longer work­outs than some­one who hits the gym more of­ten.

There are a cou­ple of caveats. Very spe­cific ex­er­cise goals usu­ally re­quire very spe­cific ex­er­cise rou­tines. And some bod­ies re­spond bet­ter to more rest and some to less vol­ume, so make sure you ad­just ac­cord­ingly. But for those whose goal is to build strength and add a bit of mus­cle, it looks like you can build your work­out sched­ule around your pref­er­ence of spread­ing the vol­ume out over sev­eral days or cram­ming it into one or two work­outs per week.


Re­search shows that for some weight room veter­ans, wait­ing at least 48 hours be­tween work­outs may not be nec­es­sary for mus­cle growth.

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