It isn’t just how often you train that is an important factor in programming your workouts, but also how often you train a particular movements, and how often you’re training particular fitness qualities (e.g. strength, endurance, etc.). Both of these follow the SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) Principle, in that your recovery from any training activity is going to have some level of specificity to the activity performed.
So this means that you can train different movements and different fitness modalities in close proximity without interfering with each other’s recovery to a massive degree, depending on their similarity.
Do note that nearly any activity is going to have a “General Recovery Cost” as well, meaning there will still be some level of impact on recovery for every type of activity.
It is very commonly offered and followed advice that you should allow 48 hours recovery, or one day rest between work outs. This is supposedly the amount of time it should take you to completely recover from a work out, and be at your most adapted to that training before detraining occurs.
Let’s take a look at our supercompensation cycle
again. Theoretically, the highest point on that curve at the end of the “Supercompensation” phase, is 48 hours after that workout.
This figure of 48 is based on a workout in which the intensity is moderate to high with adequate recovery, but as you vary the intensity, overall volume and duration of your workouts, the time to peak recovery can vary from anything from 8-72 hours (and probably outside that range too, to be honest). On the other end, recovery can affect not only how high your peak is, but how long it takes you to get there.
The nice normalised curve you see is just a simple model to represent how recovery can occur, but in reality, you’d see a greater variety in gradients throughout the curve. The initial fatigue part of the curve can be a lot sharper, as your workouts are likely intense and don’t last half a day. Your recovery isn’t going to be smooth, with when you absorb nutrients and sleep having major impacts on how your body recovers.
Basically, 48 hours is just a guideline, and the workout you do can have a large impact on how you recover and when you should train again.
Getting the Right Frequency
How do you know if you’re getting the enough recovery, or straying into detraining territory? You never really will, as there are too many variables to accurately predict when that peak will occur, and it will shift. You can get a useful estimate by keeping a detailed training and recovery log, and seeing when you’re improving and when you’re plateauing.
If you are training before you’re completely recovered, don’t fear, all your gains aren’t lost. You will over time, begin to accumulate fatigue, and you may find a point where the progress begins to slow. But if you take a deload at this point (whether it’s a week long deload, or a planned lower intensity wave), you’ll likely find you experience a very strong recovery and supercompensation phase. All that accumulated fatigue isn’t going to waste.
This can be a very important strategy to employ when you get to an advanced stage and the fatigue of one workout often won’t be nearly enough to improve.
Frequency and Technique
So the above deals with the physiological effects of training frequency, but it also has a powerful effect neurologically. A large part of strength training is learning the correct technique of the move, and practising it to make the muscle recruitment required to complete it more efficient. This is exceptionally important in regards to bodyweight training, where to make nearly any change to your training, you are changing the movement you are performing, meaning learning new techniques and new motor patterns.
As a beginner, your ability to pick up and, more importantly, retain technique, is relatively low. If you practice a technique once a week, you’ll likely progress very slowly largely due to crap technique and poor motor unit organisation. This is why we recommend doing 3 full body workouts per week as you begin, in which you do all your movements every session.
As you gain experience with the moves, you ability to retain the technique improves, and you can comfortably reduce the frequency without suffering too much loss of ability.
It still stands however, that if you wish to improve a particular skill, practising as often as your recovery allows is going to really strengthen that particular skill.
Do note that there is some transfer of skill from progression to progression (it varies based on how similar the progressions are), but that I’d still recommend having a high frequency for a move when practising a new progression.
Full Body Workouts vs. Splits
Full body workouts allow you to complete all of your moves (or movement patterns) every workout session, then usually allow for full recovery between workouts.
Splits allow you to perform more work, but only for a specific subset (upper/lower, push/pull, chest/back/shoulders/legs/core) of the moves you are training, so you aren’t training every movement pattern every workout. This can allow you a greater intensity or volume with each movement pattern, as you’d usually train more than with a full body workout. For instance, you wouldn’t need a full 48 hours rest after doing an upper body day to do you lower body, as your lower body would have little to no fatigue.
It is important to note, that even with a split, you are still experiencing systemic fatigue, and should manage that with a day of complete rest or lighter days.
Further splitting the workout into different fitness qualities can also allow you to perform at a greater intensity and still maintain frequency. If you were to train power on the first two days (e.g Lower/Upper), then have a day off and then perform hypertrophy on the next two days (e.g Lower/Upper), you should be able to handle a greater stress than if you were performing just power or just hypertrophy days on repeat.
For beginners, we recommend full body routines, as they allow a high frequency of practice, and beginners simply do not need the intensity and volume a split allows.
High Frequency Training
Training triggers muscle growth and higher protein synthesis which peaks at 24 hours post-training. It has been shown that while keeping weekly volume the same, if you trained more frequently (e.g daily, instead of 3/week) strength gains were slightly higher and muscle gain was noticeably higher.
There are a few popular training programs that have popularized the daily training idea, such as “Squat Every Day”.
For bodyweight training, most of the benefits of this style of training would come from picking one progression and working on that at a high frequency for a few weeks at a time, rather than jumping around progressions. Don’t forget that motor patterning is a powerful effect of this method.
If you take this a step further, you having something like Grease the Groove, which calls for multiple sub-maximal sets spread throughout the day. In total, you’d usually accumulate 5-10x your max reps for that movement in a day, a powerful effect. It comes with the added bonus that you should be fresh for every set, and finish the set while you’re still fresh. This means that all your reps should be of a very high quality, and nearly identical, both things that are going to promote strong motor pattern learning of an efficient pattern.