Exercise Is Medicine: What Is The Optimal Dose?
When looking for a new workout program most people think about all different types of exercise they can start engaging in to meet their desired goals. No matter what your desired outcome is from your exercise routine strength training or resistance exercise can help you achieve those. Resistance exercise has been shown to provide a myriad of benefits including but not limited to improved strength, increase in muscle mass, decrease in fat mass, improved bone mineral density, improved cognitive function, improved blood pressure, improved metabolism, increased insulin sensitivity, improved cholesterol levels, and improved cardiovascular health.
It's no question that resistance exercise should be the foundation of any exercise routine. There are numerous different ways you can incorporate resistance exercise into your workout routine with a lot of different variables within your resistance exercise such as intensity, number of sets, repetition duration, number of repetitions, number of exercises, exercise choice and many more. Perhaps the most important and often over looked variable is recovery time between sessions of resistance training. The reason that it is the most important variable is because when you engage in resistance training what you are doing is actually breaking down your muscle tissue which is actually making you weaker. That's right, when you are engaging in proper resistance exercise you are actually making yourself weaker than when you started. Only proper recovery from that muscle tissue breakdown can make you stronger. So if I'm getting weaker during my resistance exercise and only proper recovery from that exercise will make me stronger how long should I recover for? That is the question this article will help you answer!
The training frequency prescription depends on the volume, intensity, selected exercises, level of fitness, and ability to recover from the individual, and nutritional intake. When thinking about your own resistance training frequency you should take all of these variables into account. This article will help you with a general recommendation but as with all things exercise it's best to have a personalized plan that is catered to you specifically. If you need help with thinking through these variables and making a proper routine for you I encourage you to sign up for a FREE introductory workout with Reformed Fitness so our exercise physiologists can help answer that question for you specifically!
Excessively frequent exercise stimuli in the same muscles could interfere with the proper revert and impair performance by overtraining; whereas, infrequent stimuli could allow excessive recovery time and ultimately lead to detraining. Overtraining syndrome is dangerous because even though you are putting in the time and effort in your training it will actually hinder your results leading to fatigue, decline in performance, and even injury.
When answering any exercise question we always have to fall back on the scientific research, never fall into a habit of using the anecdotal evidence that plagues the exercise industry. Just because your friend, relative, or favorite influencer says it works for them doesn't mean it will work for you. Your starting place should always come from a well designed research study and then you should adapt that based on how that recommendation is working (or not working) for you. To help us answer the question of optimal resistance exercise training frequency we can look at an article titled "The Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Strength Gains" from the Journal of Exercise Physiology which designed a study specifically to answer this question.
Serra et al. designed a study of 75 untrained middle aged men. The subjects could not have perfumed resistance training for at least one year prior to the study. So like you these were individuals who were looking to begin a new exercise program. The subjects were not permitted to have used or to use nutritional supplementation so that any changes in performance were due to the exercise within the study not outside factors. The subjects were assigned to 1 of 3 groups (resistance training 2, 3, or 4 times per week). The experimental training period lasted 8 months and the subjects that were analyzed completed 95% of all training sessions over that 8 month period. To test the results of the study the subjects did two 10 repetition max in nonconsecutive sessions 48 hours apart both before the intervention and after the intervention. The exercises chosen for this test were lat pulldown, leg press, and bench press. During the study the training protocol consisted of 2 (Tuesday and Thursday), 3 (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), and 4 (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) resistance training sessions per week. The training protocol included eight exercises in the following order; lat pulldown, leg press, bench press, leg extension, seated row, leg curl, shoulder press, and abdominal crunch. Each month the exercise order was alternated but always keeping upper and lower body exercises alternating. Three sets of 10-12 repetitions were performed for each exercise and training load was increased when the repetitions in the training zone limit was exceeded.
The study concluded that there was no statistically difference among the groups. All groups showed significant increases in 10 repetition max loads for all exercises after 8 months of training. This means that the group who only trained 2 times per week saw the same increases in strength that the group who trained 4 times per week did! The findings of this study indicate that 2-4 weekly training sessions are sufficient to produce strength gains. Thus, lower frequencies can be used for individuals with short time to increase adherence. It's more likely over the course of several years that you are going to have the time and energy to engage in your resistance exercise program if you focus on training 2 times per week than if you think that you need to train 4 times per week. If you are engaging in resistance exercise 2 times per week and enjoying other forms of exercise you will also greatly reduce your risk for overtraining!
When thinking about starting a new workout program it is imperative that resistance exercise is the foundation of your workout program. Based on the latest exercise research on resistance exercise frequency it can be concluded that between 2-4 full body training sessions per week will increase your strength. Start with 2 workouts per week and see how your body responds, remember there won't be a statistical difference in your strength increases if you increase your frequency up to 4 times per week so take some time to rest and recover and enjoy other forms of physical activity!
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