Sports Performance:  Which is better, training two or four times per week for strength and hypertrophy?

By Dr. John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC

Resistance training is an essential tool to optimize an individual’s athletic potential. To optimize the effects of resistance training, the manipulation of volume (total amount of reps or sets), load (amount of weight), frequency (training sessions of a body part per week), and intensity (effort per rep) is central to sports performance gains (Am Coll Sports Med, 2009).

There is much debate on training frequency, so which is better, training a body part or region 2 or 4 times per week?

A recent study compared training frequencies with matched volumes two and four times per week. The exercises included upper and lower body movements such as; squat, bench press, and arm curls. Upon retesting one-rep max strength and muscle hypertrophy (ultrasonography), there was no significant difference in two times versus four times per week training. Keep in mind that the volume of exercises per week was the same.

The total training volume per muscle group is more important than the amount of training per week. A study examining the volume of exercise per week showed a dose-response gain of 4% when weekly sets of exercise per body part increased from <5, 5-9 to 10+. In other words, increasing resistance training volume per week increases muscle hypertrophy and strength. (Schoenfeld, Journal of Sports Sciences, 2017, Schoenfeld, Journal of Sports Sciences, 2019)

It is recommended that up to ten sets per muscle group be performed per workout, as it seems gains will plateau beyond this set range and may even regress due to overtraining. (Amirthalingam, J Strength Cond Res, 2017)

As the volume of exercise increases per training session, it is critical to maintaining optimal intensity. If there is too much training time or too many exercises, the training intensity may reduce. Quality of movement and focused intensity is critical to optimize performance gains.

However, adequate rest and recovery are needed after a training session. There are many ways to determine this; however, most research shows there should be a minimum of 48 hours between training sessions for a given body part or muscle group.

Bottom line, use great movement form at high intensity with 10 or more sets per week for 2-3 exercise sessions. Make sure you allow optimal rest and recovery of 48 hours per training session.


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