Determining optimal training frequency is a simple but not easy task. For each athlete, such frequency will be individual as everybody can react differently to training stimuli, however, there are a couple of cues that I follow when creating programmes for my athletes and I reckon that implementing them can be beneficial also for you.
Training frequency should depend on recovery, however, the recovery itself can be related to two organ systems, the central nervous system and the muscle organ system. Depending on how you structure your athletes’ workouts, these systems will recover at a different pace. You have to understand that in some cases your muscles might recover while your CNS might not and vice versa. Correctly determining the pace of their recovery can indeed be very helpful but it is not a simple task to do.
The factors that you should consider when designing a training block are training age, athlete’s training status, athlete’s accustomization with the given set of exercises, is the athlete fast or slow-twitch dominant?, neuromuscular efficiency, the nature of the workout (strength-focused, power-focused, speed-focused), level of athlete’s development, athlete’s weight, weight and the intensity used (as they are different parameters), the volume, is the athlete on a caloric surplus or deficit and probably many more that I can’t think of right now. This guide, however, intends to focus on a set of practical applications that can be easily remembered and utilised to improve sports performance.
Are you training for strength or power gains, or maybe to induce muscular hypertrophy? Or are you just performing technical work? It makes a huge difference as if you put too much strain on the CNS, it might recover for much longer than muscles. If you, for instance, operate in a 6-8 rep range during hypertrophy training, your athlete could be perfectly fine for a pump 12-20 workout tomorrow and such workout can actually increase recovery assuming that it’s performed relatively light.
Training intensity and weight used
The higher the intensity, the longer the athlete will recover. The same goes for weight used regardless of training intensity. For example, if your athlete’s 1rm is 350kg and you instruct them to work at 85% of his 1rm, they will take much longer to recover than the athlete that lifts 200kg and operates at the same intensity, with the same total volume.
Athlete’s weight and level of development
The more the athlete weighs, the harder it will be for him to recover. The same goes for advanced athletes, that is, athletes that reached further stages of development. A beginner will recover quicker than an advanced athlete as they are able to produce more force, power, speed, workout volume and they are more efficient at recruiting bigger motor units so next time you program a workout for an athlete, consider if they’re really muscular or rather small and if they are advanced, intermediate or novice.
Is the athlete fast or slow-twitch dominant?
You do not have to genetically test your athlete to determine that. It can be guessed fairly easy, by simply observing athletes and watching if:
- The athlete has more strength endurance or rather power?
- The athlete is able to perform less or more than 5 reps with his 85% of 1rm in main lifts?
- The athlete reacts better to high-intensity or high-volume training?
- The athlete does better with fast, low-rep movements or rather repeatable, slow motions?
These factors (and a couple more) can help you guess if your athlete is slow or fast-twitch dominant which will aid you in determining optimal training frequency.
Total strain can be calculated by measuring the effort put into each rep or set and multiplying it by the number of times performed where in this case it would be either total reps or total sets. It’s basically multiplying the number of times you got tired during a workout by the rate of perceived exertion. Remember though, that there is a difference in putting strain on your myofascial system and central nervous system and it needs to be distinguished when designing a workout, especially if you plan to program training one muscle group or movement multiple times a week.
In a nutshell, you will have to pay attention to multiple factors and watch how they influence your athlete’s recovery rate. The goal is to realise after what workouts does your athlete recover fairly quickly and after what workout does he recover significantly longer and the whole process of determining the workout frequency will depend on if the athlete is ready for another session or not.