Training on Imperfect Schedules (Part 1): Training Twice Per Week

One of the issues I deal with regularly, both here at the gym as well as with my online clients, are schedules that don’t necessarily allow for the perfect training routine.

It’s funny how our bosses, our businesses, our customers, and our families seemingly never “get on board” with our training schedules!  The nerve!

The reality is that a solid barbell based strength training program takes a lot of TIME to administer properly.

For most novice and early intermediate trainees, the preferred schedule is the standard Mon-Weds-Fri routine, working the fully body at each session with 3 major barbell exercises and perhaps 1-2 assistance exercises with bodyweight, dumbbells, or machines.

When I start with a new novice client the workouts in this format are generally pretty short and sweet.  At their level of strength, they can move pretty fast through all the warm up and work sets because they haven’t yet developed the ability to severely tax their body yet with their work sets.  Rest time can be kept down to 2-3 minutes and there aren’t a whole lot of warm up sets yet in the workout.

To get through an entire full body workout of Squats, Presses, and Deadlifts may only take 40-45 minutes during the first couple of weeks if we aren’t messing around.

As the client grows in strength however, there is the need for both additional rest time between work sets (now 5-8 minutes usually) and there is an increased number of warm up sets.

The time drain isn’t limited to just the workout either.  It’s the recovery time afterward.  I don’t know about you, but when I get done with a heavy squat and deadlift session, my brain is no good in the immediate aftermath.  Tack on a Prowler workout to the end of the lifting session and I’m toasted for at least an hour or so post workout.  Nothing productive is likely to happen.

Most people are looking at a minimum of 90 minutes to get through a heavy full body barbell based training session after their first few months of training.  When you include drive time to and from the gym, showering/eating, and a built in buffer time for your brain to come back on-line, there is a serious challenge in getting in the preferred fully body workout 3 days per week.

I’d say for the majority of 30+ working adults it’s a constant challenge to get everything in consistently.

What I have generally found is that most clients can set aside the time for the longer workouts twice per week, but 3 times per week is a challenge when trying to balance the training time with their work and family lives.  A lot of my online clients in particular tend to train once on the weekends (Saturday or Sunday) and then once during the week (often Wednesday), and find they can do so without having to rush through their workouts.

The reality is that twice per week training works very well.

At the gym, most of my clients train on either Mon/Thurs or Tues/Fri.  These are the two preferred schedules as it balances out the workload evenly over the course of the week.  Especially for my clients over 40 (and that number continues to grow) a twice weekly training schedule might actually be preferable to 3 days per week.

A typical training week looks like this for a strength focused trainee:

Day 1:  Squat / Bench Press / Upper Back (Chin, Lat Pull, Row, etc) / Specialty Exercise (1 or 2)*

Day 2:  Squat / Press / Deadlift / Specialty Exercise (1 or 2)*

(*Specialty exercises are individualized assistance exercises that we select for each clients’ weak point or perceived weak point.  Often these exercises are for the triceps, biceps, the abs, extra lat/upper back work, or some sort of DB Press for added upper body mass).

For clients that have been training a long time we switch up exercises more often, but we can stay within this solid basic template.  It is almost universally applicable for novices and intermediates.  Sets and Reps are completely dependent on each individual trainee, so I’m not going to go through all those details here.

As a client progresses out of the novice and early intermediate strength focus, their attention often turns to physique – especially upper body development in the case of many male clients.  Now that they are strong, they want to use that strength to build a better looking body.  Here is how I have structured  a twice weekly schedule for someone who wants to focus a little more on upper body development and physique and less on just pure strength:

Monday:  Squats + Chest / Delt / Tricep

Thursday:  Deadlifts + Back / Biceps

An example week might look like this:

Monday:

  • Squats 1 x 3-8,  2-3 x 10-15
  • Bench Press 1 x 3-8,  2-3 x 8-12
  • Seated DB Press 3-4 x 8-12
  • Dips 3-4 x 10-15

Thursday:

  • Pull Ups – 5 sets to failure
  • Deadlifts 1 x 3-8,  2-3 x 8-12
  • Barbell Rows 3-4 x 8-12
  • Barbell Curls 3-4 x 10-12

I also have a “general” fitness template that I utilize for clients who have kind of graduated from pure strength training into something that challenges not just their strength, but their cardiovascular and muscular endurance.  This is just an old-school “supersetting routine” but don’t be fooled, it is a bear to get through.  This type of training tends to be very popular among my female clients, but many men enjoy this as well.  It is quite literally  a change of pace.

Here is an example week:

Day 1: Quads / Upper body Pull / Abs

  • Squats + Chins or Assisted Chins – 5 sets each
  • Weighted Step Up + Barbell Rows – 4 sets each
  • Decline Sit Ups + Barbell Curls – 3 sets each

Day 2:  Post Chain / Upper body Push / Abs

  • Deadlifts + Standing Overhead Press – 5 sets each
  • KB Swings + Push Ups – 4 sets each
  • Hanging or Lying Leg Raises + Lying Tricep Extensions – 3 sets each.

Templates like this are great for general fitness trainees as they are almost infinitely customizable, allow for tons of variety, but still include the tried and true basics on a weekly basis.

In part II, we’ll discuss ways in which we can organize training into shorter more frequent workouts, and how to best train while traveling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to Training on Imperfect Schedules (Part 1): Training Twice Per Week

  1. Travis says:

    Andy,

    Good info. Do you find there’s a place for super setting in a strength program for quicker workouts? Heavy squat/moderate OH press, maybe, or save it for assistance work?

    Thanks,

    Travis

    • Andy Baker says:

      Yes, I do think it can be employed. Sometimes during longer strength-based workouts (i.e. Starting Strength) I will have my trainees do all their warm up sets for the Press or Bench in between the 2nd and 3rd sets of Squats. Then as soon as they are done squatting they can dive right into their first work set of either the Press or Bench. Then I do the same thing with the deadlift in between the 2nd and 3rd sets of Bench or Press. This saves a lot of time if you have the set up for it. And yes, on something like Heavy-Light-Medium you could pair up exercises in certain cases. This is where being in good shape helps you to train a little harder.

  2. Paul S. Hernandez says:

    Good Morning Andy,

    Thank you for all your time and effort pertaining to training twice per week. I have also read your response to the ‘twice per week set up’ post on the SS forum. I am 40 years and returning to strength training after a two year break. I have been lifting for 20 years and I have always been involved in some aspect of serious strength training–powerlifting, Olympic lifting, strongman, etc. I purchased Bill Starr’s book almost two decades ago when I began personal training for the Y and my exercise science schooling. This book was my Bible for strength training, but as my career with the Y grew, my focus moved away to other things. It is ironic how many years later, I am coming back full-circle and returning to basic old school strength training. I really like the twice per week approach you proposed on the SS forum:

    Squat – 4-6RM, Back off 10-15
    Bench – to 4-6RM, then 2 x 8-12
    DB Row/Lat Pull-downs/Chins 3-5 x 8-12
    Accessory Upper body

    Squat – 5 x 5 – light
    Press – to 4-6RM, then 2 x 8-12
    Deadlifts 4-6RM, then back off 8-12 (could be sldl)
    Accessory Upper body

    My question is regarding the short LP phase to build my base of strength as I return to strength training. Is it more advantageous for me to stay on the basic three day per week program as I run through the LP and then switch to the twice per week template?

    I appreciate your feedback! Thank you!
    -Paul

    • Andy Baker says:

      During your comeback and build up I think you probably can and should aim for 3 days per week. Just don’t start too aggressively. As your lifts start to slow and recovery becomes an issue then you can switch to 2 days per week if that feels right for you. You can also do a 1 on / 2 off schedule which puts you on an irregular schedule but still gives two days off after every session.

  3. Jim says:

    Hi Andy,
    Any value in rotating this:
    Monday: Squats + Chest / Delt / Tricep
    Thursday: Deadlifts + Back / Biceps, to a M – W – F set-up giving you three workouts a week but alternating workouts? Or might it be too much?

    Thanks
    Jim

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